Friday, July 31, 2009

To Enter August "En Français"

Well, we made it through July mostly unscathed! With the long weekend on the horizon, it's only fitting that something that's versatile enough to adapt to any occasion - from a simple backyard BBQ to a bridal shower or even taking up to the cottage or trailer - be on the baking rotation around here! In fact, this recipe is the kind of chameleon that is both simple and infinitely complex - an eggy, custard-like batter spiked with just a hint of nutmeg can be baked into a single-layer slab and left unadorned (like I did for our family BBQ a few weeks ago), or made into a two-layer, delicately frosted round cake for a special birthday - something that I would most certainly have done for my French vanilla-loving dad if I had found my inspiration from Vanilla Garlic's blog back in March!

I'm actually very tempted to make a half- or third-recipe of this cake, using it as a base for an ice cream torte, but I'm a little leery of the poportion changes. Instead, I may just make the whole thing, and with the batter not going into the frozen treat make cupcakes instead!

This is the kind of cake that really needs no extra introduction - If you are a fan of French vanilla ice cream, I dare you to try making this without licking the spoon.

French Vanilla Slab Cake
Serves 24
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
2 tbsp vanilla
3 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp nutmeg
pinch of salt
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup "thick cream" (Nestle Carnation makes a canned version, you can also use whipping cream)
  1. Preheat oven to 350F with the rack on the lowest level of the oven, grease a 9x13" pan.
  2. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Add eggs and yolks, one at a time, follwed by the vanilla.
  4. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg and salt.
  5. Separately combine the whole milk and thickened cream.
  6. Starting and ending with the dry ingredients, alternately add the flour and milk mixtures to the creamed mixture, folding in each addition thoroughly. Batter will be very thick.
  7. Spread into the prepared pan.
  8. Bake 35 minutes on the lowest oven rack.
  9. Cool completely in pan before slicing.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 201.5
Total Fat: 10.2 g
Cholesterol: 55.6 mg
Sodium: 62.7 mg
Total Carbs: 25.0 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.4 g
Protein: 2.8 g

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bad Timing, Good Ice Cream

Ever since "going foodie" and starting this blog up two years ago, I have coveted a host of gadgets and appliances - a standing mixer, a mandoline, a food processor and even a digital scale. But nothing has topped my list longer than the ubiquitous ice cream maker. I finally got the chance (via my super-generous mom!) to indulge this "last thing" on my list when she told me to put an order in with Sears! Though she did make a few references as to whether or not an "upgrade" for my stand mixer would be appropriate, I'm totally satisfied with this as a cap-off to my kitcheny indulgences for now - I do have my eye on a single induction burner plate to use with the new pots and pans I bought at Christmas, but I won't get to use it here!

However, I picked the coldest, rainiest, dreariest summer in Ontario ever to indulge my ice-cream making whims! But no matter - with the help of my two fellow partners in ice cream loving crime (Joel and Bonita) I've been dreaming up a host of flavour combinations to try out!

The first thing I made was a sorbet combination I had been dying to try out for some time - sweet black cherries laced with tangy lime juice and zest, with a touch of honey in the background. I used the same sugar-free (and all-natural) sweetener that I used in my birthday cake - Just Like Sugar - to see if it would work in a frozen application, and it did, quite nicely! However I failed to take into account rule #1 of making anything with fruit: taste the fruit for sweetness before adding any! Even with the lime, the combination of the sweetener syrup, honey and cherries was just too cloying for my palate, but I pared it down in a later version that I made and it was perfect - definitely more of the balanced cherry / lime flavour profile I was going for! It was basically the following recipe that I made the next day, minus the chocolate but with the addition of 2 tbsp more lime juice as well as the zest of 2 limes. If I had managed to get my hands on some little key limes, though, I definitely would have tried those babies out!

Cherry Chip Sorbet
Serves 6
2 tbsp honey
1/3 cup Just Like Sugar (or regular sugar)
1 1/2 cups water
25.5 oz (about 5 cups) pitted cherries
3 tbsp lime juice
1 egg white
1/2 cup dark miniature chocolate chips
  1. Combine honey, JLS and water in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the honey melts and the mixture is dissolved. Cool.
  2. Purée cherries and lime juice, then add the cooled syrup, mixing well.
  3. Pour into an ice cream maker and freeze following manufacturer’s instructions.
  4. Once sorbet has thickened slightly, whisk egg white lightly and pour into ice cream maker, followed by the chocolate chips.
  5. Transfer sorbet to a container and freeze until firm, about 6 hours.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 152.7
Total Fat: 4.7 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 14.6 mg
Total Carbs: 39.6 g
Dietary Fiber: 12.9 g
Protein: 2.5 g

The too-sweet sorbet didn't go to waste, though... never fear! I found an almost instant fix in the back of my fridge with an almost-expired carton of yogurt my mom had bought, had once and subsequently forgotten about. I simply emptied out the rest of the contents (12.5oz in all) to the thawed out sorbet base, whisked it in well, and re-churned it into a creamy but still guilt-free treat for my mom to enjoy. I added chocolate chips to hers, because like any good woman she needs her chocolate pick me up!

Cherry Chip Sherbet
Serves 6
To the above recipe, add 1 1/2 cups (12.5 oz by weight) fat-free vanilla yogurt (I used Source by Yoplait) in with the remaining base mixture and beat in well. Continue with the remaining instructions.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 189.4
Total Fat: 4.7 g
Cholesterol: 0.3 mg
Sodium: 44.6 mg
Total Carbs: 46.2 g
Dietary Fiber: 12.9 g
Protein: 4.5 g

Since I know there are a gazillion others out there that are actually having a summer and could use something to cool off, I'd be honoured if the kind bloggers ScottySnacks, SavortheThyme and Tangled Noodle would take this post into consideration during their Ice Cream Social event!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Going Out With a Bang

Our Summer growing season this year has, in no uncertain terms, sucked the big one. We got off to a crawling start - if you could even call it that with the frigid temperatures and heavy rain - in early July when the first tiny, quick to spoil strawberries peeked out, and we've just moved into the cherry season, without much of a blueberry or raspberry crop to speak of. The perfectly ripe peaches, with so much juice in them you got a bath in each bite, are still nowhere to be found around me! Even the veggies in our backyard are feeling the blow, our once-lush tomato bushes and bean stalks are now only bearing one or two immature fruits each, while our zucchini and corn plants look like we just planted them! We're crossing our fingers for a nice, warm and sunny August, because I can't take much more of this faux Summer!

We did give in to "the man" and the hiked prices of berries at the market, though - weather or no, it just isn't Summer without a handful of the sweet gems! Unfortunately I was pretty unimpressed with the out of hand quality this year - the blueberries were a bit too sour, the blackberries completely blnd and the raspberries were delicious but way too mushy. The rest of the household seemed to be silently echoing my thoughts, as the baskets of fruit proceeded to sit in the fridge untouched save for an occasional sneak of a berry or two. I knew they were nearing their "time", though, and disappointing or not I did not want to be throwing out the local (and expensive) berries. So I did the next best thing - I hauled out a block of pie dough and a bagful of mixed berries from last year that I had stashed in my freezer and made pie with the suckers!

