Joy

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

 


I've been baking up a storm since the pandemic started, with an emphasis on cake. I don't know which is best - the joy that comes from tackling a recipe, the joy from eating the finished product, or the joy from sharing baked goods with friends and loved ones. (Yes! I have friends who will gladly take part of a cake, thereby keeping me from eating the whole thing!)

This was one of the easier cakes I've baked, so I made a Swiss meringue buttercream for the first time. I've always been intimated by the steps involved in a meringue buttercream recipe (heating egg whites, using a candy thermometer, whipping heated egg whites into a meringue) but it was much simpler than I expected.

The unusual tea frosting is what attracted me to the recipe, and it worked beautifully with the lemon cake and curd. I think it's fair to say that it brought joy to all of us.


Joy

The asters shake from stem to flower                                                                                                    waiting for the monarchs to alight. 

Every butterfly knows that the end                                                                                                          is different from the beginning 

and that it is always a part                                                                                                                    of a longer story, in which we are always 

transformed. When it’s time to fly,                                                                                                            you know how, just the way you knew 

how to breathe, just the way the air                                                                                                        knew to find its way into your lungs, 

the way the geese know when to depart,                                                                                            the way their wings know how to 

speak to the wind, a partnership of feather                                                                                              and glide, lifting into the blue dream. 

 - “Joy” by Stuart Kestenbaum 




Sweet Tea and Lemon Cake
(inspired by Layered, by Tessa Huff)

For the lemon butter cake:
2 1/4 cups cake flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 Tbsp finely grated lemon zest
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
4 large egg yolks (reserve the egg whites for the icing)
1 cup buttermilk

For the sweet tea buttercream:
1/2 cup granulated sugar (first amount)
5 black tea bags, paper tags removed
1/2 cup large egg whites (about four)
1 cup granulated sugar (second amount)
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

To assemble:
3/4 - 1 cup lemon curd


For the cake

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease three 6-inch cake pans and line with parchment paper. Set aside.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. 

Place the sugar and lemon zest in a small bowl. Rub them together between your fingertips until fragrant. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth. Add the sugar mixture and mix on medium-high until the butter is light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.

Turn the mixer to medium-low and add the vanilla and egg yolks, one at a time. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.

Turn the mixer to low and add the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix on medium for 30 seconds after the last streaks of the dry ingredients are combined.

Evenly divide the batter among the prepared pans. Bake for 22 to 24 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cakes comes out clean. Let cakes cool on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes before removing from pans.


For the icing

Place 1 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar in a saucepan and bring them to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and add the tea bags. Simmer for 8 minutes. Carefully remove the tea bags and continue to simmer until the syrup has reduced to about 1/4 cup, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool fully.

While the sweet tea syrup is cooling, place the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk to combine. Fill a medium saucepan with a few inches of water and place over medium-high heat. Pleace the mixer bowl on the saucepan to create a double boiler. The bottom of the bowl should not touch the water. Whisking occasionally, heat the egg mixture until it registers 160 degrees on a candy thermometer. Carefully fit the mixer bowl back onto the stand mixer.

With the whisk attachement, beat egg whites for 8 to 10 minutes, until they hold medium-stiff peaks. When done, the outside of the mixer bowl should have returned to room temperature. Stop the mixer and swap out the whisk attachment for the paddle. With the mixer on low, add the butter, a few tablespoons at a time, then the vanilla. Once incorporated, turn up the mixer speed to medium-high and beat for 2 minutes. Stop and scrape down the sides, then add 3 Tbsp of the sweet tea syrup. Beat another 2-3 minutes, until smooth.


To assemble

Place the first cake on a cake plate, and spread with half the lemon curd. Place the second cake evenly on top, and spread with the remainder of the lemon curd. Place the third cake on top, and use an offset spatula to spread the buttercream icing over the top and sides of the cake. If desired, use an icing comb to create a striped finish, and adorn with fresh flowers.


It's not fall yet

Sunday, September 13, 2020

 

It's not fall yet. 

I keep repeating that to myself, like a mantra. The sun is shining, it's warm(ish) outside, it's still summer ... it's not fall yet.

So trust me, I'm not trying to invite cold weather by posting a recipe for comfort food (even though it would make a hearty meal in November, or even - dare I say - February). We enjoyed this white bean bake at least once this summer and several times in the spring. 

It's the simplest recipe you can imagine, but when partnered with salad and a baguette, it makes a perfect meal. Even better, it's based on the pandemic basics (white beans, tomato paste, olive oil) most of us have in the cupboard these days. In fact, I found it when the New York Times posted a roundup of pantry-type recipes. Lots of good food ideas, but this one was the clear winner.

No matter what time of year you eat it.

