Sunday, July 5, 2015

Berry & Lime Crumble Tarts

If you are not neck-deep in fresh berries right now, then where the heck are you!?

Summer is like an antique jewellery box - full of rubies, sapphires and amethyst. There are so many gems to behold and devour.

I'm a nut in the summer time. I must go picking for all of these jewels - strawberry picking in June, cherry picking in July, then raspberry and blueberry picking in August. My tongue is consistently stained either red or purple. I save a lot of money on lipstick.

Get ready for a burst of flavour and a mouthful of juicy juice. These Berry & Lime Crumble Tarts are just a reason to have a whole pie to yourself, and then to have another one because they are mini and because you can.

A sweet pastry crust works best with its egg yolk richness and reinforcement to withstand the juicy filling. I told you they were juicy right?

Every bit of summer goes into these little pies. The filling combines the bubbly, tart and distinctive flavours of blueberries, raspberries and strawberries with earthiness from vanilla bean to round it all out. A bit of lemon zest marries the bright berry flavours all together.

Best to adjust the sugar based on your liking - there is some wiggle room allowed here. Sugar is essential to help thicken and hold in the moisture for the filling, but flavour is as important as function in this case. Plus there's a bit of corn starch to keep it all together. I like mine just sweet enough, but still a bit tart.

A crumble topping is perfect because it is buttery and sweet - sweet with earthy flavours of molasses from brown sugar. Imagine the balance - tart, fruity, citrusy, buttery, earthy with caramely sweetness. PLUS - a lime zest surprise in the topping to make it pop.

These are WOW. Just, wow...

Thank you sun. Thank you summer. Let's eat!

Berry & Lime Crumble Tarts

1 recipe of Pastry from these Gooey Little Pecan Tarts

For the berry filling:
5 oz (150g) freshly hulled and sliced strawberries, quartered
3.5 oz (100g) fresh blueberries
3.5 oz (100g) fresh raspberries
1/3-1/2 cup (65-100g) sugar  (depending on sweetness of berries)
2 strips of lemon peel
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
1 tbsp corn starch
2 tbsp water

For the lime crumble:
½ cup (72g) all-purpose flour
4 tbsp (55g) packed light brown sugar
Pinch of salt
zest of half a lime
4 tbsp (56g) cold unsalted butter

Prepare the pastry as directed. Once sufficiently chilled, roll it out to 1/8-inch thickness and cut out as many 3-inch rounds as you can. Fit the rounds into the wells of a standard 12-cup muffin tray, pressing it into the base and up the sides. Bake in a preheated 375°F/190°C oven for 10-15 minutes, until evenly golden. Let cool completely in tray.

To make the filling combine strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and sugar in a small saucepan. Cover and cook over medium-low heat until sugar is dissolved and mixture is soupy. Add lemon peel and vanilla bean and bring to a gentle boil. Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes or until fruit is soft and mixture is thick. Whisk together corn starch and water to make a slurry in a separate little bowl and stir into the berry mixture off the heat. Bring to a boil and cook for another minute or two until very thick. Set aside to cool completely.

To make crumble, combine flour, brown sugar and salt in a small bowl and blend to remove lumps of sugar. Add cold cubed butter and lime zest and rub it into the flour mixture until well combined. Squeeze the mixture to form little clumps.

Spoon the cooled filling into pre-baked tart shells, filling them nearly to the top. Break up the crumble topping over the filling and bake at 375°F/190°C for 10-15 minutes, until crumble is browned and filling is bubbling around the edges. Let cool for 15 minutes in pan before using a blunt edge to help release them. Serve slightly warm or cold!
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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Salt & Vinegar Brownie Brittle

I get these crazy ideas.

Ideas about making a chocolate version of salt & vinegar potato chips. Totally weird. I like weird.

It's not the first time I've put savoury pantry ingredients in dessert before. My Sweet & Soy Pecan Chocolate Pie Bars proved to be irresistible. 

It's also not abnormal for my ideas to turn into inedible disasters. That happens. It sucks, but it happens. The bright side is that I always learn from it. I never let the fear of failure get in the way of my wacky ideas. Ideas (and love and chocolate) are what make the world go round.
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Sunday, June 21, 2015

White Chocolate & Blueberry Brown Butter Cookies

I used to hate white chocolate. I hated it so bad.

Mostly I hated it for spite. It's not chocolate. It would be like Crème Brûlée without the brûlée, or like J-Lo without the booty - she would just be Jennifer... or something.

It took me travelling to Portugal - makes no sense, I know - to discover how good white chocolate can really be. I understand I can taste great white chocolate anywhere really, but this is when I had my revelation. So, this is my story as weird as it is.

I was writing my Master's thesis and naturally this coincides with heavy consumption of chocolate day-in, day-out. Plus, my thesis was about the sensory properties of Portuguese red wine... So eating dark chocolate to complement red wine tastings was purely for research. Yeah... research.

There was this one supermarket called Pingo Doce that sold organic fair trade chocolate blocks that were delicious. The bittersweet bar - 70% cocoa - was well tempered and intense. And it was only 1.50 euro. For a student chocoholic, this was salvation. I loved it.
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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Giant Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Tart

You know I couldn't go much longer....