The crust turned out to be one of the most tender and fragile ones I had made, using no all-purpose flour but instead a mixture of whole wheat, Kamut and buckwheat. The low gluten content in the resulting crust made it awfully sticky to roll out in the beginning - until a light went on and I began rolling it between sheets of waxed paper. This also had the double effect of preventing excess flour getting worked into the dough, and a tough cardboardy baked product. The frozen berries I added to the fresh ones definitely amped up the complexity of the flavours along with a dash of almond extract to bring out the nuttiness of the dough. I didn't want to add too much sugar (no one in my family likes sweet pies, and our apple pies are always unsweetened!) so I cut down the amount listed in my favourite church cookbook (1 cup!) to a paltry third and added tapioca flour instead of cornstarch to prevent any filling separation issues.

The resulting pie was smelling heavenly as it baked away, and it didn't look half bad either once it came out! I sent it off with my dad to enjoy at his trailer on the weekend and was given the thumbs up from the tastebuds there!

This is going to be the last pie of the season for us, I think - without any real produce bounty to speak of, anything good that we get is for enjoying out of hand!

Triple-Play Pie
Serves 12
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup Kamut flour
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup shortening
4 - 5 tbsp cold water
1/3 cup tapioca flour
1/3 cup superfine sugar
16 oz sliced strawberries
6 oz fresh blueberries
11 oz fresh blackberries
15 oz frozen mixed berries
1/2 tsp almond extract
  1. In a bowl, whisk together flours and salt.
  2. Cut the shortening in until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
  3. 1 tbsp at a time, gradually add water until a dough forms (you may not need it all).
  4. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead 1-2 times to bring the mixture together, then wrap in plastic and chill 1 hour.
  5. Preheat oven to 425F with the rack in the bottom position.
  6. Roll out pastry, fitting half into a deep 9" pie pan.
  7. Combine the tapioca flour and sugar.
  8. Combine all the fruit and the extract in a large bowl and sprinkle the tapioca mixture overtop. Toss well and allow to sit 10 minutes.
  9. Pour the berry mixture over the bottom crust.
  10. Roll out remaining pastry and drape over the filling, crimp the edges with a fork to seal.
  11. Place pie on a baking sheet and cut 3-4 slits in the top crust for steam.
  12. Bake pie on the bottom rack of the oven for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 350F and cook for another 45 minutes, until browned and bubbling.
  13. Allow to cool thoroughly - at least 6 hours - before slicing.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 234.2
Total Fat: 11.9 g
Cholesterol: 6.3 mg
Sodium: 5.1 mg
Total Carbs: 31.2 g
Dietary Fiber: 5.4 g
Protein: 2.7 g

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Simple Supper

Some days I get so lost in whatever I'm doing that before you know it 7PM's rolled around and I have not a whit of a clue what I want or feel up to making myself for dinner. It's not a question of cooking for one or dining alone (that's my life every day!) but rather, "what should my stomach not reject immediately after it's eaten?". These days, as you'll know if you've been following me on Twitter, the answer is sadly "not much". Things that used to taste a certain way to me, for example, now are either totally devoid of flavour or are "tainted" with an odd aftertaste (thought not the metallic one associated with pine nuts). As someone who lives off of a spice heavy-handed life it's almost like being thrown into a foreign country!

I do get some randomly strange cravings occasionally, and my mom keeps joking that my condition that we've nicknamed "Bob" is really a baby alien that's taken up residence in my abdomen. These days, I'm willing to bet he's dancing a jig with stilettos on! The usual suspects keep cropping up for me, like Kraft Dinner (or even better, the white Cheddar mac from President's Choice), a big bowl of pasta (though strangely only the whole wheat kind) with nothing at all on it, even a full can of Habitant Pea Soup! Of course, the mac, pasta and soup are out with the dairy/wheat/meat product deal, so I cope.

This pasta meal was a result of one such craving - which I could actually dispatch since it was a) the beginning of the week and we had produce, not to mention our herb garden, and b) our pantry is pretty well stocked. A can of clams, some random spinach-rice pasta and a bunch of ground black pepper fell into place with some fresh tomato, a lemon and a couple leaves of basil that I ran out in the rain to pick from our little rock garden. It was a decent meal, not gourmet by any standards, but I really liked the tang and lemony-ness playing off the sweet tomatoes and the slightly salty clams.

So here's my nameless "guessipe", which I'm also going to pass along to Ruth's event Presto Pasta Nights care of Pam from Sidewalk Shoes.

Nameless Pasta
2 oz rice fettuccine, cooked + kept hot
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 plum tomato, chopped
5-oz can whole baby clams, undrained
zest of 1/2 lemon
juice of 1 lemon
fresh ground black pepper
3 large leaves fresh basil, torn
  1. Heat a small amount of water in a saucepan.
  2. Add garlic and cook over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  3. Stir in tomato and cook until tomato softens.
  4. Pour in clams and half the broth, stirring well to deglaze the pot. Raise heat to a simmer.
  5. Stir in lemon zest and lemon juice, remove from heat and add cooked pasta.
  6. Toss well to combine, pour into a bowl and top with pepper and basil.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Bread That is too Nourishing”

“Bread that must be sliced with an axe is bread that is too nourishing” - Fran Lebowitz

You gotta love Fran's wit, but I have to say I'm not agreeing with her on the boulengerie front. When I ate "store" bread (after growing out of the Wonder Bread years and moving to university), I sought out the bag with the densest, grainiest, darkest loaf inside. I loved the crunch of the different bits in each slice, and even if I had no clue in the world what millet or quinoa was, I knew that they tasted good in my toast and jam before Economics 101. My mother is very much in the same camp - the only time white bread passes her lips is if she has no other viable option - in our house, that means whenever a stew or chili gets made, since my two step-household members refuse to touch anything with a fleck of "whole" in it - excepting whole milk (of course) - and will leave their warm, freshly made dinners on the table while they drive to the grocery for a loaf of crusty "Italian" bread. When we first began sharing a household, I couldn't believe the lack of nutrition they were giving themselves - several fights and wasted loaves of mine later I've given up trying to convince them that a few changes could equal a whole world of difference. As my grandma told me, "they'll realize it on their deathbeds but never admit to it".

So I just sigh, then come on here and bitch. Haha.

Now that I'm baking my mom's regular stash of breads, buns and bagels, the only store-bought bread is the Italian sliced sandwich loaves for *them* and an occasional purchase of cinnamon-raisin Texas toast for my sister's snack attacks. Mom's bagged multigrain breads are gone, in favour of my concoctions. She described my creativity in the kitchen, as she put it, quite well at last weekend's BBQ: "People ask me what kind [the bread] is, saying that it looked so good, and all I can say is 'Sarah made it, I don't know what's in it but it's yummy' and finish it before they can beg for a piece".

