Category Archives: baking without burning the house down

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Chocolate Stout Cake!

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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.

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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.

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Baking Powder Biscuits and Tea!

This Sunday morning I was awake long before the rest of my family. Usually I take full advantage of the weekend and sleep in late, but for whatever reason I couldn’t sleep past seven o’clock. I was just kind of knocking around the house for a while on my own, working on homework, and running a load of laundry before anyone else got up. I thought about shoveling the snow from the walkway, and while the weather’s been a lot milder than it has been earlier in the month, I still chickened out from venturing out into the snow, and stayed inside where it was warm and dry.

Lately the city’s caught something of a break from frigid temperatures that were hanging down around -40 (with the ever-present wind chill taken into consideration, of course). And to be honest, aversion to snow-shoveling chores or not, since about midweek last week, the weather’s been downright bearable outside. Watching the birds visiting the feeder just outside the kitchen window, I thought I’d make something special for Sunday’s breakfast. Maybe I could use the ‘but I made breakfast!’ as an excuse to shirk shoveling the walk. To better my odds, I decided that I would make one of my family’s favourite things to have on snowy winter mornings: baking powder biscuits.

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A cup of hot tea and flaky, soft biscuits with butter and raspberry jam is as good a start to a Sunday as anything!

The recipe my family uses to make these biscuits is pretty basic, and can be doctored in all sorts of ways. You can add in a bit of sugar, dried currants, and swap the skim milk for rich cream and make the biscuits closer to the sort served during elegant afternoon teas. Or the biscuits could be turned into a more savoury variety with diced chives and grated sharp cheddar cheese incorporated into the dough and baked to be served alongside a hearty soup or stew full of tender beef, caramelized onions, and thick rounds of sliced carrots and parsnips.

Still, I think my favourite way to make them is without any fancying up. Simple and plain baking powder biscuits served hot with a cup of tea, and with a small pat of butter and raspberry jam dabbed in the middle of each biscuit is my favourite. You can set your kettle to boil and steep any kind of tea you like to have with your biscuits, but I like a nice black tea like Irish Breakfast with my biscuits and jam. Tempered with milk and sugar, the bitterness of the black tea is lessened, but it still has strong flavour and suits the biscuits nicely.

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You know you haven’t overworked the dough if the biscuits pull apart nicely into halves.

Under the ‘read more’ cut is the recipe that my family uses when we make baking powder biscuits. I’m not sure where this recipe originally came from my mums collection of handwritten recipes we keep in the kitchen. Possibly it’s an adaptation from another recipe, or maybe it’s a recipe Mum copied down while talking to one of her sisters on the phone. Either way, I hope that you’ll try making them this weekend—it’s pretty difficult to botch them up (even if your oven has a tendency to bake things unevenly like ours). Breaking each biscuit open with your hands and watching a curl of steam escape from the flaky, soft, snowy dough is a pretty lovely and comforting thing—and especially when you’ve made the biscuits yourself.

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Found Cake!

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What do you mean, ‘Cake has nothing to do with dark fantasy entertainment media’?

On November 18, Dragon Age: Inquisition will be released in North America, and I am incredibly excited. I’ve been a fan of Edmonton-based (and now Electronic Arts-owned) game developer BioWare for a while now, and Inquisition is the latest installment to their action-adventure RPG Dragon Age video game series. Glowing reviews of the game are already hitting major game commentary websites and online publications, but for the most part, I’ve been pretty selective about which ones I’ll read. (I’m trying to avoid as many spoilers as possible, you know.) Still, finding out that the game is scoring so well among critics makes for a serious vote of confidence about how good this game is going to be.

Critics by-and-large have a lot of good things to say about the game so far in terms of its mechanics, player experience, and narrative value and scope. And that’s good to hear, considering that I’ve been looking forward to this game for over a year, and have had my copy pre-ordered since about the middle of last summer. It’s also good to hear that BioWare is improving their track record with Inquisition, as a lot of people (including myself) were pretty disappointed with the game’s predecessor in the series, Dragon Age II. A lot of the reviewers are calling Inquisition the spiritual (if not direct) sequel to Dragon Age: Origins, the game that started the series off. A lot of the polished gameplay, rich narrative intricacies, and elements of player experience that people loved about Origins were noticeably absent in Dragon Age II, and it’s heartening to hear that they’ve apparently been re-instated (in spades!) for Inquisition.

