Sunday, May 1, 2016

Strawberry Apple Stracciatella Pie

 I refuse to wait for you, Spring. Fine. You can rain all you want and barely push 12 degrees C. Go ahead.

My strawberries are coming from USA and Mexico and I just don't care. I can't stand it any longer and I want my berries now! But I promise when June finally comes around and Spring weather finally sticks, then I'll be all up in those farmlands picking more berries than my soon-to-be stained fingers can handle. 

For now, my imported strawberries find their way into a beautiful seasonal (sort of) tart that satisfies my cravings for creamy and fruity and flaky.

I probably make more pastry in the warmer months than I do during the winter because I love making tarts, pies and small pastries with summer fruits! Strawberries, blueberries, cherries, raspberries, peaches and nectarines make delicious desserts. Apple pie is dang delicious too, but pastry is more fun in colour. 

This is a crostata or sometimes a galette (depending on what country you're in), and it's a free-form rustic style of pie that requires no pie dish and bakes a bit faster since the crust is exposed to direct heat and well, you can't really fill them as much as a dish pie unless you want an oven full of fruit juice.

Remember the rules for flaky pastry: make it cold and bake it hot!

You want to incorporate cold butter into the flour so that it ends up looking like rubble. The fat coats the flour particles and protects wheat proteins from linking up to form gluten which would make the pastry too strong like bread dough. Little bits of fat will flatten out as you roll the pastry and create layers that separate baked dough = flakes. In a free-form pie like this one, if the fat bits are too large then they will just melt and leave gaping holes in the pastry - not a good scene. Aim to have most of the cold fat incorporated rather well and evenly dispersed with a few larger bits no bigger than the size of oat flakes.

I put chocolate in the crust. I'm currently writing a baking book dedicated to chocolate recipes and so a pie without chocolate feels unorthodox to me right now.

It's this chocolate and the last minute quick custard filling that makes this a "stracciatella" pie.

Stracciatella is the name of a gelato flavour in Italy, and it is essentially chocolate chip except that it is always dark chocolate that is used and it is incorporated by folding melted chocolate into the cold churned cream so that it hardens immediately and flakes up as it is mixed.

Make sure you chop the chocolate up finely because if there are big chunks, then they will get in the way of you rolling out the pastry dough like delicious road blocks! When the pie is just 15 minutes away from being done, whisk up an egg with some sugar and cream and pour it over the fruit in the center, letting it seep into all the cracks and crevices. Let it finish baking and the custard will set into, well... silky custard.

You can easily leave this step out, but it's totally like me to want it all!

Have a great week ahead.
Don't forget to eat dessert.


Straciatella Strawberry Pie
Makes 8-10 servings

For the crust:
1 ½ cups (215g) all-purpose flour
1 tbsp granulated sugar
¼ tsp salt
1.5 oz (42g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
½ cup (113g) very cold butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
3-4 tbsp ice cold water

For the filling:
1 lb sweet apples (about 3 apples such as Pink Lady) cut into ½-inch chunks
7 oz (200g) strawberries, hulled and quartered
1/3 cup (65g) granulated sugar
1 tbsp corn starch
1 tbsp flour
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
2 tbsp 35% whipping cream

For the custard:
1 large egg
¼ cup (60ml) 35% whipping cream
2 tbsp (25g) sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract

To make crust, combine flour, sugar, salt and chocolate in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times until blended. Add cold butter and pulse until it is well dispersed and resembles  a coarse crumbly mixture with some larger pieces the size of oat flakes. Slowly drizzle ice water over flour mixture, one tablespoon at a time, just until the flour is moistened and it holds together in clumps. The dough will hold together when squeezed or pressed when it is ready, but it should not form a ball. Turn the crumbly dough out onto a clean work surface and bring it together with your hands, pressing in loose bits until barely holds togetherFlatten the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat your oven to 400°F. Roll the chilled dough out into a large circle about 14 inches in diameter between two pieces of parchment paper. Transfer the dough to a large baking tray and peel off the top layer of parchment.