Well, mom, I don't know if you'd have time to listen to me list the awesome things I chucked into my interpretation of Reinhart's (you know, the Bread Baker’s Apprentice guy) Multigrain Extraordinaire, but as long as it's all good with you, I'll keep tossing you curve balls (of dough)!

I'm also lobbing these rolls over to YeastSpotting, hosted by Susan of Wild Yeast!

Multigrain Bread Extraordinaire
Makes 10 "sandwich-sized" buns
1 oz millet
1 oz buckwheat groats
.5 oz quinoa (or amaranth)
2 fl oz hot water

6 oz refreshed whole wheat sourdough starter
1 oz (by weight) honey
1.5 oz whole wheat flour
1 oz skim milk powder
10 oz bread flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp cooked brown rice or polenta
1.5 oz hulled sunflower seeds
1 oz hulled pumpkin seeds
4 fl oz warm buttermilk
Poppy seeds for topping
  1. The night before you want to bake, combine all the "soaker" ingredients in a small bowl. Allow to stand at room temperature for 12 hours.
  2. Combine the sourdough starter, honey, whole wheat flour and skim milk powder in the bowl of a stand mixer, mixing well. Cover and let stand 3-4 hours.
  3. Combine the bread flour and salt in a separate bowl. Set aside.
  4. Mix the brown rice, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds into the soaker mixture. Add the buttermilk.
  5. With the mixer running, add half the flour to the starter blend, followed by all the buttermilk mixture.
  6. Add the remaining flour and increase the speed to medium. Knead for 9-12 minutes, until smooth.
  7. Place into an oiled bowl, turning to grease the top.
  8. Cover and allow to rise until doubled, 3-4 hours.
  9. Deflate dough gently and shape into a loaf or individual buns.
  10. Place into a lightly greased 9x5" loaf pan or two lined baking sheets. Cover and allow to rise until almost doubled, 1 1/2-2 hours.
  11. Preheat oven to 350F.
  12. Lightly mist dough with water and sprinkle with seeds.
  13. Bake loaf for 45-50 minutes (buns 20-25 minutes), until hollow-sounding when tapped on the bottom.
  14. Cool completely before slicing.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 224.4
Total Fat: 3.6 g
Cholesterol: 1.1 mg
Sodium: 101.6 mg
Total Carbs: 41.8 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.1 g
Protein: 8.1 g

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Sweeter Side of BBQ

My family loves to entertain. If there's a holiday, birthday, anniversary, engagement, communion or and other occasion my mom and stepdad can make up, you can bet that the end result will be something along the lines of his entire family, my grandparents and Andrew coming to my house and being served (or serving themselves) a feast with quantities of food that would rival one of Henry VIII's banquets. This past Sunday was no exception - the whole entourage showed up for the first backyard BBQ of the year. We had planned earlier parties this season, but since the weather was never cooperating and it seemed like Summer this year was a total fallacy they were scrapped.

Aside from the Casatiello bread from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, simple food - potato and green salads, deviled eggs and watermelon - lined our buffet table along with the usual suspects of burgers and sausages. Or should I say hockey pucks and charcoal rods? Yes, my stepdad is the antithesis of a BBQ king, although he definitely thinks otherwise. Regardless of the fact that one of our grills (he bought a charcoal one on a whim even though we had an expensive propane one already) was gas-fired, and the loaded charcoal grill was more than capable of fueling a perfect bed of coals, the "man of the BBQ" felt the need to empty an entire bottle of accelerant into the bowels of the 'cues. Can we say flamethrower? Of course, it then became impossible to put anything remotely near the grill rack so he and a couple of family members went on a walk through the woods first... but before they left he sprayed more lighter fluid into the charcoal one so the fire wouldn't "go out". Mmm-hmm... okay there, BBQ genius!

Needless to say, the temperature was still closer to an atomic bomb explosion than a nicely glowing, even heat when they returned - the burgers and dogs seared... and seared... and blackened into unrecognizable blobs as he allowed them to cook for 10 minutes! The saving grace was that once he got his own burgers and sausage he abandoned his station. My mom (who is never allowed to "man" the grill... 'cause it's a guy's job...) took over the second round of cooking and produced beautifully cooked food that left the leftover charred ones far, far behind.

Of course, I got to be in charge of the dessert table! Most of "the Italians" (AKA the stepfamily) don't have much of a sweet tooth, but they do love their fruit, and a couple simple, summery cakes seemed to fit the bill nicely. We served a French vanilla cake (that I will post in a follow up!) as well as laying out another incarnation of the Gourmet Raspberry Buttermilk Cake made using chocolate-ancho batter and topped with brilliant yellow peaches. I also made a version of it with lemon-poppyseed batter and strawberries, which I will share with you today!! We also served one of my "Canadian Pies", which was a big hit too!

Strawberry Laced Lemon - Poppyseed Cake
Serves 10
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp poppyseeds
pinch salt
2 oz cream cheese
2/3 cup sugar
1 tbsp honey
1 egg
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tbsp lemon extract
1/3 cup milk
5 large strawberries, halved
  1. Preheat oven to 375F, grease a 9-inch pan (I like a springform for unmoulding's sake).
  2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, lemon zest, poppy seeds and salt, set aside.
  3. Beat cream cheese and brown sugar until fluffy.
  4. Add honey, egg, lemon juice and lemon extract, beating well.
  5. Mix flour mixture, alternating with milk, into the creamed blend.
  6. Pour into cake pan.
  7. Arrange strawberry halves on top.
  8. Bake on the lowest shelf of the oven for 30-35 minutes.
  9. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then remove the sides of the sringform and move to a wire rack to cool completely.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 142.9
Total Fat: 3.1 g
Cholesterol: 27.9 mg
Sodium: 27.3 mg
Total Carbs: 26.5 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.7 g
Protein: 2.9 g

Chocolate - Ancho Peach Cake
Serves 10
1 tbsp ground flaxseed
1/4 cup hot water
1 cup flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 oz cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp ancho chili paste
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 large, ripe peach, peeled and sliced
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F and grease a 9-inch pan (I like a springform for unmoulding's sake).
  2. Combine flaxseed and hot water in a small bowl, let stand 10 minutes.
  3. Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, set aside.
  4. Beat cream cheese and brown sugar until fluffy.
  5. Add honey, ancho paste, vanilla and flaxseed mixture, beating well.
  6. Mix flour mixture, alternating with buttermilk into the creamed blend.
  7. Pour into cake pan and arrange peach slices on top.
  8. Bake 20 to 25 minutes.
  9. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then remove the sides of the sringform and move to a wire rack to cool completely.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 145.7
Total Fat: 2.6 g
Cholesterol: 6.7 mg
Sodium: 50.4 mg
Total Carbs: 29.2 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.3 g
Protein: 2.7 g

