Thursday's Child: The Night Market in Beijing

Thursday, December 30, 2010

This month I’ve written about markets around the world.  You’ve seen how to buy saffron in Marrakech, peppers in Ljubljana, flowers in France and wooden toys in the German Christmas markets.  But my blog wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t tell you how to buy centipedes in Beijing.

Edible centipedes.

The night market in Beijing is like no other market I’ve visited.  It opens late in the afternoon and runs through the evening, selling delicacies to locals and tourists.  Wares range from the mundane (candy, tofu, meat) to the unusual (starfish, anyone?).

I think I’ve discovered the outer limits of my family’s taste habits.  None of us sampled the snake, bought the beetles or scarfed down the silkworm.  My youngest daughter, the one who averts her head when she walks by a butcher shop, had to be guided through most of the market with her eyes closed.  I’m not sure if that helped, though, as the pungent aroma was almost as overwhelming as the sights of the market.

Don’t get me wrong – I love fully experiencing the places we visit.  Even if (especially if!) we’d never see anything like it at home.  But if you are what you eat, it’s a good thing we laid off those centipedes.

Baking for Santa

Sunday, December 26, 2010

I finally have a working oven, as of 5:00 pm on the 23rd.  And that means I got to bake cookies for Santa in time for Christmas!

So where are the photos?  Well, in the chaos inspired by our kitchen reno, the cable for my camera has gone missing.  And as much as I love my readers, I’m not willing to brave Boxing Day madness to buy a new one.  You’ll see a photo of these squares on our cute Santa plate as soon as the crowds dissipate, or the old cable turns up.  (Note:  I found my cable, so now you can see the squares, and the new oven!)

In the meantime, let me tell you about Hello Dollies.  Probably every one of you has this recipe in some form. These squares are so easy that even people who never bake can master them.  I remember making Hello Dollies in university for a bunch of grateful friends – and those were the days when spaghetti and tomato sauce from a tin were haute cuisine.  I’m sure my friends were surprised as well as grateful.

It was the ease of these squares that made them a perfect choice for Christmas Eve baking.  I’m still getting used to my new oven, so I needed a recipe that wasn’t going to fail if I didn’t get the oven temperature or timing quite right.  And on a busy day before Christmas, it had to be as quick as possible.

New oven, decoratively offset by (temporary) plywood counters
It seems like this recipe has been around forever, but my mom said she first got it about forty years ago from my Grandma Bustin.  In this variation, I used chocolate crumbs rather than graham wafer crumbs.  I left out the pecans because my kids aren’t big on nuts, and they tell me Santa isn’t either.   So I upped the amount of the other add-ons and they were terrific.

Why are they called Hello Dollies?  Maybe there’s a clue in the song lyrics.  They’re lookin’ swell, and when you take your first bite you’ll feel the room swayin’.   Thanks to Grandma Bustin for passing along a recipe that still tastes great, forty years later!

Hello Dollies
(adapted from Grandma Bustin’s recipe)

½ cup butter, melted
1 ¾ cups oreo cookie crumbs
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup coconut
1 cup chopped pecans
1-15 oz tin sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line the bottom of a 9” x 13” pan with parchment paper.  Mix melted butter and crumbs, and pat in the bottom of the pan.  Pour the other ingredients on top in order, finishing with the condensed milk.  Bake for 25 – 30 minutes.

Thursday's Child: European Christmas markets

Thursday, December 23, 2010
I’ve been writing this month about some of the beautiful markets I’ve been fortunate to visit around the world.  This week, it’s wishful thinking: I’m posting about the wonderful Christmas markets in Europe, one of which I’d love to visit someday.  The Christmas markets appeal to me in the same way that I love attending a carol-filled church service, or building a snowman on the front lawn – a beautiful reminder of a simpler time.

Dresden Christmas market, photo courtesy of Tom Smith travel
How could anyone pass up the Christmas market in Dresden, Germany, which boasts a four-ton fruitcake?  I like fruitcake, but even by my standards that's a lot.  The cake is carried through town by a procession of pastry chefs before being brought to the central market to be divvied up and sold.  The Dresden market also features the world's largest nutcracker and a host of carved wooden toys and puppets.  This festival has been running continuously since 1434, making it the oldest in the world.

Munich Christmas market, photo courtesy of Marriott,
Renaissance Munich hotel
Munich has one of the most famous German markets.  Imagine a hundred-foot tall tree, decorated and standing in the middle of the Marienplatz, the main city square.  A brass band and carolers entertain the crowd nightly from the town hall at the front of the square.  And craft markets abound, featuring the most beautiful of German handiwork.