Cheesy White Bean-Tomato Bake

(from The New York Times)


1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 fat garlic cloves, thinly sliced

3 generous Tbsp tomato paste

30 ounces white beans (either two 15-ounce cans or about 1 ½ 19-ounce cans), drained and rinsed

1/2 cup boiling water

Kosher salt and black pepper

1/3 pound mozzarella, coarsely grated (about 1 1/3 cups)

 

Preparation:

 

Heat oven to 425 degrees. In a 10-inch skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Fry the garlic until it’s lightly golden, about 1 minute. Store in the tomato paste (be careful of splattering) and fry for 30 seconds, reducing the heat as needed to prevent the garlic from burning.

 

Add beans, water, and generous pinches of salt and pepper and stir to combine. Transfer to a Pyrex baking dish and sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top, then bake until cheese has melted and browed in spots, about 10 minutes.

 


Birthday season

Friday, August 28, 2020

 


In the Pollock household, August is birthday season.

The girls' birthdays are nine days apart. Although we didn't plan it that way, it made birthday party planning twice as easy when they were kids. (Imagine the efficiencies gained from thinking about party loot bags just once a year instead of twice.) I'm sure I've written before about the cake ideas the girls and I chose from The Disney Party Handbook and The Pennywhistle Birthday Party Book, every year. 

The days of 101 Dalmatians cakes are behind us, but I still love baking a birthday cake. Rachel chose this one from Icing on the Cake, by Tessa Huff. It's a long recipe, but none of the steps are difficult. Don't be afraid to give it a try when you're baking for someone you love!

(By the way, the pandemic seems to have brought out the master baker in me, or else I've been inspired by The Great Canadian Baking Show. Either way, look for more cake recipes in the weeks ahead.)


Brownie Sundae Cake

 

Adapted from Icing on the Cake by Tessa Huff

 

For the Brownie Cake

1 cup plus 6 tablespoons (2 ¾ stick) unsalted butter, diced

10 ounces dark or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (I used a combination, based on what I had on hand)

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 ½ tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

2 2/3 granulated sugar

5 large eggs

1 large egg yolk

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

 

For the Strawberry Cream

¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

3 ½ - 4 cups confectioners’ sugar (icing sugar)

3-4 Tbsp strawberry jam

 

Whipped Vanilla Buttercream

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 ½ - 4 cups confectioners’ sugar (icing sugar)

2 Tbsp whole milk or cream

1 ½ tsp pure vanilla extract

 

Chocolate Drizzle

4 ounces dark or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

½ cup heavy cream

¼ cup corn syrup

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

 

To assemble

½ - ¾ cup sprinkles

12 – 16 fresh cherries, stems attached

 

 

For the Brownie Cake

 

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

 

Put the butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl. In a medium saucepan, bring an inch or two of water to simmer over medium-low heat. Place the bowl with the butter-chocolate mixture on top of the saucepan to create a double boiler (be sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water). Heat until the butter and chocolate begin to melt. Remove from heat and stir until smooth and well combined. Set aside to cool.

 

Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl.

 

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitter with the whisk attachment, beat the sugar, eggs, and egg yolk on medium-high until foamy and pale in colour, about 5 minutes. Add the vanilla and mix to combine.

 

With the mixer running on low, gradually add the flour mixture to the egg mixture in two batches, stopping the mixer and scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl between the additions.

 

Stop the mixer and add the melted butter-chocolate mixture. Fold the batter together until combined.

 

Evenly divide the batter among the prepared pans. Bake for 20 – 24 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Do not overbake.

 

Let the cakes cool on a wire rack for 10 to 20 minutes before carefully removing from the pans. Let them cool completely before removing the parchment

 

To make the Strawberry Cream

 

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and cream cheese together until smooth and creamy. With the mixer running on low, gradually add 3 ½ cups of the confectioners’ sugar and 3 Tbsp of the strawberry jam. Turn the mixer up to medium-high and mix until the filling is smooth and creamy. Add the remaining ½ cup confectioners’ sugar and/or 1 Tbsp strawberry jam until desired consistency is reached; the filling should be soft and spreadable, but not runny.

 

To make the Whipped Vanilla Buttercream

 

Beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy. With the mixer running on low, slowly add all but 1 cup of the confectioners’ sugar, as well as the milk and vanilla. Once incorporated, turn the mixer up to medium-high and mix for 3 to 5 minutes, until the buttercream is smooth. Add the remaining 1 cup confectioners’ sugar as needed, ¼ cup at a time, until the desired consistency is reached; the buttercream should be soft and spreadable, but not runny.

 

To make the Chocolate Drizzle

 

Put the chocolate, cream and corn syrup in a small saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat until the cream begins to steam and the chocolate starts to melt.