In a large bowl, combine chopped apples, strawberries, sugar, corn starch, flour and nutmeg in a bowl and toss to coat the fruit evenly. Pile the fruit in the center of the rolled out dough leaving a 3-inch border on all sides and then gently lift the excess dough up and over to nest the fruit in the middle. Brush the sides of the pastry with cream and bake at 400°F for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350°F and bake another 30-40 minutes or until the filling starts to bubble.

In a volumetric measuring cup, whisk together all custard ingredients and then carefully reach into the oven and pour custard over the fruit in the center, letting it sink into the spaces. Continue to bake for another 10-15 minutes, or until the custard is just set. Transfer baking tray to a wire rack and let the pie cool for 20 minutes before slicing.

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Peanut Butter Cream Cranberry Oatmeal Sandwich Cookies

I sometimes have trouble sleeping and it's usually caused by one of three things:

1) I ate a giant bowl of Moosetracks ice cream at 10:38pm,
2) I'm planning my grocery list for what I want to bake tomorrow and can't decide if it should involve chocolate or fruit (probably chocolate), or 3) I'm completely restless because I've convinced myself that sleeping is a waste of time.

Most people love sleeping for reasons which I completely understand. It rests the mind, rests your joints, helps to prevent nasty eye bags and makes you look a little more put together throughout the day. Because of my habit of feeling guilty for sleeping and not working on the second cookbook, e-mailing my friends overseas or ironing the pile of wrinkled everything at the foot of my bed, I end up tired, sore and with what looks like I put purple eye shadow on the wrong side of my eye.
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Sunday, April 17, 2016

How to make Marzipan

Last week I showed you how to avoid paying a premium for someone to take skins off your almonds. That is, do it yourself easily at home! Blanched almonds are useful for many things in baking, especially for decorating cakes, cookies and candy around the holidays.

One of their most useful uses is making almond meal for macarons and almond paste (also called marzipan) for making chocolate-covered confections, pastry fillings and even cakes.
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Sunday, April 10, 2016

How to make Blanched Almonds

Thank you for being patient. 

I know I haven't been posting as punctually or as interestingly as usual. There's been a lot going on around here and I'm just trying to get used to it all. Everything is new right now - new city, new home, new job and new recipes!

After three years living abroad, I'm back reunited with my baking equipment. I missed my coloured plates, my tart pans and my favourite spatula. I'm learning how the afternoon light comes through my windows and what angles make my cookies look their best. I'm also learning that I can still eat four cookies in one sitting. That kind of skill never wears off.

Now that all of my cupboards are full, my cake pans are stacked and the empty boxes are gone, I can settle back into comfort baking! I'm still working on stocking my pantry but I'm nearly there. One thing I do have is a giant bag of almonds not just because I love eating them, but because I love to bake with them too.
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Saturday, April 2, 2016

3-Layer Peanut Butter Chocolate Fudge Bars

Because you haven't had enough shuga after Easter...

Because you might need a solution to your overstock of chocolate bunnies and chocolate eggs...

Because you've run out of candy dishes to fit all of that Easter candy in...

You can make these sweet AND salty layered peanut butter chocolate fudge bars.

Bars are easy to make. They are fast, satisfying and interesting because they can feature different layers with contrasting flavours and textures. They are not as Science-y as cake or pastry. They're more casual but still worthy.

The base for these irresistible bars is best described as a peanut butter shortbread cookie. Crispy, crunchy and not too sweet.

The middle layer is where your Easter chocolate gets reborn. If you are loved enough for people to know you like dark over milk (right!?) then you should have plenty of dark chocolate bunnies and eggs. You need 3 ounces of it to make a brownie-like fudgy filling. A bit of honey creates a more gooey texture but still firm enough to hold a slice.
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Monday, March 21, 2016

Coconut-Nut Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

Monday is a better day than any to get organized. It starts with coffee and some cookies... and then definitely some will power.

It's that time again for me. I'm moving, again! That's about the fourth move in 6 years and it really doesn't get any less exhausting. You'd think that moving a lot would make you better at de-cluttering. Like, "Is this empty spice tin useful for anything? It looks like it would be good to hold more stuff in?" NO! It's garbage. Stop collecting small containers because they hold things. I think that counts as hoarding.

