Tag Archives: dessert

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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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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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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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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