 

Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla until combined. Let the mixture cool to room temperature until it is thick yet still fluid, about 10 minutes.

 

To assemble the cake

 

Place one brownie cake layer on a serving plate. Spread on half the strawberry cream to cover. Top with a second brownie cake layer and repeat with the rest of the cream; place the final cake layer on top.

 

Crumb coat the cake with buttercream and chill in the fridge for 15 minutes.

 

To decorate the cake

 

Place strips of parchment paper or foil around the base of the cake, to collect wayward sprinkles.

 

Frost the cake with the buttercream, leaving a smooth finish. Scoop and press the sprinkles around the bottom portion of the cake, until the bottom inch or so is covered.  Chill the cake in the fridge for 15 to 30 minutes to set the buttercream before adding the chocolate drizzle.

 

For the chocolate drizzle, use a small spoon to carefully drip the cooled chocolate drizzle around the top edge of the cake. Pour the remaining drizzle onto the centre of the cake and quickly smooth it out to the edges. (Note: it’s pretty important that the chocolate be the right consistency in this step. It cooled down slightly while I was doing this, so I gently reheated it – I was more loosening it than warming it up.)

 

Place cherries around the top of the cake.



Healthy alternatives

Monday, August 17, 2020

 


One of the biggest challenges during the pandemic has been eating well. If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you'll know I'm baking up a storm - mostly cakes, mostly as elaborate as possible. I give away as much of it as I can, but still, most weeks we're eating cake.

I've been trying to balance that with entrees that are as healthy and delicious as possible. This recipe's one of my favourites. Although we aren't a vegan or vegetarian household, we eat a lot of plant-based meals. I find that I'm often drawn to vegetarian recipes, not just because they're so healthy, but because the flavours are so inspired.

This recipe for Coconut Fried Rice with Edamame is a perfect example of food that's delicious and healthy, with a flavour that really stands out. It's so good, I could eat it for dessert too!


Coconut Fried Rice with Edamame


From Love Real Food, by Kathryne Taylor


You can change the recipe to use up any leftovers, using thinly sliced broccoli, chopped zucchini or yellow squash, shredded Brussels sprouts or cabbage, instead of the carrots and bell pepper.

 

1 1/2 cups frozen shelled edamame, thawed and drained

2 Tbsp avocado or coconut oil

1 cup finely chopped carrot

1 red bell pepper, finely chopped

1 cup thinly sliced green onions (about 1 medium bunch)

3 large cloves garlic, minced

1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

3 cups cold cooked brown rice (make this from 1 cup raw rice, or less)

2 Tbsp soy sauce

1 Tbsp lime juice

1 lime, cut into wedges, for serving

 

Before you get started, be sure all your ingredients are prepared and ready to go. Put the edamame in a medium bowl and keep it near the stove.

 

Warm a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1 Tbsp of the oil, and swirl the pan to coat. Add the carrots and red pepper and cook until tender, stirring often, about 5 to 8 minutes.

 

Add green onions and garlic and cook until fragrant, stirring constantly, about 30 seconds. Carefully transfer the contents of the pan to the bowl of edamame.

 

Add the remaining 1 Tbsp oil to the pan. Pour in the coconut flakes and cook, stirring frequently, until the flakes are lightly golden, about 30 seconds. Add the rice to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice is hot, about 3 minutes.

 

Pour the contents of the bowl back into the pan. Add the soy sauce and stir to combine and cook just until all the ingredients are warmed through.

 

Remove the pan from the heat and drizzle the lime juice over the dish. Promptly spoon the fried rice into individual bowls, garnishing with a wedge of lime. Serve with soy sauce on the side.



Summer in the city

Monday, August 10, 2020

 


Normally I'd be travelling during the summer, something I've done nearly every year of my life. Like everything else during the COVID period, I had to cancel my travel plans, and now I'm spending the summer in Toronto. I'm lucky to have Rachel and her boyfriend living with me, which gives me both companionship and people to bake for! 

Early in the summer, I was browsing through my Dorie Greenspan cookbook, looking for a fun backyard treat. Her recipe for caramel crunch bars looked delicious, and when I saw that one of the variations involved making them into ice cream bars, I was sold. They're quite rich, so even a small-ish ice cream bar will hit the spot ... and make your summer at home just a little sweeter.



Caramel Crunch Ice Cream Bars
from Baking From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan

Ingredients

For the base
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp instant espresso powder 
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 sticks (16 Tbsp) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 ounces bittersweet or premium-quality milk chocolate, finely chopped (first amount)

For the topping
6 ounces bittersweet or premium-quality milk chocolate, finely chopped (second amount)
3/4 cup toffee bits

For assembly
vanilla ice cream

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 9" x 13" baking pan with parchment paper.

Whisk together the flour, espresso powder, salt and cinnamon.