What I have realized is that my life fits into 23 boxes of stuff marked "Kitchen". It looks like I live in a kitchen. Nothing much for the living area, and the bedroom is pretty scarce... I proudly own plenty of cooking and baking tools and a ton of servingware. I might not be able to provide you with a plush hotel-style sleep if you stay the night, but I can certainly bake you a badass cake and cook you a brunch you won't forget. There might even be homemade chocolates on your mediocre pillow.
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Monday, March 14, 2016

Double Chocolate Walnut Biscotti

I'm not sure how wrong it is to be obsessed with food.

Is it any better than being an addicted to drugs, or alcohol, or hoarding? The answer is Yes, probably. BUT, I feel like I really could eat forever. There's no actual time where I could refuse an offer of food, unless it is a) after a hotel breakfast buffet, or b) if that food is the national dish of Iceland, Hakarl (once was enough).

When I am not at a luxurious breakfast buffet which is 99.8% of the time, I find I have an unlimited appetite mostly because I like to snack. I enjoy eating small portions many times a day, not because some celebrity nutritionist says it's healthier or whatever, but because it is fun for me and I like variety.

People say they have a "sweet tooth", but my teeth care for nothing. I have a sweet tongue and tummy - I love the taste of a touch of sweetness in my snacking and it really makes my stomach happy. If there are no cookies or bars in the house, I am just not myself.
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Sunday, March 6, 2016

Old School Walnut Brownies

Why another brownie recipe? Well why watch another sunset? Because it's a beautiful thing and a different experience every time.

I hope your weekend was blissfull. I hope you had a nice break from the morning commute. I hope you slept in and then scored every green light on your way to spin class. I hope you didn't have to wait in any painful cashier lines at the grocery store and you found a two for one deal on Ben & Jerry's. Because ice cream would really be great with these brownies...

I make brownies so often that I like knowing lots of ways to do them. The one thing they all have in common is that they are all moist and fudgy.
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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Chocolate Fudge "Peek Freans"

There were two spots in the kitchen that I frequented most growing up, aside from the obvious fridge and freezer (for ice cream, duh). There was the lower corner cupboard to the left of the sink - that's where we kept opened bags of Doritos. It's where we also stored a giant Costco-sized pack of chocolate chips, which I never nestled into my lap on the couch. Never.

I was also drawn to that upper cupboard above the microwave where we kept big blocks of chocolate for baking (and gnawing on), the occasional box of Pop Tarts and packs of cookies. Cookies weren't all equal in my books - I had my clear favourites. Fudgee-O's topped my list and Oreo's were OK. I remember fig newtons were always in stock and once in a while you'd find some brand of chocolate chip. But I stuck to Fudgee-O's, the others just weren't worth it for me. We also kept tea up there so I wasn't always going in only for cookies if you can believe that.

I can remember a time when my friends were raving about Peek Freans and I swear I had no idea what they were but I would pretend to know because, well why the heck did I not know about a cookie that caused this much talk?! Despite "Peek Freans" being the name of a biscuit company, people were almost always referring to the ones with the sugar coated fruit jelly center. Once I figured out what everyone was talking about, I realized why I didn't know of them... they were not chocolate.

As much as I did actually enjoy these fruit cream biscuits, I wished the center was chocolate.
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Sunday, February 21, 2016

Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake (Gluten-free)

For as long as I can remember my mom baked a chocolate cake on my birthday. It was always a $0.99 special on Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines, but the cakes she made were not any flavours you could find in stores. She pimped them way out.

Probably one of my favourites was when she went psycho with chocolate. First, she never followed the instructions on pack and being a developer of retail cake mixes myself, this is a big No No! Luckily for her Betty and Duncan use lots of emulsifiers and stabilizers that prevent any wreckage no matter how far you stray from the rules... I recall clearly that she always used one less egg and NO oil. None! How could she get away with it? Commercial cake mixes already contain oils blended in to coat the flour. They also contain emulsifiers that keep the cake soft even when you don't add fat. It's science.