20 weeks is FAR too long to make you wait for a chocolate & peanut butter recipe, so this is well deserved and well desired.

Back in January I posted Chocolate Brownie Peanut Butter Pies and I felt they needed a follow up. Those were small size hand pies - peanut butter cream cheese filling sandwiched between two fudgy chocolate biscuits. 

Today I'm thinking big - I'm dreaming of one giant Reese's peanut butter cup! One big round chocolate pastry shell filled with creamy whipped peanut butter and topped with a cracking chocolate coating. 

Imagine the journey your fork will take... First it will require some force as it breaks its way through the snappy chocolate shell. Once it breaks through, it plunges into a soft creamy pool of peanut butter. Then it will sink towards the bottom to encounter a crisp buttery cookie-like crust. Get ready for a world of textures and the king of flavour combos.

You are in for a treat.
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Sunday, June 7, 2015

Chocolate Chip Cinnamon Swirl Sour Cream Cake

The internet is a funny place. We can write whatever we want.

Eating too much chocolate turns your hair dark, carbohydrates are bad for you and Liam Neeson is a total bad-ass. Believe that or not, but there is only one thing about that sentence that is true (and it's not the carbohydrates).

Most of the stuff I read on the internet is food or travel-related. I like to read blogs and look at pictures of beautiful landscapes and interesting dishes. When it comes to scientific facts, I rely on what's in my brain, published journals and text books. That's the real stuff.

Something I find really funny about the food space in the internet world are the reactions from baked-goods gone bad! It's always the recipe's fault. The recipe didn't work! Even though I used half the butter and one-third of the sugar called for... It's still the recipe's fault! It just didn't work and what a waste of ingredients!

Changing proportions makes a whole new recipe - that's the cool (completely nerdy) thing about baking. To change a recipe means you should have some understanding of that and be prepared to take a calculated risk. I make this sound like gambling, but it's just food. It's really not a big deal (it's totally a big deal!).
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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Apricot & Almond Olive Oil Cake

This past month I blasted the blog with gluten-free recipes galore. I tried to cover all occasions.

For your everyday, I made Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars. I pack these in the morning and can't wait to eat them. They're full of great ingredients and a sinch to make.

I made Flourless Chocolate Pear & Hazelnut Cake to impress your dinner guests - not only the special ones.

There were Freakin' Fudgy Gluten-Free Brownies that are the definition of fudgy. You might even replace your go-to brownie recipe.

And finally, the BEST Gluten-Free Double Chocolate Cookies because you just need to have these in your life.

Now I'm back baking with wheat and thought I'd also give my chocolate stash and my butter bank a break! Apricots are coming into season and they are a beaut to bake with. Gently cooked apricots take on a gnarly jammy flavour and retain their moist, almost creamy texture.
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Sunday, May 24, 2015

The BEST Gluten-Free Double Chocolate Cookies

As promised, I've been baking gluten-free all month. It has required a library of carbohydrates instead of just one. My pantry has been stocked with rice flour, oats and an array of tuber starches instead of the almighty all-purpose wheat flour.

I've learned that starch is a pain in the butt to clean up after!

You know that thing that happens when you add your dry ingredients to the mixing bowl of your stand mixer and then you are supposed to turn it back on low speed, but you somehow always switch swiftly past LOW and straight to MEDIUM? Well that means a whole lot more when working with starches. It means if you don't pay attention you will paper mache your kitchen.

The tricky thing about gluten-free baking is that to get the best results, you need to cater each recipe to the specific bakery product that you intend to make. It is very difficult to build one all-purpose gluten-free flour. The proportion of starches needs to be manipulated to suit the desired texture of the final product, such as an open texture for muffins, fine crumb for cakes, and dense moist texture for chewy cookies.
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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Flourless Chocolate Pear & Hazelnut Cake

Being intolerant to something as prevalent as wheat means that you are a nightmare to a dinner party host.

(Just to clarify, I am not gluten-intolerant, but I have many friends who are).

It usually means that you are going to be the special one with the special meal. While everyone has home-made ravioli, you get the bowl of gluten-free spaghetti. While everyone enjoys big giant crusty garlicy buttered baguettes, you get a tiny turd bun wrapped in foil. And while everyone devours a decadent cake, you just sit and stare as you munch on your apple.

That special food is never as good, never as big, never as effortful... In fact, it's not very special at all!

That ends here, with this cake.
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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars (dairy-free, egg-free)

Did I ever tell you the story of my allergy appointment? My dreadful allergy appointment with the allergen specialist?

It was many years ago. It involved 60 needle pricks to the back and seven (SEVEN) big slow shots to the arm.

I was exposed to all sorts of substances and my degree of reaction was measured.

I left with a list of foods I needed to avoid and a very heavy heart.

Apparently I was allergic to bananas, yogurt and CHOCOLATE, of all things. This is just to name a few...

Let's just say I'm not quite sure about the credibility of that doctor, or where he is now, but if he reads this blog he'd have a laugh I'm sure.