Friday, July 17, 2009

Like Caffeine - and Booze - for Chocolate

Some guys will do anything for love - buy flowers for their gal, massage their feet, even clean the bathroom (thanks, Andrew!). Expressions of devotion and celebrations of commitment are so sweet to me, especially in this day and age when it seems like every other couple is knocking on a hard-ass divorce lawyer's door A dear friend of mine whom I've written about before, Stan, graciously trusted me to make him a cake for his 27th wedding anniversary after the success of the Chocolate Guinness Cake I made for the autism charity auction, and I was more than happy to oblige. Having talked with one of his (adult, as opposed to former student!) friends I continued to be touched by Stan's selflessness and generosity towards his friends as well as anyone in need, and I hope that he knows what trusting me to make his gift really meant to me. Even if I hadn't been paid a single red cent for the ingredients and labour that went into this beauty, I still would have done it happily - just knowing the level of faith he put in my unproven abilities as a cake decorator made every aspect of the experience more than worth it!

Stan left the design, decoration and general particulars of the cake up to my discretion when he asked me to bake for him... the only thing he requested was for the cake to be something along the lines of "Kahlua Fudge". Deb (his wife) is my kind of gal! Browsing around the internet was bearing little promise, since all the documented recipes I found started with a boxed cake mix. I don't think so! So in the end I did what any self-respecting caker would - I wrote my own. And I'll be damned if I wasn't giddy at the results! The buttermilk cake - that I opted to bake in a 9" springform and slice into layers rather than bake separately - was divinely tender and fine-crumbed, but held up to a light soaking in it's namesake liqueur overnight. Moisture was never an issue with this recipe either, as can happen with other alcohol-based recipes, since I used a mixture of butter and oil, along with the buttermilk and a good dose of melted chocolate, took care of that! The rich flavour of the Kahlua and espresso is more than prominent too - both elements are featured in "cooked" and "raw" states between the filling and frosting!

Unbeknownst to me at the time, when I was decorating the (beautifully iced, if I may say so myself) cake, I used one of Deb's favourite indulgences of all time - the chocolate covered espresso bean. Yup, I ringed the entire base of the cake in the sweet and bitter snacks! Definitely not a cake you want to eat right before bed, in any case!

As far as I know the cake was thoroughly enjoyed by the two of them - the look of gratitude on Stan's face when he saw the finished product was golden and I really didn't want to charge him for the cake after all he'd done for me both in and out of school! Being his generous self though, he insisted - and I can't wait to see him again come September!

There is one word of caution with this recipe - it makes a lot of batter. The 9" springform really wasn't big enough - not only was it almost overflowing while it baked (tense moments there!) but it also filled 4 cupcake cups. Additionally, the cake is so moist and fine that cupcakes just don't work, they fell apart when I tried unmoulding them. Consider it a bonus!

Stans Kahlua Cake
Serves 16
200 g flour
50 g buckwheat flour (optional, sub 50 g cake flour if not using)
30 g mesquite flour (optional, sub 30 g buckwheat flour if not using)
5 g baking soda
10 g baking powder
3 g salt
115 g butter, at room temperature
100 g granulated sugar
220 g brown sugar
125 mL canola oil
80 g dark cocoa powder
10 mL Kahlua flavouring (optional, add 15 g of instant espresso powder if not using)
5 mL vanilla
3 eggs
175 g semisweet chocolate, chopped
90 mL buttermilk
125 mL cold brewed espresso
90 mL Kahlua liqueur

225 g icing sugar
14 g dark cocoa powder
55 g shortening
60 g cream cheese, soft
1 tsp instant espresso powder
25 mL Kahlua
Pinch salt

530 g prepared vanilla buttercream frosting
Melted chocolate ganache and chocolate covered coffee beans, for decoration.

  1. Preheat oven to 350F, grease a 10" springform pan and line the bottom with parchment.
  2. Whisk together flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt and ground espresso (if using), set
  3. In a mixer or large bowl, cream butter and sugars until fluffy.
  4. Combine oil, cocoa and flavouring(s), whisking to form a paste, then scrape into the creamed mixture and beat well.
  5. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  6. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate with the buttermilk, coffee and Kahlua.
  7. Starting and ending with the dry ingredients, beat them in alternately with the coffee mixture.
  8. Place a pan of boiling water on the bottom rack of the oven, then place the cake on the middle rack.
  9. Bake 45-50 minutes, or until it tests done. Let cool completely in the pan.
--For Filling--
  1. Beat the sugar, cocoa powder, shortening and cream cheese, until smooth.
  2. Add the espresso powder, Kahlua, salt, and vanilla and beat at highest speed 10-12 minutes.

--Assembly / Finishing--

  1. Slice the cake into 3 layers, levelling the top if domed.
  2. Spread the filling evenly on the bottom layer, top with the final layer.
  3. Crumb coat the cake, chill it 2-3 hours then apply the final frosting layer.
  4. Drizzle with ganache and decorate with the coffee beans.
  5. Chill at least 6 hours, but bring to room temperature before serving
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 585.3
Total Fat: 28.3 g
Cholesterol: 61.6 mg
Sodium: 163.2 mg
Total Carbs: 80.8 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.5 g
Protein: 5.0 g

Want to convert the measurements? Try this handy calculator.

I discussed the Mesquite and Buckwheat flours here, and Golda's Kitchen was my source for the Kahlua extract.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Wicked, Wicked Ways

There are some things in this world that are do devilish, so exotic and strange, that even though you don't fully understand or trust their charms, you're drawn to them. This loaf is one of those. In fact, it's inspiration - a deliciously fragrant, eat-over-the-sink ripe mango just dripping with juice - drew me in so quickly and with such force that the intended victim was instead impaled upon my spoon, rather than enrobed in batter. Thankfully I had a second, equally willing subject standing by in the refrigerator (that I had planned to enjoy as a mid morning snack after baking!), and with a glint of the knife it too was dispatched and bleeding it's sticky nectar over the bamboo cutting board.

Since I was already bewitched by the mango, I began concocting my own sort of black magic... keeping tropical (almost voodoo?), I added a banana, molasses, fresh grated ginger and nutmeg... then went for the jugular. Three secret ingredients made their way into my (ceramic) cauldron, one a fairly common ingredient in my pantry, and two others that were slightly off the radar. For a depth of both colour and flavour, just a hint of my favourite rich cocoa powder was sifted in first. Then, I reached into my stash of 25 flours and withdrew my favourite powder - mesquite flour. The intoxicating aroma reached my nose before the bag was even opened, and once the addition was stirred into the other dry ingredients I knew that I was almost there. All it needed was a nightcap, and the most exotic liqueur I know of - Amarula - fit the bill nicely. By the time the cake made it into the oven I was beyond antsy for it to hurry up and finish already, and the entire time it spent in the firey cavern it perfumed the house with whispers of Caribbean mystique.