Now for the egg... well mom may have been trying to be cost friendly or calorie wise, but really she was being a smart baker. Too much egg creates a firmer structure. Leaving one out left the cake extra moist. Clever lady.

As for the psycho bit, she would throw massive chunks of dark chocolate right into the batter. Not chips, chunks! When it baked, the chocolate melted just slightly into the batter so that it became a part of the cake yet still maintained its individuality. As it cooled the chocolate firmed up but never hardened since it took up moisture from the crumb. Think soft chewy pieces of chocolate fudge... genius!

She could've killed me with the frosting. It was always piled high! Her trick was cream cheese and cool whip. I would've liked whipped cream, but you know... maybe it was the calorie thing again...

She mixed cream cheese with melted chocolate and then folded in cool whip. It was rich and still light - an irresistible combination. She couldn't help but throw more chunks of chocolate right on top. You could say she knew me well. Thanks mom.

I will never turn down that birthday cake. But when I make cake, it's a different story. Still moist, still crazy chocolatey, but lighter, thinner and full of creaminess. This is my weekday cake. I pay little attention to appearances so I'll go right ahead and say it's a tad sloppy. But, this cake is for me. It's for breakfast when I really need some encouragement to get out of my pajamas in the morning, and it's for every hour after 7pm when all I can think about is chocolate.

The layers come together in a breeze and you don't even need sugar or butter or flour. All the sweetness comes from 200g of dark chocolate. All of the structure comes from 6 eggs.

Melted chocolate mixes with 3 whole eggs and 3 yolks. Just a touch of cornstarch gives some insurance.

After folding through some whipped egg whites, the batter is complete. Divide it evenly among three pans and bake them off for 3 thin, even layers. They are ready for stacking!

While they cool you can move on to making the moussey white chocolate filling which is a simple combination of white chocolate, vanilla and whipped cream. An elegantly thin layer of shiny chocolate coats the top and despite the slightly messy construction, it still makes me feel like every Monday through Thursday is an occasion.

Some people live for sports, some live for theater. I guess I live for layers and layers of chocolate. For real.

Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake

For the sponges:
200g dark chocolate
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1 tsp cornflour
3 large egg whites
1/8 tsp salt

For the mousse filling:
150g white chocolate, chopped
1 cup (237ml) 35% whipping cream, divided
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the glaze:
56g (2 oz) milk chocolate, chopped
42g (1.5 oz) bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa), chopped
¼ cup (60ml) whole milk
2 tbsp (12g) cocoa powder
1 tbsp (15ml) glucose syrup
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease three 8-inch round cake pans and line with parchment paper.

Gently melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Remove from heat. Stir whole eggs and yolks together in a bowl then whisk into melted chocolate with cornflour. Whisk egg whites to soft peaks and then gently fold into chocolate mixture, trying not to deflate them too much.

Divide mixture between prepared pans (it will be a very thin layer) and bake for 15-20 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. 

To make the filling, melt white chocolate with 1/4 cup of cream in a small saucepan over low heat until smooth. Transfer to a clean bowl, stir in vanilla extract and refrigerate until chilled but not completely firm. Lightly whip remaining cream to soft peaks. Gently fold whipped cream into chilled white chocolate ganache. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To make the glaze, very gently start to melt chocolates in a small saucepan and then begin stirring in the milk gradually until blended. Remove from heat, sift in cocoa and whisk until well blended. Return to low heat and whisk until thickened and cocoa is well absorbed. Do not boil. Stir in glucose and salt. 

To assemble: spread white chocolate filling between cake layers and then pour the slightly warm glaze over top.
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Monday, February 15, 2016

Moist Chocolate & Vanilla Marble Cake

Ohhhh I admit I'm a sucker for classics. In a world that breathes constant innovation, sometimes I only crave comfort. It's hard not to feel obligated to try the NEW thing. Gotta check out that new flavour that probably sounds better than it tastes. How many iPhone versions are there now? I don't even have one.