Christmas at Tivoli Gardens, photo courtesy of Tunliweb
The German markets are the most traditional, but could anything be more magical than Christmastime at Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens?  As at most of the markets, native crafts are sold in small booths.  But Tivoli also offers a lovely outdoor skating rink and a toboggan run for the young, and mulled wine for the adults.  Stunning ice sculptures in holiday themes adorn the park for everyone to enjoy.

This is my last post before Christmas.  I’d like to wish all of you a wonderful holiday season, whether you spend it far from home or in your own living room.  May you be blessed with the peace, joy and love that come with the true meaning of Christmas.

Blogger Recognition

Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Today’s post is meant to thank the wonderful bloggers who have recognized me, linked to me or gifted me!

As someone who doesn’t normally win anything, I’ve been delighted to have won two blog giveaways in the past month. First, Angela Ackerman, of the terrific writing blog The Bookshelf Muse, co-sponsored a contest with several other bloggers and I was lucky enough to win three signed books by author Tina Ferraro.  If you’re a writer, don’t miss The Bookshelf Muse.  Angela regularly posts informative and unique tips about writing – not an easy thing to do.   I'm looking forward to reading Tina's books over the holidays!

And on Monday, I found out that I’d won a second giveaway, this one from Jess at Falling Leaflets.  Jess is incredibly tuned into the writers’ blogging community, and generously shares this information with her readers.  Her links on the right-hand side of her blog include almost everything you’d need to know to write a manuscript.  Honing your craft, how to write a memorable character, building tension – it’s all there.

Thanks to Angela, Tina and Jess for their generosity!

I’d also like to thank Emma, of the adorable Sunflower Days, for giving me The Versatile Blogger award.  One of the best parts of blogging is the friends I’ve made from all around the world.  Emma lives in Australia, and I love reading about her changing seasons which are the opposite of mine.  She’s new to blogging, but her posts are always cheerful and informative.  And she takes the loveliest photographs.  Check her out!

Finally, for those of you who remember my Orange Chocolate birthday cake, I’m thrilled to say that it was reprinted on the Florida Citrus Growers website. Thanks to Rebecca of Chow and Chatter for submitting the recipe, and to Ina Garten who inspired it!

A Christmas Reunion

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Last night was our annual Baker/Woolner family Christmas reunion.  With a maiden name of Baker, it was probably pre-determined that I’d eventually blog about my desserts.  (The title of Most Talented Baker of the family, however, goes to my cousin Ruth Anne, who has won Baking Queen honours at both the Rodney and Wallacetown fall fairs.)

My mother's farm, taken from the house
My sister and I live in the Toronto area, and my cousins each live on a farm near where I grew up in southwestern Ontario.  So we really treasure the times that we’re all together.  And as so often happens, after we talked about our kids, our spouses and the weather, we got on the topic of food.

Those of you who’ve been following my blog since the beginning will remember that my first post was about my Grandma Baker’s gingersnap cookies.  No matter how many cookie recipes I try, these will probably always be my favourites.  Gwen and Judy both remembered her oatmeal cookies as being the best.  But we all remembered Grandma pulling the cookies out of the freezer when we came to visit, from the bread bags in which she stored them.

Opinion was divided on why she kept them in the freezer.  Maybe it was to keep them longer.  Maybe she preferred the taste of frozen cookies.  Carol suggested it might have been to keep them out of the sight and mind of Grandpa Baker.  Carol does the same to keep her cookies out of the sights, if not the minds, of her three tall sons.

She may be right.  When I make these muffins, I’d be best freezing them, if only to keep them out of my husband’s sight.  It’s a Dorie Greenspan recipe that was adapted by Valerie on the fabulous blog, Pixie Baker.  The only major change I made to Valerie’s version was using a cup of brewed chai tea instead of the coffee.  I’m not a coffee drinker, and I thought the gentle spice of the tea worked perfectly with the muffins.

I know my dad would have liked these muffins.  Today would have been his 79th birthday.  Although he’s been gone for over twenty-four years, it means a lot to me that I’m still blessed with the company of his sister, my Aunt Lois, and her wonderful family.

