Patty’s pumpkin crème brûlée

Yes. I’m afraid it’s true. I have dangerous news: it is possible to make crème brûlée even more glorious.

I’ll be frank, I am tired of the trials and tribulations of fudge.  I needed a day of distance. Today is Thanksgiving, and Boyfriend and I are heading to Hobby Victim’s house for dinner. We each made a dessert. Mine was my favourite custard, tweaked with an inspiration from The Globe and Mail. I took my existing recipe, and tinkered with the proportions for the spices, and used real vanilla bean.

Toronto look out: something delicious this way comes!

Good to know before you start:

As I mentioned previously, custard should be made the day before because it needs to chill overnight. Before you serve it, remove from the fridge for 20 minutes, then caramelize the sugar, then chill for another 10 minutes before eating – we want cold custard and glassy sugar, not hot.

To achieve the silky texture that crème brûlée is famous for, it is imperative to use a mesh strainer. Double-straining into ramequins in a pain in the ass but so worth it.

You’re also going to need a fire-proof surface and kitchen torch. Don’t have a torch? Check out my guide about making your own. It’s way better than using the stove broiler. People, this is crème brûlée for Thanksgiving. Go big or go home.

Time required: 2 days (1 hr prep and bake, 1 hour cooling, chill overnight)

Yields: 12

Cost per portion: $3.00

Total cost if you have none of the ingredients: $36.00

Special kitchen implements I used:

  • mesh strainer
  • 12 ramequins
  • 2 baking pans: 9″ x 13″
  • 2 dish towels you don’t mind getting wet
  • fire-proof surface (ie: marble slab)
  • awesome kitchen torch

Ingredients:

  • 4 C heavy cream, room temperature
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 TSP ground nutmeg
  • 1 TSP ground ginger
  • 1 C canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • ⅔ C granulated white sugar
  • ¼ TSP salt
  • 10 egg yolks, room temperature
  • 12 TSP turbinado sugar (save until final stage, 1 TSP per portion)

Instructions:

1. Pre-heat oven to 325°F / 162°C, using centre rack. Fill kettle with water and simmer for later. Fold dish towels so they sit nicely in the baking pans, and add ramequins, like so:

2. Pour heavy cream into a sauce pan, then split and scrape vanilla bean, and add to cream (including shell and pods). I do this at the very beginning and let the vanilla infuse into the cream while the cream comes up to room temp.

3. Add nutmeg and ginger to cream, then scald cream on medium heat. A skim will form, that’s normal. Once bubbles form at the edge, remove from heat.

4. Pour cream through strainer into a medium-size bowl.

5. Stir pumpkin into hot cream, let stand 5 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix sugar and salt.

7. Separate the yolks from the egg whites, gently whisk yolks into sugar mixture until just combined. (Save the whites for something else.)

Tip: try to crack the shell halfway between the top and the bottom of the shell. It’s easier to separate the yolks if you have two fairly equal sized shells to work with.

8. Use a ladle to temper the hot cream into the egg mixture; adding one third at a time, stirring it in. Don’t rush this, you don’t want scrambled eggs.

We are almost ready to divvy up the mixture into the ramequins.

9. Place a small strainer over a ramequin. Use ladle to reach the bottom of the bowl where all the vanilla bean pods have sunk, and ladle some mixture through the strainer. Do this for each one to ensure every portion gets a generous amount of vanilla pods.

After that, ladle out the mixture evenly, and strain each time.

Double-straining is very important because you’ll notice that on each pour, the strainer will get clogged with skim on every pour and you don’t want that gunk in your custard.

10. Place both pans in the oven and create a bain marie using the hot water from the kettle.

11. Bake 35 minutes until the edges of the custard are set. Test for doneness by shaking, the centre should wobble like Jell-o. If the whole surface shakes give it 3-5 more minutes. If nothing shakes it’s overdone.

12. Remove from oven and use an egg-flipper type spatula to lift the ramequins out of the dish, and place on wire rack to cool for one hour.

13. Cover each cup with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

14. Set ramequin on counter for 20 mintes to stand. Then remove plastic, and gently blot the surface with paper towel to remove condensation.

15. Sprinkle one teaspoon of turbinado sugar, cover the edges first and work towards the centre, then tilt and tap the ramequin to spread the sugar evenly.

16. Place ramequin on fire-proof surface and use your mad torching skillz.

The key to doing this properly is don’t let the flame get too close, and always keep it in motion. It takes around 3 minutes to melt the sugar properly into a nice glassy surface.