And that’s the sort of thing that’s got me thinking about the beginning of the Dragon Age series again, and revisiting some of my favourite story-related moments, including the silly throw-away gags that suffused and influenced the entire series’ feel. Even though Dragon Age’s installments are essentially based in the dark fantasy genre of story, there are still plenty of light-hearted moments in each game that are usually tongue-in-cheek, good-natured ribbing from the game writers and designers about the tropes characteristic to the genre of fantasy media—from its novels, to movies and video games.

In Dragon Age: Origins, one of these moments includes a specific party member, a Mabari hound (a type of very clever and boisterous war dog native to Origin’s setting and culture of Ferelden). Unlike other party member characters, the Mabari hound has the specific ability to bring unseen/off-screen items to the player character if asked. If the player were to bring the hound character with them while adventuring away from the safe zone of the party’s camp, the hound can be selected and asked if it can find anything interesting in the player’s immediate surroundings. The hound’s searches won’t always yield results, but there are a number of scripted outcomes to carrying out this action. Often the hound will return to the player with different item drops of either equipment, weapons, first-aid components, story-related objects, or ridiculous jokey items for the player to mull over (and wonder exactly how little sleep and how much coffee the story writers were running on when they wrote this particular interaction).

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BioWare makes a point of putting its players in tough situations, and making them face terrible choices. You might be asked to save the world from unholy, otherwordly monsters erupting from deep within the earth, or save the world from unholy, otherworldly monsters spilling out of a day-glo green hole in the sky (and then you might even slay a few dragons while taking a break from saving the world from unholy, otherworldly underground- and sky-monsters), but what kind of person turns down an entire cake your trusty war dog has dragged out from god-only-knows-where? Not my kind of hero, that’s who!

Eventually, after the player has asked the Mabari hound to have a look around, the dog will cheerfully return with a slightly soggy piece of cake that it found apparently just lying around and waiting to be discovered in some undisclosed location nearby. The hound will present the cake to the player with all the remarkably well computer-imaged and -animated mimicry of a dog’s natural enthusiasm, and then it’s up the player whether the slightly chewed (and slightly dog-slobbery) gift of cake will be accepted or not. (Personally, I always pick the dialogue option that shows the player is blatantly grossed out by the concept of “found cake” delivered via canine, but which still tells the dog he is a good boy, yes he is!)

And since I’ve pretty well got a one-track mind fixated on everything Dragon Age related until the release date of Inquisition, I thought that for this week’s wrap up of this blog, I would end with a recipe for a treat that’s rather specifically related to the game franchise: the Mabari hound’s found cake. (But don’t worry, the doggy delivery service and unknown circumstances of the cake’s existence and arrival is not at all included, so it’s totally safe to make, eat, and enjoy.)

A quick internet search for a recipe related to “found cake”, led me to Gourmet Gaming’s website and 2012 entry about preparing a Dragon Age: Origins inspired and styled cake. I made a few adjustments to Gourmet Gaming’s base recipe—essentially by adding a teaspoon of cinnamon and half a teaspoon of cayenne to the cake batter for a more intricate chocolate flavour profile, and by frosting the cake with entirely too much whipped cream. As a general note about this cake: due to the sheer amount of dairy layered on it, I don’t think the cake would keep for very long (even in the fridge), so it’s probably best that you and your family and friends (or favourite adventuring party members) polish the thing off within a day or two of putting it together.

However, I bet the resulting sugar rush is sure to help you speed through the last few remaining days until Dragon Age: Inquisition comes out!

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Okay, alright! I uh… I may have overdone it a little with the whipped cream here. (But at least there’s no dog slobber.)

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Thug Kitchen, Obscenity, Hoppin’ John, and Sweet Potato Loaf!

Despite being a full time student at college with plenty of reading assignments filling up my evenings, I still try my best to find some time throughout the week for leisure reading. I’m currently working my way through Melissa Mohr’s book, Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing, and I’m absolutely loving it. Mohr’s book is about the interconnected cultural and social history of obscenity in the English language, and it directly connects to my interest in popular history writing, and communication and media studies. There’s also plenty of accessible information to feed my curiosity about linguistics and the ways that language develops. Goodreads tells me that I’m currently only 32% of the way through this 316 page book, but I am enjoying it immensely, and have learned a few things already about why we use swear words and obscene language the way we do in English. Mohr writes with wit and provides clear and considerate explanations of where our notions of obscene language originate, and how contributing factors have effected it, and influenced our communication practices throughout various periods of history.

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Look at all the colours on that plate! Who doesn’t love a colourful, flavourful supper?