Streusel Muffins with Maple Glaze
(from Dorie Greenspan, by way of Pixie Baker)

Streusel ingredients:

½ cup all purpose flour
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon
5 Tbsp butter (cold and cut into bits)

Muffin ingredients:

2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp kosher salt or sea salt
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup brewed chai tea (cooled)
½ cup (1 stick) melted butter (cooled)
1 egg
½ tsp vanilla extract

Maple glaze:

¾ cup sifted icing sugar
6 Tbsp pure maple syrup


To prepare the streusel, put the flour, brown sugar and allspice in a small bowl and whisk to blend.  Add the bits of cold butter and toss to coat, then work the butter into the dry ingredients until you’ve got irregularly shaped crumbs.  Cover and refrigerate while you make the muffins.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Butter or line a regular sized muffin tin (twelve muffins) and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.  Stir in the brown sugar, making certain that there are no lumps.  In another bowl, whisk the tea, melted butter, egg and vanilla extract together.  Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir the mixture just until blended.  (Do not overmix.)  Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.

Sprinkle the streusel mixture over each muffin, gently pressing into the batter.

Bake for 16 – 20 minutes or until a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean.  Cool muffins for 5 minutes before removing from the tin.

Combine the icing sugar and maple syrup in a medium bowl.  Mix until smooth and drizzle over cooled muffins.

Thursday's Child: Village Markets in Perche

Thursday, December 16, 2010
At the Mortagne-au-Perche Saturday morning market

One of the delights of our trip to France was staying in a small rural inn in the quiet district of Perche.  It would be easy to overlook this small region; after all, it lacks the majestic chateaux of the Loire Valley, the fabulous vineyards of Burgundy and the aspirational lifestyle of Provence.  And most people drive straight through Perche from Paris to one of the other well-known French destinations. 

But, having decided to spend three nights in the region, we were amazed at the undiscovered beauties of Perche.   And one of those delights was the village market.  Every village, no matter how tiny, had a weekly market, and we were fortunate that our travels matched up with a few of them.
Every French market has a glorious array of flowers
Shallots and squash melons for sale 
Illiers-Combray is the hometown of author Marcel Proust.  We walked through the market several times while we were searching for the home of Proust's Aunt Leonie, and for a bakery that made madeleines.  We found Aunt Leonie's home and beautiful garden, and we ate our madeleines, but the tiny market in the village square was a true pleasure too.

The following day we traveled into Mortagne-au-Perche specifically to see their much larger market.  Every Saturday morning they host a large regional market, selling everything from cider to produce to cheese, eggs and fish.  If we’d been there in March, we could have celebrated their annual Boudin Noir festival!  (That’s black pudding to you and me, folks.) 

French markets are a way of life.  In North America, we're starting to revisit markets as we recognize the wonderful array of goods that can be bought, and the importance of supporting local providers.  But the concept has never gone out of vogue in France, and locals and tourists stand side-by-side at the stalls making their choices. 

Proud Mother

Monday, December 13, 2010

A few months ago, you may remember me telling you that I don’t make caramel.  What I didn’t tell you was that I don’t have to – because my 16-year old can do it for me.

After our trip to France this summer, she wanted to recreate the caramel macarons that she ate at Laduree.  Laduree is world-renowned for its delicate macarons, and well before we packed our bags, I knew we’d be visiting one of their sumptuous locations. 

We saved Laduree for a final stop on the last day of our trip.  After a week in Normandy, we spent our final night in Paris in a hotel just a couple of blocks away from the Arc de Triomphe.  The Champs Elysees Laduree was packed with fans waiting to buy their favourite treats, and we stood in line for twenty minutes on a rainy August evening making our choices. We dodged raindrops on our way back to the hotel to enjoy them at leisure, and no one loved them more than she did.

Thus, her determination to make them herself when we got home.  Luckily, a few days later, the Globe and Mail published a recipe for caramel.  She improvised the cookie part, but for the caramel centres she went strictly by the book.

Unlike me, she isn’t unnerved by vague directions like “take it off the heat when it turns an amber colour”.  Her caramel was a perfect colour and texture.  The finished product was absolutely delicious – I’d be embarrassed to relate how quickly we finished off those macarons. 

And if I ever get the nerve to make caramel, I know who my tutor will be.

When you make your own macarons, you can put extra caramel
sauce on top, just because you like it that way.
Salted Caramel
(from the Globe and Mail website, Lucy Waverman)

If you want to use the remainder of this mixture for caramel sauce, reheat it and add enough whipping cream to thin it to a pourable consistency.