Beat the butter at medium speed in a stand mixer until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add white sugar and brown sugar, and beat another 3 minutes, then add the vanilla, beating until smooth. Add all the dry ingredients, then either stir with a spoon or beat at the lowest speed until just mixed. Add 3 ounces chopped chocolate and stir until combined. You'll have a heavy, very sticky dough. Scrape into the baking pan, and bake for 20 to 22 minutes. Remove pan from oven and turn off the heat.

To make the topping, scatter 6 ounces chopped chocolate evenly over the base and place back in the oven for 2 to 3 minutes, until chocolate is soft. Remove from the oven and immediately spread the chocolate evenly over the bars, with an offset spatula or back of a spoon. Sprinkle toffee bits over the chocolate and press them down lightly with your fingertips. Let sit until fully cooled before cutting.

To make ice cream bars, set one bar (frosted side up) on a baking sheet, and spread with a thick layer of softened ice cream. Top with a second bar, frosted side up, and put in the freezer to firm up the ice cream. Repeat until all the bars are assembled.


Pandemic baking

Sunday, August 2, 2020
So apparently it took a pandemic to get me blogging again.

I've been so busy over the past three years with travelling, and working as a travel writer, that I let my blog go. But now that I'm not travelling any more ... and I'm baking up a storm ... there's no time like the present to start posting again.

I've been baking this lemon pie nearly as long as my blog has been on hiatus, and the recipe deserves a home. I love lemon desserts, and although this one's named after a beach, it works any time of the year.

Here's to lemon desserts and new beginnings. 
Atlantic Beach Pie
(from The New York Times)

Ingredients

1 1/2 sleeves saltine crackers (about 60 crackers)
3 Tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter (1 stick) at room temperature

4 egg yolks
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Pinch of kosher salt

Fresh whipped cream
Lemon zest

To make the crust, heat oven to 350 degrees. Using a food processor or a rolling pin, pulse or crush the crackers finely, stopping before crackers turn to dust. Add sugar, then add butter and combine. Press into and up the sides of a 9" pie pan. Freeze for 15 minutes, then bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until the crust gets a little colour. Let cool for at least 10 minutes.

To make the filling, whisk egg yolks into condensed milk, then whisk in the lemon juice and salt. Combine completely.

Pour into the shell and bake for 14 to 16 minutes, until the filling has set. Refrigerate until completely cold, at least 4 hours and up to overnight. Serve with whipped cream and lemon zest.


O Canada!

Sunday, July 2, 2017


Yesterday was a glorious first of July, the celebration of Canada's 150th birthday. We chose not to be part of the crowd at one of the official celebrations (here in Toronto, and across the country), opting for a morning walk along the shore of Lake Ontario. It was the perfect way to reflect on how grateful we are to live in this beautiful country and enjoy its many freedoms.
Downtown Toronto in the background, Lake Ontario to the right

Raising a 150 memorial

Early morning mist make the CN Tower look like a ghost ship

The Canada Day dessert I served for dinner definitely has colonial roots, but I put a Canadian spin on it. While a typical Eton Mess is made with strawberries, I gave ours a twist with raspberries, and a thick streak of raspberry sauce. The result was a lovely, summery dessert that we were happy to linger over in the back yard. Happy Canada Day!




Eton Mess: The Canada Day variation

This is more of a guideline than a recipe. I put half in a large glass bowl, and the other half in individual stemmed glasses. Layer the various components in whatever order you like, being sure that  the meringue is always next to whipped cream (either above or below).

Meringues
4 egg whites
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 tsp vinegar

Raspberry sauce
1 1/2 cups raspberries
1 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp raspberry jam

For assembly
2 cups whipping cream
2 Tbsp sugar
1 pint raspberries

To make the meringues, preheat the oven to 275 degrees, and prepare  two 9" cake pans by lining the bottom with parchment paper, and buttering the sides. Beat the egg whites on medium speed until frothy. Increase speed to high, then add brown sugar and white sugar a tablespoon at a time until incorporated. Beat until stiff. Add vanilla and vinegar, and beat another 1-2 minutes. Divide the meringue mixture between the two cake pans, and smooth the tops. Bake for one hour, then turn off the heat in the oven, prop the door with a wooden spoon, and let them sit in the oven another hour.  Break the meringues into small pieces and set aside.

To make the raspberry sauce, combine berries, sugar and jam in a medium-sized pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Let thicken, then remove from heat and cool until ready to use.

To assemble the dessert, either use a large glass bowl or individual glasses (or a combination, as I did). Start with whipping cream on the bottom, then layer meringues, raspberry sauce, berries and more whipping cream to the top. Make sure you reserve enough raspberries to decorate the top of the dessert. Enjoy!