17. Chill for 10 minutes, then devour.

Verdict:

Patty: <setting up camera> “You can have first bite.”

Boyfriend: “Really?” <grabs spoon>

Patty: <taking photos and looking down> “Well?”

Boyfriend: “Oh my God!!”

Patty: “Is it good?”

Boyfriend: “No. It’s awful. You don’t want any.”

Patty: “Give me that spoon… ooohh, nice.”

Boyfriend: “This is amazing. I love the after taste, the nutmeg, it’s totally there. It kind of reminders me of egg nog, just a little. It’s so good.”

Playlist: David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust

What dessert are you celebrating Thanksgiving with?

Pumpkin brownies

Autumn is the best time of year. Good things happen when the leaves turn; including my birthday, Halloween, and the ripening of that most wondrous squash: the pumpkin.

As soon as I saw this recipe on the Globe & Mail today I had to try it.

Good to know before you start: This recipe needs pure pumpkin, which is not pumpkin pie filling. Look for a label that says either “100% pure pumpkin” or “pumpkin purée”, and  it should not contain any herbs or spices.

Time required: 3 hours

Yields: about 30 pieces

Cost per slice: $1.83

Total cost if you have none of the ingredients: $55.00

Special kitchen implements I used:

  • baking pan: 9″ x 13″
  • parchment paper
  • digital scale
  • Oster blender
  • KitchenAid mixer

Ingredients:

BASE

  • 2 C flour
  • ½ C icing sugar
  • 1 C unsalted butter, (cold and cubed)
  • 1 TSP fine sea salt

FILLING

  • 3 eggs
  • 482 grams canned pumpkin (one 14 oz can)
  • ¾ C dark brown sugar, packed
  • ⅓ C corn syrup
  • ½ C heavy cream
  • 2 TSP freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 TSP pure vanilla extract
  • 1 TSP ground cinnamon
  • ½ TSP allspice
  • ½ TSP ground ginger
  • ¼ TSP fine sea salt

TOPPING

  • 2 TBSP butter, softened
  • 2 TBSP (28.6 grams) cream cheese, softened
  • ½ C icing sugar
  • 1 TBSP milk

Instructions:

1.Pre-heat oven to 177°C / 350°F. Line baking pan with parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl mix: flour, icing sugar, butter and salt. I used a pastry blender, then switched to doing it by hand. The mixture should be crumbly, don’t form it into a ball.

3. Pat into pan.

4. Bake 25 min, and place on cooling rack.

5. Beat eggs in blender.

6. Weigh out the amount of pumpkin you need and add to egg. Don’t forget to adjust for the weight of the container.

7. Then add: brown sugar, corn syrup, heavy cream, lemon juice, vanilla, cinnamon, allspice, ginger and salt. Blend until well mixed, scrape sides, then blend a little longer.

Did you know brown sugar could float? Neither did I.

8. Pour liquid over base and bake for 40 min, then place on cooling rack.

9. Meanwhile make your frosting. Beat butter and cream cheese until fluffy. Beat in icing sugar and milk.

10. The recipe suggested drizzling the frosting over the pan, which I tried, but the amount of icing nearly covered the entire surface anyway so I spread it evenly instead.

11. Chill at least 2 hours, and cut into squares.

Verdict:

In this town, we call home, everyone hail to the pumpkin song!

These were really good. Boyfriend says, “They are awesome baby. I could eat the whole pan.”

Playlist: The Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack

Remarkable mango-rhubarb bites

Je suis la hot. It’s been too hot to bake lately.  This is the first dessert I’ve made in weeks, which is a mango-rhubarb number. Technically it was a bar-type dessert, although the consistency wasn’t what I consider to be a bar. It had cobbler-like qualities.

I adapted this from a recipe I found on The Rhubarb Compendium.  I added mango and ditched the icing sugar. It’s possible my results were skewed since I added the egg at the wrong stage.

Time required:  1.5 hrs

Yields: 12 servings

Cost per portion: $2.70

Total cost if you have none of the ingredients: $32.00

Kitchen implements I used:

  • baking pan 9″ x 13″

Ingredients:

  • 4 C rhubarb, washed and diced
  • 3 C mango, peeled and cored and diced
  • 1 C granulated white sugar
  • 1 C dark brown sugar
  • ½ C white shortening
  • 1 egg
  • 1 TSP baking soda
  • ¼ TSP salt
  • 1 TSP cinnamon
  • 2 C flour
  • ½ TSP vanilla

Instructions:

1. Pre-heat oven to 177°C / 350°F degrees. Grease and flour baking pan.

2. Place rhubarb and mango into a large bowl. Mix in half of the white sugar. Set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, cream shortening, remaining white sugar, and brown sugar.