As I made my first careful slices into the moist, soft loaf, I knew that something incredible had taken place. This was more than the sum of it's parts, and it was a piece of magic that I could hold onto - until the hungry masses caught wind of it's existence.

Wicked Fruit Quickbread
Serves 12
1 tbsp ground flaxseed
3 tbsp hot water
2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tbsp molasses
2 tsp fresh grated ginger
1 tbsp vanilla
1 tbsp Amarula liqueur
1 medium banana, mashed
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 cup flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 tbsp mesquite flour (sub whole wheat if not using)
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 large, verging-on-overripe mango, peeled and diced
  1. Preheat oven to 300F, grease a loaf pan.
  2. Combine the flaxseed and water, let stand 5 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, beat sugar, oil, molasses, ginger, vanilla, Amarula and banana until smooth.
  4. Stir in flaxseed mixture and yogurt.
  5. In another bowl, whisk together flours, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda, baking powder and nutmeg.
  6. Add the flours to the wet ingredients, stirring gently to just incorporate.
  7. Fold in the mango pieces.
  8. Bake 60-70 minutes, until tests done.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 169.2
Total Fat: 5.4 g
Cholesterol: 0.7 mg
Sodium: 10.3 mg
Total Carbs: 28.7 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.9 g
Protein: 2.1 g

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A [Couple] Dozen Flours

So, over the past couple days, I had been flitting back and forth with a couple of my pals on Twitter about pantry contents. A lot of people are taking part in something called the "Penny Pinching Pantry Raid", begun by Susan from "She's Becoming DoughMESStic". While there's no way I'd ever be able to participate in the impressive undertaking they're doing - only $100 for groceries in the entire month (we spend twice that in a week!), I did realize that it had been a mighty long time since my baking cabinet had been purged and organized. So Friday, with the gracious help of Andrew, I pulled out everything from the top section of the cupboard, documented it all, organized it and re-assembled the shelves. I found some interesting stuff - like the fact that I was hoarding no less than 25 varieties of flour! Beth Sheresh, who writes at KitchenMage and also at A Year in Bread, offered to do a write up of everything I found flour-wise, so I compiled this list of what I have in my pantry right now, a bit about each, as well as what they’re good for.

Want to see photos of each flour I've got? Pop on over to Flickr!

  1. All-Purpose: A blended wheat flour of hard and soft wheat berry endosperm, with the bran and germ removed. Also known as “plain” or “general purpose”, suitable for all kinds of recipes.
  2. Whole Wheat: Ground from the complete wheat kernel. Nutty flavour and a denser texture when compared to all-purpose flour.
  3. Nutri-Blend: Developed and sold by Robin Hood, this is a blend of white flour and wheat bran. It tastes and behaves like white flour in cooking and baking while supplying the same amount of fibre as whole wheat flour.
  4. Cake: Wheat flour, usually bleached, with the least amount of gluten (protein). Best for light, delicate products such as sponge cakes and cookie batters.
  5. Whole Wheat Pastry: Milled from soft wheat berries and containing most of the germ and bran, has a fine texture suitable for making cakes and cookies more nutritious without sacrificing flavour.
  6. Red Fife: A whole-grain flour milled from the organically grown heritage wheat that is the genetic parent to wheat grown in North America. Jamie Kennedy’s trademark flour for breads in his restaurant.
  7. Barley: Fine-ground whole barley grains. Can be used to replace part of the flour in recipes for a varied flavour and texture (particularly good in chocolate – based recipes). Can also be used in cooking applications like roux.
  8. Dark Rye: A grind of rye berries where both bran and germ are kept, making for a dark colour, coarse texture and stronger sour flavour. Often used for pumpernickel and sourdough bread.
  9. Kamut: Ground from Kamut brand grain, closely related to wheat and is often considered a specialty grain. Golden colour, low gluten content and nutty flavour.
  10. 12 Grain: Manufactured by King Arthur Flour from coarse ground wheat, rye, corn, rice, oats, spelt, barley, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, and sorghum. Adds flavour and texture to whole grain bread and muffins, as well as being wonderful in oatmeal cookies.
  11. Semolina: Made from the endosperm of Durum Wheat, usually used in pasta and pizza crusts due to the elasticity from gluten.
  12. Gluten: This is flour with the starch and bran removed. Added to whole wheat breads and bagels for better texture, can also be used to make seitan.

Gluten Free

  1. White Rice: Milled from kernels of white rice. It is typically used in Western countries for people who suffer from gluten intolerance (celiac).
  2. Brown Rice: The whole-grain version of white rice flour, with the rice bran included.
  3. Glutinous Rice: This very fine, sticky flour is milled from mochi rice or glutinous rice. Usually used for thickening, can be frozen without separating like cornstarch. Also used in daifuku pastry and mochi balls.
  4. Buckwheat: Ground from the seed of a plant related to rhubarb rather than a grain, this is available in either light or dark forms. Does not contain gluten and it is often mixed with other, gluten containing flours for baking and cooking.
  5. Potato: Ground from whole potatoes (unlike potato starch), used to add better flavour and texture to breads (about ¼ cup per recipe adds a higher rise and softer crumb, like potato water) and can be used to boost potato flavour in soups and sauces.
  6. Tapioca: A superfine grind of the starch from cassava tubers, and is used to thicken puddings, soups and pie fillings as well as functioning as an egg replacer in certain vegan mixtures. Should not be confused with tapioca pearls or quick cooking tapioca used in puddings.
  7. Corn: Slightly sweet, fine flour ground from yellow corn, can be used with wheat flour to make cornbread, muffins, pancakes, polenta, and tortillas. In mixtures with other gluten free binders and grains it is also a mainstay in gluten free breads.
  8. Sorghum: Ground from milo, a grass crop popular in African and Indian climates. Gluten free, nutty and semi-sweet, good for adding flavour to spice cakes as a blend with all purpose flour and as an ingredient in whole wheat pasta dough.
  9. Teff: A very nutrient dense gluten free flour milled from tiny grains (each 1/150th the size of a wheat berry). Tastes like roasted cashews or hazelnuts, is mostly protein and fibre and is delicious in pancakes and crepes as well as in chocolate desserts and thickening rich brown sauces and gravies.
  10. De-Fatted Soy: A concentrated source of quality protein and amino acids with a minimum amount of fat, ground from whole soy beans. Excellent in any baking application where there are extra protein concerns nutritionally, though as it is gluten free no more than ¼ of the total flour should be substituted. Taste is fairly neutral though it can be detected by sensitive palates, so stronger flavoured recipes are best to start with.
  11. Chickpea: A very strong tasting and smelling flour ground from dried chickpeas or garbanzo beans, high in protein and relatively nutrient dense and “creamy” flavoured. In flatbreads it is a good accompaniment to curries and also adds an interesting flavour to banana loaves.
  12. Coconut: Ground from pure, dehydrated coconut meat, then de-fatted to make a gluten free, low carbohydrate, high protein and high fibre powder. Delicious added to recipes where a slightly sweet coconut flavour and nutrients are desired without the texture of shredded meat or the fat of coconut milk. A favourite in carrot and pumpkin cakes, or added to the custard mixture of coconut ice cream.
  13. Mesquite: Ground from the seed pods of the mesquite plant. Good for dredging chicken or pork cuts in before grilling for a smoky flavour or added instead of breadcrumbs to burger patties. Mix the gluten free mesquite with other flours to use in baking, particularly sweet goods like cookies and cakes. Excellent in conjunction with dark chocolate or berry flavours as it has a mocha / coconut like aura.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Simply Sensational