1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 cup whipping cream, warmed
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Sprinkle sugar and lemon juice over the bottom of a large frying pan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula, until melted. Continue to cook until dark amber, then remove from heat and carefully add cream (it will sputter and pop). Add salt and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until cream is incorporated. Let cool about 10 minutes, then stir in butter. Cool to room temperature before using. Makes 1 cup.


Thursday's Child: Markets of Ljubljana

Thursday, December 9, 2010

In some ways, Ljubljana is the most perfect little European city we’ve visited.  The capital of Slovenia possesses the glistening canals of Venice, the red roofs of Prague and the pedestrian areas of Istanbul.  But all of this beauty came with virtually no crowds. 

We arrived on a Sunday afternoon, enjoyed the weekend flea market and outdoor musical performances, and marveled that so few others had found this perfect fairy tale town.  Our hotel was in the centre of the city, literally a minute from the pedestrian-only area of bridges, restaurants and stylish buildings.

The following day we visited the town marketplace.  The market, open on weekdays and Saturdays, seemed to cater primarily to residents rather than tourists.  It bustled with crafty locals carefully choosing fruit and vegetables – and a few hearty travelers carefully practicing their few memorized Slovenian phrases.

In the covered stalls, a few small shops sell cheese, meat and household goods.  The market sits a few feet from the glorious Ljubljanica river and its lovely pedestrian bridges.

Of course, there were a few touristy stalls in the marketplace, and the occasional tourist felt the need to pose by them:

How I know my husband loves my baking

Sunday, December 5, 2010
This is an unusual time of year to post a recipe for Kentucky Derby Pie, but I like being ahead of the crowd (or behind the crowd, depending on how you look at it).  It’s another one of those recipes that my Dad copied down while listening to WJR radio when I was a kid, and it was one of my favourites when I was growing up.

Kentucky Derby Pie is now one of my own family’s favourites, and I don’t limit it to May.  It’s especially good on the second day when the chocolate has had a chance to set.  On the first day it’s tasty but still quite runny, and wouldn’t photograph well at all.

So here was the plan.  I knew I couldn’t get my family to ignore the pie for a whole day, so I told them at dinner that we’d eat half the pie that night, then I’d let the rest sit in the fridge so I could photograph it the following day.

I thought I had full agreement.  But apparently the enthusiastic nods I received were in response to the first half of my sentence. 

I came downstairs the next morning to find that a KDP fan had been eating away at the pie.  But not in the regular way, where someone trims off a slice from one side.  No, he (for we all knew who the culprit was) had scooped pie out of the middle somewhat in the shape of an oversized doughnut hole.  I was left with a narrow rim of pie to photograph.

The girls shared my dismay:

Daughter #1:  Dad!  Mom told you she wanted to take a picture for her blog!

Culprit:  Mmmmm.  I don’t think she said anything to me.

Daughter #2:  Dad!  We were all at the dinner table when she told us.

Culprit:  Hmmmm.  Are you sure I was there?

Present me with a challenge and I will solve it.  Ergo, the following photo:

Notice the three narrow strips of pie shaped together to simulate a single, regular-shaped piece.

Even more beautiful when the cracks are hidden by ice cream:

And indeed, the pie did taste fabulous the second day – what was left of it.

Kentucky Derby Pie

2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup melted butter, slightly cooled
2 tsp vanilla
one pie shell (use your favorite recipe)

Combine eggs, sugar, flour, chocolate chips, pecans, butter and vanilla.  Pour into unbaked pie shell.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes.  Cool for at least four hours before eating, preferably overnight.

Thursday's Child: Markets of Marrakech

Thursday, December 2, 2010

In December, I’ll be writing about some of the great markets of the world.  Four of these we’ve visited, and one is on my wish list!

I’ll always remember Marrakech as a city of the senses.  I’ve never visited a place that I remember the sounds, smells, looks and tastes of more than Marrakech.  And the markets, or souks, were the perfect microcosm of that. 

Although we’re independent travelers and usually prefer to see places on our own, we hired a guide in Marrakech.  The souks, each one devoted to a specialty, are a bit of a maze, and trying to maneuver our own way would have been difficult. 

The dyers’ souk was a spectacle of colours.  Swags of cloth were suspended from poles that criss-crossed narrow alleyways.  Enormous carts of vividly coloured materials sat waiting to be spun into carpets.  And bolts of cloth lay, floor to ceiling, awaiting purchase by eager buyers.  In the back of one stall, bowls of unmixed pigments were ready to be mixed with water to dye a bundle of headdresses.