4. In a small bowl, combine baking soda, salt, cinnamon and flour. Add to wet mixture.

5. Mix in egg and vanilla.

6. Combine wet mixture with fruit, smoosh batter in baking pan.

7. Bake 40 min. Cool on rack at least one hour.

8. Cut into “squares”. Hmmm. Something doesn’t look quite right. This definitely did not leave the pan in a perfect square.

Verdict: I liked this but Boyfriend did not.

He said the texture was “squishy”. Parts of the bar were crunchy, and parts were soft, and I’m not sure why. The rhubarb was crunchy, which makes sense because it was not stewed yet I wasn’t expecting crunchy fruit in a baked dish. It wasn’t bad, just different. I found the mango flavour a little overwhelming, so next time I’d drop the mango entirely and stew the rhubarb prior to baking. But if I was going to do all of that I’d just make a cobbler instead.

Overall I liked this but it wasn’t my favourite rhubarb dish that I’ve made.

Update July 26, 2011: the next day this dessert turned into mush. I’m not sure if it was caused by the heat wave we’re experiencing, or if this particular mix of ingredients don’t hold up well, but I won’t be making this again.

Playlist: Adele

Rhubarb apple crumb bars

The only thing more sour than rhubarb is a spiteful girlfriend. I baked this to get even with Boyfriend who went out of town for the weekend, alas. Eat your heart out.

Yes I am that petty. I adapted this from the “blueberry crumb bars” in Good Housekeeping Brownies: favourite recipes for Blondies, Bars & Brownies, which is available on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca.

I have a few plans to make this turn out better than the first attempt at a fruit crumb bar, which was a burnt nightmare. I think I can get it right this time.

Good to know before you start: The high butter content will easily burn. To prevent this, cover the entire dessert with tinfoil, bake  30 minutes at a high temperature, then remove tinfoil and bake  an additional 25 min at a lower temperature. This ensure the fruit filling is properly cooked but the topping doesn’t burn.

Time required: 2.5 hrs

Yields: 36 piece

Cost per bar: $1.39

Total cost if you have none of the ingredients: $41.00

Kitchen implements I used:

  • baking pan: 10.5″ x 14.5″
  • tinfoil
  • KitchenAid mixer
  • pastry blender

Crust ingredients:

  • 1 C butter, softened (2 sticks)
  • ⅔ C icing sugar
  • 1 TSP pure vanilla extract
  • 2½ C flour

Filling ingredients:

  • 4 C rhubarb, washed and diced
  • 4 C tart apples, peeled, cored, and diced
  • ½ C granulated white sugar
  • 3 TBSP powdered corn starch
  • 2 TBSP water

Topping ingredients:

  • ⅔ C quick-cooking oats, uncooked
  • ½ C flour
  • ⅓ C brown sugar, packed
  • ¼ TSP cinnamon, ground
  • ½ C butter, slightly softened  (1 stick)

Instructions:

1. Pre-heat oven to 190.5°C / 375°F. Line baking pan with foil.

2. Prepare the fruit and set it aside.

3. Prepare crust: in mixer beat the butter, icing sugar and vanilla.

Beat until light and fluffy.

4. Add flour and mix until just combined.

5. Use hands to press dough into baking pan, bake 20 min.

6. Cool on rack 5 min.

7. Meanwhile prepare filling: in a large sauce pan, combine sugar, corn starch, and water.

Add fruit. Bring to a boil over Medium heat, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir often.

8. Meanwhile prepare topping: in a medium bowl stir: oats, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon.

9. Cut in butter with pastry blender, and blend until you have coarse crumbs.

10. Spread fruit mixture evenly over crust.

11. Use hands to sprinkle topping over fruit.

12. Cover with tinfoil and pierce with fork. Bake 30 min.

13. Remove tin foil after 30 min, and lower temperature to 160°C / 320°F. Bake for an additional 25 min.

14. Cool completely in pan before slicing.  When ready to serve, lift from pan, peel foil off the bottom.  Slice lengthwise into 6 strips, then crosswise into 6 pieces.

Verdict: My plan to taunt Boyfriend failed miserably! This was partially assembled when I found out he would be home at 3:30, right when it finished cooling. Foiled!

I decided to be kind and let him have some.

These were delicious. The crust reminded me of shortbread, very buttery and soft.  The rhubarb and apples were nice and tart. The only thing I’d change is to add two more stalks of rhubarb.

