Category Archives: dessert

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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Rice Pudding!

You know what’s a good word? Transubstantiation. Sure, there’s a religious connotation to the word, but have you thought about it in regards to cooking? The definition of transubstantiation is (according to the Oxford English Dictionary), “the changing of one substance into another”. The process of cooking gets pretty darn close to the definition of transubstantiation, even if cooking is a process that combines different individual parts to produce a finished final product (which exists as the sum of its parts).

But when it comes to making your favourite, most simple dishes, I think transubstantiation could be an excellent word to apply to the process. Take for instance, one of my favourite (and simple!) desserts: the humble rice pudding. It’s essentially three main ingredients, heavy cream, long grain rice, and a good kick of sugar. Simple ingredients that through the process of cooking ‘low and slow’ on the stovetop will transubstantiate into one of the most comforting treats someone can indulge in on cold wintry evenings. There’s almost a magical and mystical element to making such a comforting food from scratch in your own kitchen from such simple and unassuming ingredients. (Especially after thinking about such a rhetorically loaded and heady word as transubstantiation.) But it’s also the same kind of feeling that also harkens back to our collective experiences and shared human history of being a species that cooks—the only animal on the planet that takes simple ingredients and transforming them into something entirely different, and delicious, and nutritious via cooking.

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Creamy, sweet, and fragrant, rice pudding is one of my favourite comforting treats on a cold winter afternoon.

And rice pudding is a dessert that definitely has roots that reach far into our collective past as a food-preparing species. According to Solomon H. Katz, the editor in chief for the Scribner’s Encyclopedia of Food and Culture (2003), and Alan Davidson, author of the Oxford Companion to Food (1999), rice puddings wouldn’t have been unfamiliar to the ancient Romans. Davidson even suggests that the ancient Romans who were wealthy enough to afford the imported grain necessary to make the dish likely ate it as a remedy for upset stomachs. (Which is interesting since rice pudding is still considered an easy-to-digest and stomach-settling, comforting treat for people these days, too.)

According to Davidson, in the 17th century, recorded recipes for baked rice puddings began to appear in cookbooks and recipe collections. (I’ve never made a baked rice pudding—my mother always made it in a sturdy pot on the stovetop, and that’s how I made it this past weekend, too.) Often these 17th century recipes called for an egg to be added to the ingredients, which is now uncommon, but the addition of spices like cinnamon and nutmeg are a holdover from these earlier recipes and which still persists in rice pudding’s modern incarnations.

Rice pudding is a type of food that is not at all exclusive to the Western world. It has shown up in different cultures around the world, in various forms. It’s generally believed that rice originally started as a cultivated grain in China, India, and Southeast Asia. Author Kenneth F. Kipple of A Moveable Feast: Ten Millennia of Food Globalization (2007), asserts that as a domesticated crop, rice’s cultivation process began in these regions as early as 10,000 years ago. Subsequently, there are rice pudding dishes from a number of different cultures that are from these regions—each with their own specific differences, yet persistent similarities which can be used to connect these dishes as being varieties of a general rice pudding category. Davidson describes kheer (the Indian name for sweet milk puddings made with rice or very fine noodles) and sheer birinj (a Persian variety of kheer) as similar dishes that are related to rice pudding. These dishes can have added ingredients for flavouring like cardamom, cinnamon, almonds and pistachios, all of which would work well in a typical, modern Western-style rice pudding, too. Western-style rice puddings often feature flavourings such as raisins, currants, vanilla or almond extracts, and cinnamon and nutmeg which possess comparable flavour profiles when added to sweetened rice porridges and desserts.

The recipe my family uses when we make rice pudding is not from the 17th century, but it is very likely quite close to the recipes found in Europe at the time. (Or at least, it’s fairly evident that the recipe we use was generally derived from these recipes.) The actual recipe itself consists of notes hastily scrawled on a notecard that is beginning to show its age with curling corners, creases from accidental folding, and even a bit of vanilla extract smudged on one of its edges. Mum’s had this recipe card for seemingly forever—or at least from before I was born, and the ingredient measurements make for a large pot of rice pudding. The number of servings that can come from this recipe is fairly nebulous, and entirely dependent on how much you and your dinner guests enjoy old-fashioned rice pudding.