Almost as brilliant, and wonderfully fragrant, was the spice market.  Row after row of sacks brimmed with saffron, cumin, paprika and other brilliantly-hued spices.  For someone like me, who loves to cook, it was almost impossible to walk by these stalls without imagining the bounty I could create, sparked by such a rush of inspiration.

Of course, negotiations are a big part of the shopping experience.  My older daughter, twelve at the time and clutching a fistful of dirhams (the Moroccan currency), wanted to participate in that, too.  She enjoyed bargaining for a cushion until the transaction became overwhelming, owing to the eagerness of the vendor and her inexperience.  We were able to step in at the end and help her negotiate a lovely yellow cushion that still adorns her bedroom.

The metalworkers’ souk was filled with intricately-shaped lamps dangling from the ceilings. In the chemist souk, we visited a professional-looking and tidy booth stocked with bottles of various shapes and hues that promised to heal any ailment. We only saw a slice of these sprawling markets and won’t forget them soon.

How to make your teenagers happy, in three easy steps

Sunday, November 28, 2010

  1. Bake peanut butter cookies.
  1. Don’t be overly fond of peanut butter yourself, so you’re not muscling in on their supply.
  1. Don’t tell their father you’ve made cookies, so he isn’t muscling in on their supply.
If I had known making teenagers happy was this easy, I would have tried this recipe years ago.

It’s useful to know that a plate of peanut butter cookies can make your kitchen contractor happy, too.  If you find something that delights both your kids and the guy who is redoing your kitchen, then you've found the secret of life.

Work fueled by peanut butter cookies.
 Here’s the secret to your teenagers’ – and contractors’ – hearts.

Peanut Butter Crisscrosses
(from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
pinch of nutmeg (I omitted this, as nutmeg makes one of my teenagers unhappy)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
¾ cup sugar
2 eggs
1 ½ cups chopped peanuts
about ½ cup sugar, for rolling

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. 

In a separate bowl, beat the butter on medium speed for a minute or two.  Add the peanut butter and beat for another minute.  Add sugar and brown sugar, beating for two more minutes, then add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.  Add the dry ingredients, mixing only until just combined.  Mix in the chopped peanuts.

Pour the half cup of sugar into a small bowl.  Working with a level tablespoonful of dough for each cookie, roll the dough into balls and drop them into the sugar.  Roll to coat them in sugar, then place on baking sheets, leaving two inches between them.  Dip the tines of a fork in sugar and press the tines against each ball, first in one direction and then perpendicular, to leave a crisscross shape.

Bake for about twelve minutes.  Let them sit on the sheets for a minute before transferring them to cooling racks.

Thursday's Child: Casablanca

Thursday, November 25, 2010
The most perfect movie ever made is Casablanca.  That isn’t a statement of opinion, it’s a statement of fact.  Casablanca is the ultimate blend of romance, adventure and humour. Add a dash of self-sacrifice and you get a movie that you love more every time you watch it.

Visiting Morocco in 2007 was a dream come true, and not just because of the movie connection.  Names like “Marrakech” and “Casablanca” had beguiled me from the time I began perusing atlases and dreaming about where I’d travel next.  I could hardly believe that I would visit this magical country.

After our plane landed, we had one evening in Casablanca before we set off to explore the rest of Morocco.  There was never any doubt about what we’d do that evening.

Yes, there really is a Rick’s CafĂ©.  And we had dinner there.

Photo credit: The Usual Suspects SA/Rick's Cafe
“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world …”

“Here’s looking at you, kids.” 

“You played it for her, you can play it for me.”

Photo credit: The Usual Suspects SA/Rick's Cafe
Rick: “I came to Casablanca for the waters.” 
Renault: “The waters? What waters?  We’re in the desert.” 
Rick: “I was misinformed.”

Photo credit: The Usual Suspects SA/Rick's Cafe

“I’m shocked, shocked, to find that gambling is going on here.”
I didn't actually see any gambling.  But I couldn’t miss posting my favourite Casablanca quote.

The Renovation

Sunday, November 21, 2010

I’ve been avoiding the topic.  I’ve been posting about cheerful things – The Sound of Music, my birthday, ballparks I’ve visited.  But now it’s time for me to share the bad news.

I’m about to embark on a kitchen reno.

Anyone who knows me will remember that for years I’ve said I’d never renovate my kitchen.  I hate the thought of losing it, even for a few weeks.  I would move first.