I will retry the apple-only version at some point and believe that if I use the tinfoil trick it should be fine.

Playlist: Sailor Moon Super S movie

I am now convinced anything with rhubarb will turn out awesome and make me feel like a baking super star. What rhubarb dessert is your favourite?

Patty’s peach tarts

There is only one way to celebrate Labyrinth Day on June 13, and that is by watching the movie and eating peaches!! I wanted to make a peach pastry fit for a goblin king, delicious enough to make you forget everything. But when Boyfriend brings home the wrong ingredients and the whipped cream turns into butter, will he survive long enough to taste a tart?

If you are not aware, Labyrinth Day falls on June 13 because the movie was released in June 1986, and Jareth’s clock has 13 hours. The importance of peaches should be obvious!

The only person as mad for Labyrinth as I am is Best Friend, so she was the #1 choice to discuss my dessert plans. We looked at lots of recipes, and saw some really interesting peachy things, and in the end I decided to make tarts, topped with either fresh whipped cream, or vanilla frozen yogurt. I already had heavy cream, and made up a pie crust in the afternoon.

I asked Boyfriend to pick up 10 peaches and a container of frozen yogurt, and figured I could make up my mind between whipped cream and frozen yogurt later. He returned with ten pieces of fruit, which upon closer inspection, were not what I requested.

“These aren’t peaches,” I said.

“Yes they are.”

“The skins are smooth. These are nectarines.” I picked one up.

“No, they’re peaches! They were in the peach section.” he insisted.

“Being in the peach section doesn’t mean they are peaches, darling. Didn’t you notice they’re not fuzzy?”

“It doesn’t matter anyway.” he said. “These were the  last ten peaches they had so I got them all for you.”

I examined the fruit more closely.

“No. You got the last six peaches and four nectarines, is what you got.”

“Too late now.”

What to do? Six peaches wasn’t enough, and the store was closed. Peaches and nectarines have similar characteristics, and (I hoped) complimentary flavours, so I decided to use both.

Time required: 2.5 hours

Yields: 2 tarts

Cost per pastry: $15.00

Total cost if you have none of the ingredients: $30.00

Kitchen implements I used:

  • 2 shallow, fluted ramequins
  • 1 cookie sheet (to catch overflow)
  • deep skillet

Tart ingredients:

  • 6 peaches
  • 2 nectarines
  • 4 TBSP butter (half a stick)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ⅛ TSP cinnamon
  • smidgen of cloves
  • nip of nutmeg
  • ¼ C dark brown sugar, packed

Instructions:

Step 1 – Prepare a pie crust and refrigerate it. (I’ve mentioned this before but if you can’t make pie crust I can’t help you, I can barely help myself.)

Step 2 – Prepare the fruits: peel, core, and slice them. They will collapse during baking so don’t slice them too small.

Step 3 – In a large skillet, melt the butter and add the fruits. Once the butter has melted, increase heat until the fruit juice gets bubbly. Or you could be lazy like me and add the butter and fruits at the same time, bwahaha!

Step 4 – Once it’s bubbling, add: cinnamon stick, ground cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and brown sugar.  Once everything is mixed in and the sugar has melted, reduce heat, and simmer for at least 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

I have no shame in admitting that the sole reason I opted to include a smidgen and a nip was to show off my cute mini spoons! They measure: pinch, dash, smidgen, and nip.

Step 5 – Cut pastry to size and place into ramequins. Set ramequins on cookie tray. Save the remaining pastry for another use and refrigerate.

Step 6  – Discard cinnamon stick, and ladle fruit mixture into crust.

Step 7 – Bake 30 minutes, and cool on wire rack at least 20 min.

Top with whipped cream or frozen yogurt, or enjoy just the way they are.

Verdict:

Um, speaking of whipped cream… while the tarts were cooling, I made up whipped cream – except I got immersed in a book and walked away from the mixer. When I checked in on it later, my whipped cream had turned into butter.

Things were still okay because I knew we had frozen yogurt in the freezer as back-up and the tarts smelled really good. My jovial mood lasted until I opened the freezer, and then I got pissed.

“Oh darling! What’s this?”

“It’s vanilla frozen yogurt.”

“Really? Because the label says ‘vanilla with chocolate chunks and caramel’.”

“It was in the vanilla section!” he protested.

“Do you even read labels?”

In the end, I had a lack of peaches, ruined whipped cream, and the wrong flavour of frozen yogurt. Not a great start! We both glowered at each other. But it was a stupid thing to be angry over, so I told Boyfriend to eat his tart. And actually… they were really good!