There are some things that I know will be guaranteed hits in our house, no matter what the season. Summers are usually the busiest time of the year for everyone in our house because along with everyone working during the day (except me, that is - I'm not physically stable enough to hack it at a full time job right now), there are a million birthday parties, BBQs, golf games, riding shows and long weekend vacations!

Needless to say, the "everyday" baking of the bagels and breads for my mom to take to work have taken a bit of a backseat these days. Though she still does rely on me to replenish her carb stash periodically, it has become a lot less frequent since the thick of Summer holidays came about. However, no matter how many variations of "tea cakes" I seem to make, they never seem to go to waste (or even sit in the freezer for longer than a couple of days!), especially if the loaf in question has chocolate in it. With this recipe, I wanted to preserve the delicious flavour of our garden's fresh rhubarb and the creaminess of a single over-ripe banana sitting in our fruit bowl, while accenting it somehow. I took a leaf (or bag) from my pantry and filled the flavour gap with the subtly nutty Kamut flour I found there, as well as pouring in the dregs from a carton of almond milk in my fridge.

The recipe would have remained totally and completely vegan - as it was originally written on Susan's site - but we don't use soy yogurt here and I'm the only non-dairy drinker here, so I swapped in the Source brand fatfree vanilla yogurt that my mom was eating with breakfast and it worked wonderfully. Like most of the other recipes on Susan's blog, this one was a hit with my mom almost immediately - and I had to make a second one for the hungry masses at her work after they had a taste and wanted more!

Spring - Stuffed Caramel Cake
Serves 10
1 tbsp ground flaxseed
1/4 cup warm water
1/3 cup fat free vanilla yogurt (I used Source)
1/3 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup water
1 cup Kamut flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 medium banana, sliced lengthwise
1 stalk rhubarb, halved lengthwise and cut into 8-9" lengths
1 tsp sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 375F, grease a loaf pan.
  2. Whisk together flaxseed and warm water in a large bowl, let stand 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in yogurt, almond milk, vanilla, brown sugar and water until smooth.
  4. In another bowl whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.
  5. Stir flour mixture into the wet ingredients until combined.
  6. Spread 1/2 the batter in the loaf pan.
  7. Layer rhubarb and banana slices overtop, then top with the remaining cake batter.
  8. Sprinkle with the tsp of sugar.
  9. Bake for 30 minutes.
  10. Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack and cool completely.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 92.2
Total Fat: 0.6 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 13.3 mg
Total Carbs: 21.5 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.2 g
Protein: 2.2 g

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Least I Could Do

I have to preface this post by saying that nothing - and I mean nothing - that I did for Andrew's birthday dinner can ever begin to make a dent in what I owe him for everything over the years. Not only is today his 22nd birthday (which I butchered, but that won't be discussed further tonight), but it also marks our 4 1/2 year anniversary. In that relatively short time, he has stuck with me through thick and thin (literally - we started dating when I was overweight, and now as you know I'm painfully thin), moved all over Hell's half acre just to be with me, shelled out countless dollars on "just because" gifts to make me smile, been victim to myriads of my kitchen experiments, given me millions of massages when my bones ached so much I couldn't stand and took me out of the depressed pit I had wallowed myself into over the years. He's played a whole cast of roles including dishwasher, heating pad, lackey, therapist, punching bag, personal trainer and pillow.

And I... what have I done? Well, I've moved away twice (once to Ottawa to start at Carleton U, and then back after falling ill and having a nervous breakdown), nagged him relentlessly about his schoolwork and career path progress, and even at times caused him to feel unwelcome in my home and life. I don't say it often enough, if at all, to his face, but I am truly amazed and grateful that he has stuck with me as long as he has. I just don't know how I could ever begin to repay his kindness.

The only way I can start to, at least at the moment, is with a dinner from the heart and a cake baked with all the love I have to give him.

I don't have a recipe for the steak - it was a prime sirloin cut and so doesn't really need one. All I did was marinade it for 8 hours in PC's Steak Spice marinade, then broil it to medium doneness (Andrew's preferred way). The stuffed potatoes were a little more involved (though not much): I simply scrubbed and pierced two Russets before baking them off at 375F for 50 minutes. I let them cool about 5 minutes before splitting the skins and scooping out the fleshy starch into a bowl, where I added a dash of steak seasoning, garlic powder, a little black pepper, a healthy tablespoon of thick plain yogurt and about half a handful of Fruilano cheese. I stuffed the filling back into the skins and topped them with the other half-handful of cheese and a sprinkle of smoked paprika before covering the tray with plastic and stashing it in the fridge until he come for dinner. All I had to do was bake at 375F for 20 minutes after that and they were perfectly hot and crispy.

The cake was an invention of mine that was sparked by a Food Network cake challenge Andrew and I saw one afternoon earlier this year. The Triple Hazelnut Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting looked delicious indeed, and I quickly ordered the hazelnut extract online once I had scoured my local bakery supply shops with no luck. I got more elaborate as the weeks of looking at the recipe went by, and the triple-hazelnut ingredient list soon saw two more hazelnutty additions - hazelnut oil, and good old Nutella. I was psyched, because there was nothing in my mind that could beat a cake that looked and tasted like a giant Ferrero Rocher.

When it came time to begin seriously putting a plan of action (and a shopping list) together about a week before I actually baked off the cake, I was hit with the first of the obstacles: the cake and filling recipe both called for Frangelico liqueur, which was not in our stockpile. This wouldn't have been an issue, except I discovered the distinct possibility of a liquor worker's strike on the cutoff day. I tore off to the LCBO after harried calls to both my mom and Andrew to see if they could find any, and secured the last bottle in the store (apparently if you threaten to take away the people's booze, they will raid every shelf). The one (and only, I thought) hurdle down.