Every week I stand in front of a grocery aisle (it's probably (most definitely) the ice cream aisle) and stare at the racks for 25 minutes. Pinapple cherry explosion, birthday cake extravaganza, rainbow confetti blast, mango tango chili, nutty butter bonkers... whaaaa? New flavous, new combinations and new products... sometimes it's my job, and sometimes I just give in to the pressure of the lady giving me the stink eye as I reach for French Vanilla Bean. What? I like the specks. Every product in her cart has at least 3 adjectives in the title. Flavour shaming hurts ya'll!

Every now and then I put aside the whisky, the limes, the lemons, the chili pepper and the sweet spices and I seek comfort in baking with pure chocolate and vanilla.

Like mama's lasagna, Nonna's skillet fried potatoes and anyone's apple pie... it hits the spot everytime, anytime.
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Monday, February 8, 2016

Gooey S'mores Cookies

We didn't exactly vacation a whole lot growing up. We rarely went on big trips but we did do a lot of small ones.

One thing that was a constant was our Summer camping trips, usually in a different park every year. It was only a 3-day deal but we packed like we were planning for the apocalypse. There was so much food! I remember the 4am wake up call to start loading our diabolical blue van. We must've carried more coolers than we had days to spend. There were some of the usuals like breakfast sausages, eggs, bacon, plenty of crunchy fried snacks and loads of beer. BUT we also brought bagels, strawberry cream cheese (which I never really liked), butter tarts, gummy bears and worms, corn on the cob, loads of fresh veggies, my Godfather's signature marinated shish kabob, way too many condiments, and about 7 varieties of salad dressing.

Of course we had a power campsite, which meant Dad had to bring the terribly embarrassing and humongous electric fan to keep us well conditioned in our tent through the night. That thing could propel an airplane... Maybe we were not the most rustic campers...

There are so many things I miss about these Summertimes... endless days at the beach, 24-hour BBQing, definitely the gummy worms... But the Sa-mores! I love S'mores. My godparents are from the USA and they were always sure to bring Hershey's milk chocolate - one of the only times I eat Hershey's chocolate.
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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Soft Chocolate Fudge Cream Cake

I'm staring at this page right now and I have nothing. I think for once in my life I have learned to clear my mind. That is not very useful as a writer in this moment but I'll take it as it comes.

To not think is so much harder than to think. Usually I have ten million thoughts running through my head but not today. There's only chocolate on my mind and I'm going to let it play out. If I give in to my chocolate thoughts then that leaves me with nothing else but incredibly satisfied taste buds and a clear conscience. It's bittersweet clarity.

Let's dive right in!
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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Cheat's Opera Cake

Climbing a mountain makes me very emotional... the whole way I'm saying "why am I doing this?"... "this is too much"..."this hurts"..."I don't think I can make it"..."I don't want to do this anymore"..."I'm over it"..."I'm not happy with this"... "really why am I doing this?"...

And then you reach the top and it's like "I'm so glad I did this". It is always worth it.

Sometimes when I'm writing a new recipe I think the same way. All the baking, lots of layers, two kinds of fillings, creaming and whipping, and heating and cooling... so much waiting and glazing and finickying. There's all the worry of "what if it doesn't turn out?". I think about the potential waste of chocolate... Why?

Why do I bother doing it?

Because in the end I'm always like "I'm so glad I made this". This is delicious.
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Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sour Cherry & Vanilla Bean Frangipane Tarts

In winter it is easy to be less excited about taking in your 5 servings of fruit per day. Apples and oranges get old real fast.

It's about this time of the year that I really start to miss summer fruits (and daylight and polished toe nails). I dream of blueberry pies and juicy strawberry tarts. If there was cream then there were raspberries, and watermelon salads became an everyday thing. I can actually feel the juice of a peach dripping down my chin. Remember those days?

That's why they invented dried fruit. Frozen berries are great to have on hand but let's face it - not the same. Luckily cherries dry very well and dried sour cherries are almost better than the fresh ones.

A few things I like to put dried cherries into:
1. Cookie dough (with chunks of chocolate too please!)
2. Brownies
3. Brandy
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