Not quite what I planned, but still very tasty.  I’d make two small changes next time; halve the butter, and double the fruit.

This morning while I was writing up this post, Boyfriend – armed with Wikipedia – lectured me on the nature of peaches and nectarines.

“A nectarine is a peach. It’s a mutated peach, but it’s a peach!” he says smugly.

“Great, mutated fruit! That still doesn’t change the fact that I asked for peaches and you brought home nectarines and the wrong frozen yogurt.”

“It’s not a big deal. It’s nothing.” he said.

“Nothing? Nothing? Nothing tra-la-la!?!”

Playlist: Phantasy Star III soundtrack

Patty’s peach-apple crisp

A golden blend of succulent fruit, crunchy oats, and sugar. But after a month of kitchen failures, can I possibly succeed?

I purchased a bag of apples recently, and left them on the kitchen counter as bait.  I was hoping to lure Boyfriend into the kitchen, and expected that once he saw those lovely apples, he would be overcome with the urge to make me an apple crisp. He hasn’t made one in forever, and I think I am overdue to receive one!

Alas it was not to be.  The apples ended up in the living room somehow, and I only just discovered them yesterday, and it was time to face the cold hard truth; if I wanted an apple crisp, I would have to make it myself.

I’ve never made my own apple crisp before, but I helped Boyfriend make one, two years ago. And by “helped” I mean I peeled the apples. Here goes!

Good to know before you start:

Apples collapse quite a bit during baking, so make sure they pile up nice and high above the edge of the dish or you’ll have a sunken crisp.

Adding water to a crisp will result in a softer topping. I prefer it to be crunchy as possible so I didn’t add water.

Preparing fruit for baking always takes forever.  The sugar and heat will brown the fruit any way so no need to add lemon juice.

Time required: 2 hours

Yields: 12 portions

Cost per serving: $2.58

Total cost if you have none of the ingredients: $31.00

Special kitchen implements I used:

  • glass baking dish, 8″ x 11.5″
  • cookie tray (to catch the overflow)
  • apple peeler & apple corer
  • pastry blender

Ingredients:

  • 8 apples
  • 4 peaches
  • 1/2 C granulated white sugar
  • 1 TBSP flour
  • 1 TSP ground cinnamon
  • 1 C quick rolled oats
  • 1 C flour
  • 1 C dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 TSP: ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, ground cloves
  • 8 TBSP butter (one stick)

Instructions:

1. Pre-heat oven to 191°C / 375°F.  (I waited until the fruit was sliced to do this.)

2. Peel and core fruit. Cut each apple slice in half, cut peaches to similar size. Place in baking dish for now.

3. In a large bowl combine: white sugar, flour, and cinnamon.  Add fruit to bowl, and toss until thoroughly coated, then transfer back to baking dish.

4. In a medium bowl, combine: oats, flour, dark brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. I may have mentioned this before but I REALLY LOVE BROWN SUGAR.

5. Cut in butter until coarse crumbs form.

6. Place baking dish onto cookie tray, and sprinkle crumbly mixture over fruit.

Yes. It's impossible to take a picture of your own thumb without looking like dweeb making obscene gestures.

7. Bake 40 min.

In which I discover the hard way that the oven mitts have a hole in them and almost dropped the dish on the floor. Owch.

8. Cool 1 hour and serve.

Verdict:

“Hmm. Pretty good,” I said around my spoon.

Boyfriend shook his head. “Not pretty good. Damn good!”

I read several recipes and saw that they all have pretty standard ingredients, so I just added another fruit and picked a sugar and spice ratio that seemed appealing to me. You could probably cut down the sugar, especially if you’re not going to use tart apples. I was really happy with this.

I chose peaches because I just re-watched Labyrinth for the millionth time and have them on the brain. Jareth, you can give me a peach any day.

You can use lots of different fruit in a crisp. What would you use?

Playlist: Labyrinth soundtrack

Charred apple crumb squares

Few desserts really include a synonym for “burnt” in their name, and sadly, this isn’t one of them.  Foiled by my own hubris, burnt apple crumble. :[

This recipe is the last one that I plan to post from Good Housekeeping Brownies: favourite recipes for Blondies, Bars & Brownies, which as always is available on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca.

Good to know before you start: I did this recipe backwards.  You are supposed to cook the apple filling before baking the crust on its own.

It doesn’t matter if the apples brown.