Problems number 2 and 3 were variations on the same theme: I required ground hazelnuts in both cake and filling, and though I had seen them at various Bulk Barns several times, they did not exist at all when I went to purchase them! After tripping out to 3 different locations I did find slivered ones, which I snatched up to grind at home. Getting home, I doled them out into the good old processor and got all that I needed, and I started to make the cake. After I stuck the pans into the oven though, I noticed that my hands were very uncomfortable. Like, puffy, red, itchy rash uncomfortable. I had developed a skin reaction to the hazelnut oils, which lasted the entire remainder of the afternoon before finally ebbing away after lots of aloe and cold water! I managed to find a pair of clean surgical gloves to use when making the filling though - I learned my lesson!

I can't say that the cake is in any way poportionate to any of the gifts Andrew has bestowed upon me, but the look on his face when he saw it for the first time and the lavish compliments he gave me while eating it make me believe it's a good way to start.

Never Enough Nuts Filbert Cake
Serves 16
11.5 oz flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3.5 oz ground hazelnuts
1/3 cup hazelnut liqueur
1 tsp hazelnut extract
2 tbsp hazelnut (or canola) oil
1 cup full-fat plain yogurt
8 oz unsalted butter, softened
2 oz Nutella
8.5 oz sugar
4 eggs, beaten

---Filling / Frosting---
1.5 oz butter, cubed
1/4 cup flour
5 oz sugar
2 tbsp skim milk powder
1 cup half and half cream
2 tbsp Nutella
3 oz ground hazelnuts
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp hazelnut liqueur
1/2 tbsp hazelnut extract
1 1/2 oz finely chopped bittersweet chocolate

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease three 8" cake pans, and line the bottoms with parchment.
  2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and hazelnuts, set aside.
  3. Separately, whisk together the hazelnut liqueur, extract, oil and yogurt. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, cream butter, Nutella and sugar until fluffy.
  5. Add eggs, beating well. Continue to beat on medium speed for 2 minutes.
  6. Beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, alternate additions of the flour and yogurt mixtures, beating well after each addition.
  7. Bake for 40 minutes, or until cakes test done.
  8. Cool 30 minutes in the tins, then invert onto wire racks and cool completely.


  1. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Sprinkle in flour, stirring well with a wooden spoon until smooth.
  3. Add sugar, skim milk powder, cream and Nutella.
  4. Reduce heat and cook, stirring, 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
  5. Cool 1 minute, then stir in hazelnuts, salt, liqueur, extract and chocolate.
  6. Return to heat and warm just until chocolate melts.
  7. Immediately pour into a non-reactive bowl and cool completely to room temperature.


  1. Level cake rounds if overly domed.
  2. Sandwich even amounts of filling between the cake rounds.
  3. Cover entire cake with remaining filling mixture.
  4. Chill before piping decorations.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 527.9
Total Fat: 29.8 g
Cholesterol: 97.8 mg
Sodium: 39.3 mg
Total Carbs: 57.3 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.4 g
Protein: 8.3 g

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Miss and a Surprise Hit

When Summer comes full force into your backyard filled with BBQs and picnics, not to mention lots of fresh salads that need nothing more than a light vinaigrette, a light bread and oil dipper alongside the classic offerings is all you need to cap off a meal al fresco. But really, who wants to be in the kitchen making bread when it's 30 degrees outside (and 40 inside!)? Well, if you remember a while back when I reviewed a biscotti mix by Epicure Selections I also mentioned that they had also graciously sent along a packet mix for focaccia, in Sun-Dried Tomato and Herb flavour. So, I had a chance to do another recipe to box mix comparison, hoping to emerge with results just as close as the cookie comparison (which was too close to call, taste-wise).

There are numerous benefits to using the mix approach for busy cooks out there, or for those who need a convenient way to whip up something "home made" without filling up the pantry with various flours and other ingredients. I'm lucky enough these days that I have nothing but time (and a very large pantry!) on my hands and so eschew baking mixes (unless baking for my extremely picky sister, which is another story entirely), but given the relative success of the other product I went into the kitchen open-minded.

True to the package advertising, the Epicure mix was easy and fast to make, without the need for a mixer and only 2 additions from home - water and olive oil. All the remaining ingredients, including the seasoned topping, were included, and were separately packaged as the box (retailing at $13 CDN) makes 2 loaves. Nutritional information is on the box for both the dry and prepared mix (though still absent from the website and customer service requests). The biggest benefit for this or any box mix is that it provides a consistent result and almost fool-proof method for even the shyest of chefs: there is minimal measuring, and dead-easy instructions.

So, how did the loaf fare? I have to say, as I was combining the ingredients I was immensely more impressed than with the biscotti. The dough came together well, and with the inclusion of instant yeast there was no proofing required before shaping and baking the disc. The only problem I had with the resulting dough was that unlike the traditional focaccia loaves I had seen and made previously, the Epicure mix did not yield the deep dimples associated with it's kind (and shown in full colour on the box panel).

Popping into the oven, I perused the ingredients list which again was mercifully short and pronounceable, but odd. In with the typical flour, yeast and salt, the ingredients of sugar (in a hefty dose going by the hierarchal list) and orange extract were listed. I could see a touch of sugar being added for yeast growth, but what the heck was so much of it doing in a supposedly savoury loaf, well ahead of the sun-dried tomatoes (which were invisible)? I also noticed the vast amount of packaging that this mix entailed: in addition to the box, each bread mix, yeast packet, and topping mix was wrapped in a silver foil/plastic bag that then went right into the trash. Coupling that with the shipping the purchase of each of these mixes requires (the Epicure line is not sold in stores), the carbon footprint for a bread meant to be simple and rustic was growing rapidly.

The resulting bread was nothing if not beautiful looking - perfectly browned, though still without any dimples. A slice revealed a very soft and tender crumb - almost a cakey texture, but with a crust that was satisfyingly chewy. The taste was, however, as I suspected. The panel (of my parents and Italian stepfamily, as well as Andrew and his family) all declared the bread to be "too sweet" and "good, but not focaccia". There was also question as to whether there was any sundried tomatoes in the mix at all, and the topping was pretty though a little bland. A side of garlic and chile dipping oil helped, but the sweetness was still noticeable. Instead of becoming a side to a salad lunch or dinner, it was finished with afternoon tea and enjoyed as more of a cake or scone.

Undaunted, I set out to make focaccia from a recipe I had earmarked previously, from Nick Malgeri's book "A Baker's Tour". Just as simple on paper as the mix - more so in the ingredients as it had no sugar or extracts of any kind, the dough again came together very simply and quickly. Malgeri's recipe used dry active, rather than instant, yeast which meant two rises were needed, but using a packet of instant yeast would yield equal speed to the pre-mix. To keep the comparison as close as possible, I added diced tomatoes that I had dried last year, along with some Italian seasoning. For the frugal-minded readers, the total cost of all the ingredients I used (including the same fancy-pants olive oil I made the mix with) came out to $4.21CDN. No shipping fees, no packaging, and the freedom to add or change ingredients such as flours, seasoning and even the yeast depending on your mood.