I remember learning in university that languages are constantly evolving and changing, and that they shift to reflect changing culture, beliefs and values, and systems of communication. Swearing then, as a component of the English language, and as a tool used to impart emotional emphasis in speech and writing, reflects these cultural and communication changes as well. Mohr explains that words which are deemed inappropriate, vulgar, or obscene are deemed so in reflection of a communication community’s idea of propriety and morality. Mohr also reminds us that where cultural and behavioural norms are established and accepted as commonplace behaviour, there is also the opportunity and potential to alter these rules and confines in order to suit different purposes. There’s the potential for interaction and subversion of these rules, thus changing systems of power and convention on multiple social and cultural levels.

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Thug Kitchen is right–when this Sweet Potato Loaf is in the oven, its aroma beats the hell out of burning a fall-themed, baking-scented candle hands down.

This sounds a bit wordy and ostentatious, sure, but it directly connects to one of my favourite food blogs running right now: the very cheeky, popular, and potty-mouthed Thug Kitchen. The vegan-oriented (though not exclusively so!) website released a cook book this month, and just like the website from which it originates, the cookbook filled with the same straight-up foul language that made its parent website so striking, entertaining, and interesting to visit. Thug Kitchen wields vulgarity to fantastic effect—effect that Mohr would agree harks back to what the term ‘vulgar’ originally meant.

Early on in her book, Mohr explains there is a connection between vulgar language and class distinction, and that there persists the (increasingly out-of-date) idea that “it is that spoken by ordinary, uneducated folk. It has become a synonym for swearing because “the common people” have through the centuries been thought to be more likely than others to employ profane or obscene language” (11).

Mohr immediately goes on to explain to her readers that this assumption about the education level of the ordinary, swear-happy general public throughout different time periods is rather untrue—that the upper classes (those who were supposedly educated enough to eschew vulgar language) swore like all get out throughout history. (She also describes how swearing and the use of vulgar language doesn’t necessarily disappear as the general level of education within a community increases, either.) On page 55 of her book, Mohr explains that in ancient Rome there were basically two different types of Latin language being used, essentially split along levels of discourse—Latin for the exclusive class of the educated, literary elite (which remained largely unchanged over centuries), and a “vulgar” (common) language that the lower classes (made up of multiple intermingling cultures) used in their daily activities, and which would eventually evolve into the Romance vernaculars.

And indeed Thug Kitchen maintains that its intentional use of obscenity and vulgarity (as common language) isn’t meant to offend or turn people off of their website or its content, but rather it’s meant to find common ground with average blog readers who are looking for recipes and food writing that’s not foodie-elitist or “dull or pretentious as hell” (as Thug Kitchen’s cookbook’s item description on Amazon.ca describes). Thug Kitchen understands that there’s a relatively standardized mode of writing for food blogs (and cookbooks), one that it views as too exclusionary to the common person who’s simply looking to make a healthy, budget-friendly meal. Thug Kitchen labels this certain kind of polite language style that these blogs often use as “dull or pretentious as hell” and implies that it reads as insincere in its enthusiasm, or worse, is elitist in its writing style and content (ex: super expensive, super trendy food styles that are usually only accessible to a privileged, or wealthy portion of the public).

Thug Kitchen wants to avoid that kind of distinctly cultivated and maintained elitist authorial ethos. It wants its blog, writing, recipes, and practical food sensibilities to reflect and connect with the average visitor. We could assume that Thug Kitchen believes this person to be someone who is hungry, is on a budget, and doesn’t know what healthy meal to make for supper tonight. Thug Kitchen also knows that to stand out in stark contrast to the elitist foodie personas and in the blogosphere, they need to consider carefully how they are going to operate within the general conventions of food blogging and food writing, and how they are going to subvert its norms at the same time. Their idea is that in order to reach the average person, they need to use the kind of communication practices and common vernacular that everyone likely uses. Thug Kitchen knows they need to use the same words and familiar kind of language that people generally use in our day-to-day living. And that includes routinely and liberally using all the four-letter salty talk they can cram into their sentences.

There’s been a couple of dishes that I’ve wanted to make from Thug Kitchen’s backlog of recipes for some time. One of them is their vegetarian take on a traditional New Year’s dish from the Southern United States, Hoppin’ John. According to the information I was able to scrounge up from a quick Google search, the dish is supposed to welcome a new year full of prosperity (financially and otherwise) for those that partake in the meal at the start of a new year. The black-eyed peas (or field beans, as they’re sometimes called) represent coinage, while the cooked greens (collard greens, Swiss chard, kale, or other cooking greens) are supposed to represent bank notes. Sometimes Hoppin’ John is made with a coin added to the pot as it simmers, and other times is served with a coin set beneath each diner’s plate (a much more sanitary choice, I would think).