As has been described, a rice pudding recipe can be altered to suit your tastes. You can add currants, raisins, and other dried fruits if you like (personally, I don’t like raisins in my rice pudding), and you can reduce or increase the amount of spices added to the pot as you see fit (or even add different spices to the mix, and turn your rice pudding into something more savoury than sweet). It is entirely up to you how you want to prepare and personalise your rice pudding, but I think as long as you follow a basic recipe that primarily consists of rich cream, long grain rice, and a bit of sugar for sweetness, you’re on the right track to a delicious treat. The trick to a good stovetop rice pudding (of nearly any variant and variety) is to cook it for a long time on a low heat, stirring regularly to keep the pudding from adhering to the bottom of your pot. It’s that ‘low and slow’ cooking process that turns (or transubstantiates) simple ingredients into something comforting and delicious.

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Sure, it might not be the most visually exciting dessert, but rice pudding is a delicious treat that stands the test of time as a homey favourite.

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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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Canadian Living’s Pumpkin Amaretti Mousse!

I really like fall, you know.  I like the change in our weather—that our scorching summer heat backs off to cooler, crisper temperatures.  I like the more frequent rainy weather that rolls through the city (so long as I don’t get caught in a downpour without an umbrella!), and I like pulling out my fall jackets, tall boots, and flannel scarves from the closets and freshening them up to wear once more.  I like looking for the changing colours in the tree leaves, and watching the fields near my house turn from vibrant summertime green to a pale, harvest gold as the oats and wheat mature.  I like picking apples from my family’s fruit trees, and picking and canning vegetables with my baba (that means grandmother in Ukrainian) out at her farm.  And just like almost every other consumer in the city, I like the wide array of pumpkin-related products that are rushed out for purchase filling the shelves, our shopping baskets, and our bellies.

This time of year, all kinds of products come in “Limited Time Only!” pumpkin varieties.  From hand lotions and shower gels, to baked goods and coffee (both pre-packaged and by-the-cup), there’s a major influx of pumpkin-related products for you to smell, taste, and buy.  Bloggers and print magazine writers (just like store managers and consumer consultants) understand the public’s pumpkin-craze, so even the Internet and monthly magazine publications boast a plentiful harvest of pumpkin-related blog posts and articles for us to read, clip out, print, and make ourselves.  From décor to desserts, there’s some way to get a little DIY pumpkin flavour into your day even if you’re not keen on shelling out nearly six dollars for a Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks–and you definitely don’t have to look very hard or for very long to find it.

My mum has a subscription to a couple of different home and garden magazines including Canadian Living.  This October issue’s food section boasts a feature article written by food specialist Irene Fong and the Canadian Living Test Kitchen about turning harvest-time staples into “easy-to-make desserts your family will love” (151).  After skimming through this month’s recipe offerings I decided I had better pick something time management friendly for the weekend, and decided to make their Pumpkin Amaretti Mousse.  It sounded quick and uncomplicated, and best of all, the recipe required no cook time!  But when it came time to collect all the ingredients for the dessert, I realised I couldn’t find amaretti biscuits at any of the grocers I tried, and I didn’t think I’d have time this weekend to bake a batch of specialty almond cookies, either.  So I ended up settling for a package of almond gingersnap cookies, which like amaretti are almond-based, but have a nice spice quality that I thought would work well with the pumpkin and spice flavours of the mousse.

I can never seem to recreate the same look of a dish as it appears in magazines.  I guess a career as a foot photographer/stager is outta my reach.

Ah, I can never seem to recreate exactly how a dish is supposed to look in a magazine feature…

The writers and kitchen testers at Canadian Living weren’t kidding, this recipe is really quick and easy to prepare, and more than satisfies a person’s seasonal pumpkin spice flavour cravings.  The only thing I would recommend readers keep in mind when making this dessert is that the finished product is rather sweet, so smaller portions might be the way to go when dishing up servings.  I bet that this would work great as a simple dessert to finish a Sunday family dinner, and would pair nicely with an after dinner cup of strong coffee.  (Unfortunately, this recipe doesn’t appear to be listed on Canadian Living’s website just yet, so I will include the recipe under the Read More link).

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