I'm happy to report that chocolate makes a very daily appearance in my diet (so do bananas and yogurt) and I feel nothing but great about it.
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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Freakin' Fudgy Gluten-Free Brownies

For the month of May, I want to share with you my favourite gluten-free recipes.

I don't always bake with wheat flour. Some of my recipes work well with or without it... and sometimes they work even better without it. Sometimes.

One of the first brownie recipes I ever wrote, and featured on a Canadian daytime television show, was gluten-free. It was, for a while, my go-to recipe.

Since then I have learned to love an even chocolatier, thicker brownie which is what you are getting today!

Bonus: you don't need any special ingredients. In fact you probably have them all in your cupboard already.
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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Cocoa-Cocoa Nib Wheat Cookies

My weekly grocery list looks something like this:

(other less important stuff...)

That will never change. They're five things will always grace my list. You can make wonders with those ingredients. Anything else I buy is usually just an excuse to bake cookies with it. If I remember, I'll pick up some meat and veg too. Priorities people.

Lately I've been a bit unnerved by the food interweb land... it's full of recipes with ingredients that are not what a French patissier would recognize.

Agave syrup, soaked cashew nuts, malt rice syrup (it's still sugar!), hemp flour, stevia and sweeteners galore, flaxseed meal, apple sauce, almond milk, egg replacers... Why replace eggs? The chickens work so hard... (allergens and vegans - I get that). Why is almost every recipe made in a food processor? What happened to technique? I'm concerned. 

I like coconut but I don't want everything to taste like it. Do all desserts have to come rolled into balls? Please don't trick me with chocolate-y looking truffles made from avocado, dates and nuts. I might punch you.
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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sky High Bounty Bar Squares

My favourite chocolate bar as a kid was Aero, hands down.

No nuts, no wafer, no caramel - nothing but chocolate. Pure chocolate with something special - texture. The bubbles! Oh the bubbles... It dissolves on the tongue so silkily. Silllllkily...

I also liked Caramilk and enjoyed a Kit Kat, but the second best for me was Bounty. I discovered Bounty a bit later in childhood, but learned to love it quickly. I remember the most significant Bounty that I ever purchased was at the corner store in Little Italy where my grandparents lived. They handed over a $20 bill to the group of us grandkids and sent us off in search of sweetness, as grandparents do (gotta love 'em for it!). I thought I'd sway from my usual and grabbed a Bounty. Great decision. Loved it. Hooked.

It was a texture thing too - soft, slightly sticky coconut filling and smooth chocolate coating. It was a flavour thing too though because who can deny chocolate + coconut?

I didn't care for Oh Henry or Snickers. I hated peanuts.
That's all changed - I love peanuts! If you peruse my repertoire of peanut butter recipes, you will understand...
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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Chocolate Cheese Toffee Tarts

I worry a lot about my future children.

I worry about what they will think of me when I sit at our breakfast table with a slice of chocolate cake.

I worry about what sort of role model I will be when my afternoon snack is raw cookie dough.

I worry about how they will react to my gigantic stash of chocolate bars and my permanent supply of butter that occupies most of my fridge space.

Often I'll make a cream-filled chocolate cake that needs to live in the fridge, but there's a big cauliflower taking up most of the middle shelf. You can guess how this ends - chocolate cake always wins.

How will my future children know that it's really not OK to eat brownies before dinner if I do it all the time? I might need to change my ways... or find a good hiding place.
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Saturday, April 4, 2015

Easter Egg Surprise Cookies

I have very fond memories of Easter growing up.

There were loads of pastel-coloured foil-wrapped eggs. There was a trail of chocolates from the foot of my bed, down the 20-step staircase, through the hallway, over the carpet and into the living room that led to a wicker basket full of more chocolate. There were always Kinder eggs. Always. There were little presents like new hair ties and pins, a new cook book maybe, a toothbrush even! 

It was like Christmas but without the snow (well, sometimes... ooohhhh Canada).
A holiday about Jesus and chocolate. I love both those things.

I owe a lot to Easter because it was during this time that I first discovered and immediately fell in love with dark chocolate. I dumped milk chocolate instantly and never looked back. It was an immediate connection. Perfect chemistry. And, it came through a Dove dark chocolate egg. It was new and so different. It was so much more superior to the rest of the unbranded generic foil eggs. Firstly, it was wrapped in silver and chestnut brown. Beneath the foil was shiny (not dull), tempered dark chocolate. It was smooth (not mottled). It was everything the other foil eggs were not. It was bliss.

There was also plenty of family and hours of eating. I don't think an Easter ever passed without lasagna, roast beef, potatoes, ham, braised rabbit (not the bunny), cannoli, cheesecake, chocolate, chocolate and CHOCOLATE!
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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sweet & Soy Pecan Chocolate Pie Bars

Salt! Oh goodness I love salt.

And sweet! Jeez I don't know which one I love most.

Just imagine life without salt. Not worth living, if you ask me.

Ask any reputable chef what is the secret behind being a great cook and I'll bet the answer is knowing how to season your food. Do not be afraid of salt. Don't overdo it either. I'm sure you understand - it's a balance. But really, don't be afraid!

If I had to cook without salt for a day, I'd get by but I would not be happy.
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