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I know November 2 isn’t New Year’s Day, but it was daylight savings today! And that’s got to count for something, right? I mean, it’s kind of like starting a new section of the year, isn’t it? Anyway, I wonder if making and eating Hoppin’ John means my luck will improve for the remainder of the year…

Whether or not you believe in luck-bringing superstitions isn’t too important, since this bean-and-rice meal is flavourful and budget-friendly (definite criteria for its inclusion in Thug Kitchen’s recipes!) and that’s its main selling feature. When I was putting it together for supper tonight, I tailored the amount of spiciness to my family’s tastes, and added in extra peppers in adobo to the mix. The result was perfectly spicy, and no post-dishing up addition of Tabasco sauce was necessary. I served the beans with simple minute rice, and with a single bunch of Swiss chard that I washed and trimmed then sautéed in a bit of olive oil with garlic, and the juice and peel of an orange. The citrus brightened the greens’ appearance and flavour, and added a clean acidity that cut through the worst of the heat from the beans and rice.

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Sugary on the top and nutty on the inside! I even made a double-sized recipe so I could make two loaves–one to eat, and one to give away to our neighbour!

The other recipe I tried out today is a more recent addition to Thug Kitchen’s collection. At the beginning of this month, Thug Kitchen published a recipe online for Sweet Potato Loaf—citing it as something somewhere between pumpkin pie and carrot cake. Studded with a generous portion of chopped walnuts, and fragrantly spiced with ground ginger and cinnamon, this loaf made me briefly reconsider my hard line “no thank you” stance on carrot cake. (I say briefly, because while I understand the similarities between it and carrot cake, I still think I’d prefer dense and moist sweet potato loaf with its lightly sweetened, nutty, spiced flavour to that terrible cream-cheese frosted, boringest-of-the-boring-root-vegetables, majorly-over-sugared-in-order-to-make-you-forget-there-are-super-boring-carrots-in-it monstrosity of a dessert.) As for the Sweet Potato Loaf’s pumpkin pie similarities—you know, I wasn’t really feeling it. Beyond the similar spices used in both dishes, and the wonderful aroma and flavours of each, I still feel like the two desserts are pretty distinctly separate from one another. Both make for fantastic fall season baking though!

I think all in all, I’d recommend Thug Kitchen as an engaging and relatably foul-mouthed food blog, its recipes for Hoppin’ John and Sweet Potato Loaf, and Melissa Mohr’s fascinating book on English’s obscene language, too.

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White Chocolate and Dried Apricot Scones!

Scones are a pretty versatile, single-serving quick bread. A batch of scones comes together really easily and in nearly no time at all. There’s no yeast necessary, and no lengthy “rest-and-raise” dough raising process to wait for. In fact, the whole process of putting together a batch of scones is fairly lax on labour, and can pretty much be completed in a single bowl—so there’s no huge pile of dirty dishes to wash up afterwards!

A scone’s basic form can be altered to suit any savoury or sweet purpose. Cheese scones are hugely popular, and plain scones with added dried currants are pretty conventional for pairing with afternoon tea. Scones made to accompany tea or coffee are usually only lightly sweetened, so as not to compete with the sweetness or flavours of the tea or coffee. This weekend though, I decided I wanted to make my scones sugary, and stand in for a traditional dessert. I decided to add dried apricots for a subtle fruit flavour, but threw in white chocolate chips for their distinct creamy sweetness.

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These scones are almost cake-like in their sweetness.

Did you know white chocolate isn’t actually chocolate in the strictest sense of the term? White chocolate is actually a derivative product of chocolate. It contains nearly all the ingredients necessary to meet the requirements of classifying as chocolate, but lacks the all-important re-addition of cocoa. In its manufacturing, the cocoa solids are removed from the process and never reincorporated, so while it still contains the appropriate cocoa butter, milk, and sugar, white chocolate lacks the inclusion of cocoa that is present in other forms of chocolate. As a result, white chocolate has a very sweet taste that is reminiscent of other kinds of chocolate, but is still distinctive enough in terms of flavour that it stands apart from the other types.

Depending on your own tastes (and desire for a sugar-rush), you may want to adjust the amount of sugar added to the scones’ dough, or increase or lessen the amount of chocolate chips incorporated into the dough. I used a whole cup of white chocolate chips in my scones, and despite the recipe yielding fifteen scones, I almost feel as though I’d used too much! The sugar content definitely helped make these scones work as a treat for dessert!