I have read that 4 pounds of apples equals about 8-9 medium sized apples. I used 8 and that was not enough by far.  You’ll see why soon enough.

Time required: 3 hours

Yields: 24 pieces

Cost per square: $1.63

Total cost if you have none of the ingredients: $39.00

Special kitchen implements I used:

  • baking pan: 14½” x 10½”
  • tin foil
  • plastic wrap
  • apple peeler & corer
  • pastry blender

Crumb topping:

  • 1 C flour
  • ½ C butter (1 stick), softened
  • ½ C dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1 TSP ground cinnamon
  • 1 TBSP vanilla extract

Crust:

  • 3 C flour
  • ⅓ C granulated white sugar
  • ¼ TSP salt
  • ¾ C cold butter (one and a half sticks)

Apple filling:

  • 4 lbs of tart apples
  • 4 TBSP butter
  • ¾ C dark seedless raisins
  • ½ C dark brown sugar, packed
  • ¾ TSP ground cinnamon
  • 1 TBSP powdered cornstarch
  • 2 lemons (need 3 TBSP fresh lemon juice)

Instructions:

Step 1 – Prepare topping: in a medium bowl combine all the ingredients with your hands.

I added the vanilla after the first 4 were combined.  Just pick it up and squish it through your hands, working all the ingredients into each other.

Ugh I hate touching stuff with my hands. That is why I fail at gardening.

Squash it into a ball-type shape, cover in plastic wrap, and chill.

Step 2 – Preheat oven to 191°C / 375°F.  Line baking pan with tin foil.  Grease foil.

Step 3 – In a large bowl, mix flour, salt, and white sugar.  Use pastry blender to cut in butter.

Keep doing this tedious task until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.

Step 4 – Press mixture into prepared pan by hand and bake 20 min.  It’s normal for crust to crack.  Meanwhile!

Step 5 – Prepare apple filling; peel and core the apples, and cut each slice into thirds.  In a large skillet on Medium heat, cook: apples, raisins, brown sugar, and cinnamon.

Stir often, this should take 25 min.  It’s done when the apples are tender and most of the liquid has evaporated.

Step 6 – Mix the cornstarch and lemon juice, and stir that into the apple mix to thicken it up.

Step 7 – “Use spoon to spread the filling over hot crust”. Oh dear. How did the apples burn in the one minute it took to add the lemon juice? Oh my God. This is dreadful.

Step 8 – Why don’t I have enough apples!? I tried spreading it evenly, but it became obvious there wasn’t enough filling. I smoothed it back over to the side, figuring the naked part on the end will be a casualty of this experiment.

Step 9 – Take topping out of fridge, break into crumbs (??) and spread onto filling. Hmmmm. I’m betting it is not supposed to look like this.

Step 10 – Bake 40 minutes until topping is golden.

Cool completely in pan (1-2 hours) on wire rack.

Dear God… what kind of horror is this?

Step 11 – To serve, lift dessert out of pan, peel foil off. Cut lengthwise into 4 strips, then cut crosswise into 6 squares if you are feeling adventurous.

Verdict: The topping is burnt, and the filling is very burnt, in a not-so-subtle flavour I like to call “charred”. Who knew a dessert that smelled so good in the making could go so wrong? I had high hopes for this, you know, until it went to hell and all.

I think this definitely has potential, it would probably be really good if it hadn’t burned and if I understood how to crumble the topping to make it look presentable.

The disappointment of slaving over something that smells like apple pie, and ruining it, reminds me of this passage:

“I hope I never smell the smell of apples again!” said Fili. “My tub was full of it. To smell apples everlastingly when you can scarcely move and are cold and sick with hunger is maddening. I could eat anything in the wide world now, for hours on end – but not an apple.” – The Hobbit

Playlist: Sailor Moon Japanese soundtrack

Pennsylvania-Dutch brownies

More of a spice cake than a brownie, made with molasses and a subtle chocolate flavour. 

This recipe is also from Good Housekeeping Brownies: favourite recipes for Blondies, Bars & Brownies, which is available on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca.

Time required: 3 hrs (1 hour prep + 2 hour cooling)

Yields: 30 pieces

Cost per brownie: $1.10

Total cost if you have none of the ingredients: $33.00

Special kitchen implements I used:

  • baking pan: 9 x 13″
  • tinfoil

Ingredients:

  • 4 TBSP butter, room temp
  • 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
  • ¼ C molasses
  • 2 eggs, room temp
  • 1½ C flour
  • 1 C + 2 TSP granulated white sugar (used in separate stages)
  • 1 TSP + ⅛ TSP ground cinnamon (used in separate stages)
  • 1 TSP ground ginger
  • ½ TSP ground cloves
  • ½TSP baking soda
  • ½ TSP salt

Instructions:

Step 1 – Preheat oven to 190°C / 357°F.  Line the baking pan with foil, and grease foil.