The tradeoff with the recipe is that it yields a rougher looking loaf, which is appropriate for such a dough. The crust is crisper, thicker and chewier, while the crumb is tight. The recipe's dough did dimple extremely well, and held the dimples to keep the bread flat like a storebought focaccia. The taste was also better recieved, being clearly savoury with pieces of tomato and the tang of the olive oil shining through, and the loaf was finished as a mop with spaghetti dinner and the next day's salad.

Sundried Tomato And Herb Focaccia Alla Novese
Makes 2 rounds, 10 wedges each
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp Kosher salt
4 tbsp full-bodied olive oil, divided
20 dry-pack sundied tomato halves, chopped (I use kitchen shears to cut them into 2-3 pieces)
2 tbsp Italian seasoning, divided
2 tsp dry active yeast
1 2/3 cups warm water
Kosher salt and coarse-ground pepper
  1. Combine the flour, salt, 3 tbsp of the oil, tomatoes and 1 tbsp of the Italian seasoning in a large mixing bowl until oil is well dispersed and mixture is crumbly-looking.
  2. In a small bowl or cup, combine yeast and water, let stand 10 minutes, until foamy.
  3. Stir yeast mixture into the flour, beating well to thoroughly hydrate the dough.
  4. Place into a lightly greased bowl, cover and allow to rise 1 hour.
  5. Deflate the dough gently, then divide in half.
  6. Stretch and press into two flattened 8-9 inch rounds. They don't have to be perfect!
  7. Use your fingertips to dimple the surface of each round, then brush the surfaces of the dough with the remaining olive oil and sprinkle with last tbsp of Italian seasoning.
  8. Add Kosher salt and pepper to taste.
  9. Cover and allow to rise 45 minutes further.
  10. Preheat oven to 425F, place an oven rack on the lowest tier of the oven.
  11. Bake loaves 30 minutes, until golden all over and hollow sounding when tapped.
  12. Remove to wire racks immediately and cool.
  13. These can be served warm, or room temperature. Wrap in heavy foil and freeze for storage.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 124.6
Total Fat: 3.2 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 233.9 mg
Total Carbs: 20.3 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.8 g
Protein: 3.4 g

So, unfortunately, I can't reccommend the Sun-Dried Tomato and Herb mix for those of you looking for a savoury side this summer. As a bread mix, it is solid, and the other packet of ingredients will probably be transformed into a raisin and cinnamon studded affair. However, all is not completely lost on the Epicure label, as when I was at the Oshawa Market two weeks ago (when I bought the gorgeous berries for the pie) I found a woman selling the Epicure products at the same stall. She convinced me (who is a die-hard mustard freak) to try one of their Summer offerings, labeled Sweet & Spicy Mustard. Divine, divine, divine! It is almost impossible to describe it, as at first it's reminiscent of a honey-mustard, but it transforms into a rich deli style flavour and finishes with just enough kick to let you know that somewhere, there's a pepper or two lurking. I can only dream of the ways I could use it, I would definitely top grilled portabellos with it or use it as a base for salad dressing, and it's balanced enough that a big spoonful into coleslaw mix would blow it away. It's only available through their seasonal catalogue, unfortunately, and since I'm not really in the market for mail-order foods I had to take a pass. If it ever makes it's way into the retail market though, I will be first in line!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

My, My, It's [Canadian] Pie

Happy Canada Day!
Today is the birthday of two things I hold dear... my country and favourite land of Canada, and my very own blog! To celebrate I've put a few red (and sometimes white) things on the menu, namely a delicious and almost completely local strawberry-rhubarb pie!

To keep with the festive red colour scheme today, I also have to show you my latest fashionista move: a brilliant red dye job courtesy of Valentinos (and a cut from Christina!). Thanks guys!

Now, foodage. I scored BIG at the farmer's market last weekend. Like, total no-holds-barred, wallet-emptying big. Instead of getting a few baskets of assorted fruit and a locally cured salami for a certain challenge, I came home with the salami, local provolone (also for the challenge), and 3 lbs of fresh, bright strawberries. Yes, 3 pounds. And no clue what to do with them all, other than that compote from a couple days ago and a pie or two. Not to mention the fact that we still had half a pound from the week before in our fridge (I disposed of that in a more direct manner... *chomp*).

So, pie it was then! I actually wound up making three in the long run, and each of them were stuffed to the brim not only with those precious jewels of summertime but also with super-local rhubarb (yes, the garden was proliferating yet again!). The crust was partial Red Fife flour (local again!). So what wasn't all-Canadian in this patriotic pastry? Ah, well that would be the secret ingredient... the one that caused my dad to ask just what I did to the crust to make it so amazing.

The answer? A sliced banana lined the bottom of each pastry shell. Oh yes, I did it. The banana forms an ever so slightly creamy and custardy layer between the fresh and slightly tart pink berries and the plain, semi-salty and rich crust. It was definitely a shot-in-the-dark hit, and I knew after the first one I made that it was carving it's way solidly into my pie-making repetoire. My mom's pie gilded the lily a tad on top of the triple-fruit goodness too, since I added chocolate chips to her pie's strawberry-rhubarb filling! Hey, she was pining for chocolate, and who am I to tell my mom no??

So enjoy this pie, and all the other ones at this month's "You Want Pies With That?" event!

Strawberry - Banana Rhubarb Pie
Serves 12
3/4 cup flour
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp sugar
1/3 cup cold butter
1/4 cup shortening
4 - 5 tbsp cold water
3 tbsp tapioca flour
1/3 cup super-fine sugar
13 oz strawberries, quartered
15 oz rhubarb, chopped into 3/4"-1" pieces
1 large ripe banana, sliced into rounds
Egg wash (optional)
  1. In a bowl, whisk together flours, salt and sugar.
  2. Cut the butter and shortening in until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
  3. 1 tbsp at a time, gradually add water until a dough forms (you may not need it all).
  4. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead 1-2 times to bring the mixture together, then wrap in plastic and chill 1 hour.
  5. Preheat oven to 425F.
  6. Roll out pastry, fitting half into a 9" pie pan.
  7. Combine the tapioca flour and sugar and sprinkle over strawberries and rhubarb. Let stand 5 minutes.
  8. Layer banana slices evenly on the bottom pastry crust.
  9. Pour the strawberry-rhubarb mixture over the bananas and smooth to an even layer.
  10. Roll out and cut remaining pastry into strips.
  11. Form a lattice-work pattern overtop of the filling and crimp the edges with a fork to seal.
  12. Brush lattice with egg wash if desired.Bake pie on the bottom rack of the oven for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 350F and cook for another 45 minutes, until browned and bubbling.
  13. Allow to cool thoroughly before slicing.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 189.5
Total Fat: 9.6 g
Cholesterol: 13.6 mg
Sodium: 38.7 mg
Total Carbs: 24.7 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.6 g
Protein: 2.4 g