I think if I were to make these scones again, I would lessen the amount of white chocolate added, and maybe even increase the amount of chopped, dried apricot, so that the flavour of the chocolate wasn’t so prevalent in each bite. Instead of making Dried Apricot and White Chocolate Scones, I whipped up a batch of White Chocolate and Dried Apricot Scones. Still, a cup of strongly brewed, dark roast coffee would offset the sweetness and creaminess of the white chocolate, and its acidity will likely call forward the flavour of the apricots.

If you are looking to put your own spin on a basic scone recipe, I would suggest using this one as a base, and then swap out the white chocolate and dried apricots for dried cranberries and dark chocolate; cinnamon, ginger, and toffee pieces; fresh raspberries or blackberries sweetened with honey; diced rhubarb tossed with vanilla sugar; or any other flavour pairing you can imagine! Or, you could omit the additional flavours completely, sweeten the dry ingredients with a half cup of white sugar, and simply let the scones’ flavour stand alone—they’re just as tasty eaten warm from the oven with a small pat of butter or jam as the scones stuffed with other ingredients!

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Chewy chunks of dried apricot play second-fiddle to creamy, sweet white chocolate chips in these dessert scones.

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Gingerbread Cake!

Earlier this weekend, I went grocery shopping and found myself in the baking ingredients aisle, looking at a little carton of old-fashioned blackstrap molasses. I can’t remember anymore what I had originally gone down the aisle for, because as soon as I saw that old timey-designed carton on the shelf, any planning I had done for this weekend’s blog post was completely replaced by a serious need to make (and eat) gingerbread cake. And I know the first week of October isn’t exactly the kind of winter holiday/Christmastime season that gingerbread is so associated with in North America, but it was as though just looking at that carton, I could smell the freshly baked gingerbread cake I was going to make this weekend.

Of course, once I had brought home the little carton of molasses, I had to hop online to find a quality gingerbread cake recipe I could adapt for today’s post. That led me to onetime Winnipegger Stephanie Jaworski’s website, Joy of Baking.com, and her original recipe for gingerbread cake. In her post, Stephanie outlines the history of gingerbread, briefly discussing how spiced cakes laced with sweetener like honey were popular even in ancient times in Greece. Her brief write-up about the history and development of gingerbread is quick and interesting, and I encourage you to stop by her website to give it a read.

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I think my favourite part of this cake (besides its wonderful smell and spicy flavour) is the way the outside edge crisps up during the baking process. It’s a great contrast to the moistness of the cake, and it’s little wonder that gingersnap cookies are so popular!

Just as Stephanie says, gingerbread is a kind of food that has been adapted throughout the years by many different peoples and cultures. As a result, treats that fall under the moniker of gingerbread are pretty fluid in their flavour profiles and physical make-up. Gingerbread has been altered a lot throughout history and can vary quite a lot from one cake to the next. Even the word gingerbread can mean different types of baked goods to a single group of people, or it can be used to describe a specific treat as well. It can be a cake, a cookie, a bread, or nearly anything in-between. Chewy, spiced molasses gingerbread cookies are another kind of gingerbread that I like best, but this weekend, I wanted to make an entire gingerbread cake to portion out and freeze for later use as weeknight desserts. I decided to alter Stephanie’s recipe a little bit (eliminating citrus components, and using a dark, robustly flavoured molasses instead of a light molasses) for this weekend’s recipe, and ended up making a dense, spiced cake that I dusted with icing sugar.

And even though it isn’t wintertime yet, or anywhere near the Christmastime part of the year, sifting icing sugar down onto the top of the cake looked a little too similar to snowflakes falling on the ground for my liking. So I ended up taking my slice of cake outside on a plate, and ate it in the sunshine on the patio just to remind myself that winter isn’t here yet, and that I should try to enjoy what remains of our non-snowbound time of year.

My altered recipe for gingerbread cake can be found under the cut, and I encourage you to alter it even more when you make it at home yourself! After all, gingerbread has stood the test of time as a favourite treat, likely due to its flexibility. I’d suggest fiddling with spice quantities to match your own tastes, or maybe add toasted and chopped walnuts to the cake batter, or dried cranberries, a few chopped-up slices of candied ginger, or a handful of raisins that have been soaked in rum for an hour or two (and then drained well!) to make your own variation on the recipe.

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This cake is dense, dark, sweet and spicy. It’s the perfect thing to have with a hot cup of coffee.

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