Step 2 – In a sauce pan on Low, melt chocolate and butter.  (Um, I wasn’t really thinking this through and used a small bowl in the microwave instead.  Since you will later add the dry ingredients to the chocolate, you may want to use a larger bowl.)

Step 3 – Stir in molasses, then eggs, one at time.

Step 4 – Combine in a bowl: flour, 1 C sugar, 1 TSP cinnamon, ginger, cloves, baking soda, and salt.

Step 5 – Stir the dry mixture into the wet.  I moved the wet mixture into a large bowl, then added the dry mix, one third at a time. (At this point I wondered if the batter consistency was off because of the unorthodox way I prepared it.)

Step 6 – “pour” batter into prepared pan. Humph. More like scoop and smoosh. Slightly concerned now, batter very thick, sitting in pan unevenly, does not reach all sides of the pan.

Step 7 – Bake 15-17 minutes.  Brownies are done when a toothpick inserted 1 inch from the edges comes out cleanly.

Step 8 – While this is baking, in a small bowl combine 2 TSP white sugar and ⅛ cinnamon.  As soon as pan is removed from oven, sprinkle sugar mix on top, then cool on rack (in pan) 2 hours.

Hmmm.  Is it supposed to look like this?  Is the bottom right corner supposed to be overloaded with sugar?  Will the rest be bitter?  We’ll see!

Step 9 – Peel off tinfoil, slice lengthwise in 3 strips, slice crosswise in 5 strips, then cut each piece diagonally.

I made a green tea latte and sampled a brownie.

Verdict: Hmmm.  These weren’t bad, but not what I expected either. Then again, since I’ve never eaten Pennsylvania-Dutch anything, maybe my expectations were skewed. I found that the molasses overpowered the taste of the chocolate though.

I was surprised to see the price of the spices is what pushed the total cost so high, but I suppose that makes sense considering spices have been such a hot commodity (hah, get it?) for thousands of years. Guess some things never change.

Playlist: Final Fantasy soundtracks

Gingerbread top loaf

There are times in life when one hits the jack pot, and I am reminded of this  whenever I open to door to Mom’s house and the warm, sharp scent of a ginger loaf wafts out. This smell alerts a primal area of my brain that soon I will be enjoying tea, a warm piece of ginger loaf, juicy gossip, and fending off questions about Boyfriend.

Alas for me, I do not get to visit Mom’s house often. Time gives perspective and city living certainly has some amazing advantages, but now that I’ve been Away for 4.5 years, I’ve realized that there are some things I will never find up here, such as homemade goods. <sad face>

Luckily I just spent 2 weeks visiting home; and aside from the simple pleasures of getting to know my new niece and listening to Grandpa’s stories, I enjoyed numerous tasty treats!! I’ve been back in the city for a few days, and this weekend I decided the first thing I would bake would be Mom’s gingerbread loaf.

Oh, how innocently it began!

Good to know before you start: if you are feeling congested this is a great dish to make, it clears out your sinuses like you wouldn’t believe

Time required: 2.5 hours (30 min prep, 40 min baking, then cool)

Yields: 16 pieces or more

Total cost if you have none of the ingredients: $26.00

Kitchen implements I used:

  • pastry blender
  • baking pan 9″ x 9″

Ingredients:

  • ½ C shortening
  • ½ C granulated white sugar
  • 1 egg, room temp
  • 1 C molasses
  • 1 C boiling water
  • 2¼ C flour
  • 1½ TSP baking soda
  • 1 TSP salt
  • 1 TSP ginger, ground
  • 1 TSP cinnamon, ground
  • ½ TSP cloves, ground

Step 1 – pre-heat oven 177°C / 350°F. Boil water in the kettle.

Step 2 – grease and flour a 9″ x 9″ pan. Hmm. Something seems odd.

Step 3 – in a small bowl combine: flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves.

I used a wire whisk to blend the dry ingredients, and before I measured the molasses, I sprayed a light coat of Pam into the measuring cup. (Works like a charm when you’re dealing with sticky ingredients like this or peanut butter.)

Step 4- in a large bowl, cream shortening, sugar, and egg, until fluffy.

In retrospect I’m not sure if a pastry blender was the best idea for this, it was a bit lumpy.

Step 5 – add molasses to wet mixture and beat in well.

Step 6- stir in boiling water.

Step 7 – add dry mixture to wet.

Step 8 – pour mixture into baking pan, bake 45 min. Remove loaf from pan.

Step 9 – cool on rack for at least one hour. This is the moment everything fell apart. Much cursing was done.

I examined the part that remained in the pan. It wasn’t burnt, just stuck. I used a spatula to remove it, and tried setting it in place, which was a bad idea.

So I took the bottom part back off, hence “top loaf”. And you know, it smelled right, and it looked right (until it came out of the pan). That’s when I realized I used the wrong size pan.

Verdict: What a nightmare. The top side of the loaf was slightly overdone, it had a faint crispness that should not have been there, when ginger loaf is done correctly it’s got the same consistency of banana bread. I assume this was caused by the dough being spread too thin by the length of the pan.

Boyfriend and his friend tested it, and said it was good, but I know I can do better. I was so discouraged, this is the 4th cake/loaf-type thing I’ve made in recent months that fell apart, all that effort and care gone to waste.  Maybe I’ll try this again tomorrow in the proper pan.

Spiced apple & pears

Imagine a warm bowl of apple sauce, with chunks of apple and pear, spiced with cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla bean. While it’s cooking, the most tantalizing smell will have you finding excuses to linger in the kitchen. A sweet topping so warm that it melts the frozen yogurt underneath.

I found this recipe in a book that my mother gave me, Slow Cooker Magic in Minutes, which is available on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca.

It’s a hard cover book with a ring binding and colour photos, with lots of different slow cooker recipes, including some delicious desserts. Prior to reading this I was not aware you could make a dessert in a crock pot. I thought the idea was a little odd, actually, before I tried one. Turns out that slow cooked desserts are amazing!

Good to know before you start:

Sometimes vanilla bean can be substituted with vanilla extract. This is not one of those times. Get the bean! Your taste buds will thank you.

After this has finished cooking and you’ve had a bowl, the rest should be covered and refrigerated. Later you’ll notice that fat rises to the surface (just like stew). Skim that off, and heat the portion that you want to serve.

Don’t use over ripened fruit unless you enjoy the feeling of something disintegrating in your hands. On that same note, if your pears are not quite ripe that is okay, wooden pears are fine for this.

Use either 6 medium-sized fruits or 5 large ones.

getting started

Time required: 6 hours (70 min prep time, the rest is slow cooking time)

Yields: a lot, you will run out of ice cream before you run out of topping

Total cost if you have none of the ingredients: $30.00

Kitchen implements I used:

  • apple peeler & apple corer
  • slow cooker

Ingredients:

  • 5 tart apples
  • 5 pears
  • 8 TBSP butter, unsalted (one stick)
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 lemon (use half)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ½TSP cloves, ground
  • ½ C water
  • 1 C brown sugar, packed

Step 1 – Peel and core apples and pears. Cut each apple slice in thirds, cut each pear slice in half. Place in slow cooker. Don’t worry about the fruit browning.

Cut each apple slice into thirds, and check the middle piece for any core remnants:

Slice the pears horizontally (errr… diagonally):

Place the flat part of the pear on the cutting board and core it, and then each pear slice should be cut in half:

Step 2 – Melt butter in sauce pan on Low.

Step 3 – Add all other ingredients to butter:

  • split and scrape vanilla bean, add seeds and pod
  • cut cinnamon stick in half, add both halves
  • use half of lemon, peel it and remove seeds, add pulp and juice
  • then add brown sugar, cloves, and water

Step 4 – Bring pot to a boil, and boil for 1 min, stirring often.

Step 5 – Pour liquid over apple and pears. Stir until mixture coats all fruit. Bury the bean pod and cinnamon sticks under the fruit.

Step 6 – Cover and cook, stirring every 45 min.  Cook times vary. The book recommends either up to 4 hours on Low, or up to 2 hours on High.

I cook it at leat 5 hours on High and I’ll show you why.

After 45 minutes:

After 90 minutes:

After 135 minutes:

After 180 minutes:

I think it’s best when the fruit has broken down to this stage and everything is soft. It’s a very versatile dessert. I have enjoyed it several ways; served warm on its own, or on top of a bowl or vanilla frozen yogurt, and on pound cake.

warm spiced apple and pear fruit toppingThe book also recommends with whipped cream, crème anglaise, or sponge cake, but I haven’t tried these last three.

One dish of spiced apple pears a day keeps the winter chill away!