That was before our cold water supply pipe developed a leak while we were on holidays this summer, and deposited a small pool of water on our kitchen floor.  If we were fixing the ceiling and the floor, we’d might as well change the countertop, right?  And from there, new cabinets practically suggested themselves.

On Monday morning, I’m losing most of my cupboards and the oven.  I’m ahead a few recipes, so I’ll be posting those over the next few weeks.  If the reno goes longer than expected, I’ll have to find a dessert recipe I can make in my crock pot. 

In the meantime, a few photos from our reno:

Change we expected to see:

The floor has been removed to the cabinets.
The rest will come out when the cabinets do, on Monday!

Change we did not expect to see:
This was not the result of a recipe gone wrong.
If the drywall guy loses his balance and falls on your stovetop, this is approximately what will happen.  Luckily for him, when he fell I was not thickening the cherries for this recipe.

Knowing that this was my last weekend to bake for a while, I wanted to make something that I love.  I could have gone with a lot of recipes, but when I saw the cherries in my freezer my search was over.  I knew I’d be making cherry cobbler.

Depending on our summer schedule, I freeze as many different kinds of fruit as I can. But the one kind I always freeze is cherries.  It’s partly because I love them, and partly because it’s impossible to buy frozen cherries.  If I run out of strawberries or blueberries in February, I can pick them up at the grocery store.  But if I run out of cherries, I’ll be waiting until the following July.  And I’ll be freezing cherries again next summer – assuming I make it through this reno.

Cherry cobbler, posed decoratively on packing paper.
Do I know how to stage a photo?

Sour Cherry Cobbler
(adapted from

4 cups sour cherries, pitted
2 Tbsp cornstarch (if you’re using frozen cherries like me, you’ll need about 3 Tbsp)
2/3 cup sugar (first amount)
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp sugar (second amount)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small bits

Combine the cherries, cornstarch, 2/3 cup of sugar and almond extract in a medium-sized pot.  Stir at medium heat until thickened.  Pour into a buttered 8” x 8” baking dish.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl stir together the flour, 2 Tbsp sugar, baking powder, salt and butter.  Add 1/3 cup boiling water, stirring until the batter is just combined.  Drop the batter by heaping tablespoons over the cherries and bake the cobbler in a preheated 350 degree over for 45 minutes, or until the top is golden.

Thursday's Child: The Sound of Music tour

Thursday, November 18, 2010
"Let's start at the very beginning,
A very good place to start."

Is there anyone who doesn’t love The Sound of Music?  When I was a kid, I remember sitting around the TV with my family watching it and singing along with the music.  We owned the official movie soundtrack, and my sister Gwen and I spent hours poring through the booklet that came with it, full of pictures from the movie and behind the scenes.  And on a family trip to Vermont when I was eleven, not only did we have dinner at the Trapp Family Lodge, we met the real-life Maria Von Trapp.  Gwen and I raced across the park to meet her, then stopped abruptly upon reaching her, speechless in the face of true celebrity.  She was gracious and kind enough to carry both parts of that conversation.

I've been lucky enough to take the Sound of Music tour in Austria twice in my life.  The first time was when I visited Salzburg in 1987 between stints at university.  (A special shout-out to Ruth and Jenn, both of whom I met on that trip.)

And we visited as a family in the summer of 2006.  By this time I had two daughters who loved the movie too (they'd been watching it since they were babies) and I had even converted Andrew into a super-fan.
The gazebo from Liesl and Rolf's "Sixteen going on Seventeen" scene.
The girls would like me to remind you that this picture was taken four
and a half years ago, and they are much older now.
The first thing we did when we arrived in Salzburg was sign up for the "Sound of Music tour".  And we visited all the major scenes from the movie:  the facade of the Von Trapp residence, the Do-Re-Mi bridge, the chapel where Maria and the captain got married.  We even enjoyed a plate of crisp apple strudel when we stopped for lunch.

Remember the gnome from Mirabell Garden in the Do-Re-Mi scene?
We had a lot of fun in Salzburg.  We visited the Mozart museum, took a funicular to the fortress overlooking the city, and caught a performance at the Salzburg festival.  But the high point was borrowing the movie from the front desk of our hotel, and watching it that evening, squealing with excitement when we recognized a place we'd been that day. And we sang just as loudly and earnestly as I did when I was ten years old, watching the movie with my parents and Gwen.

Unfortunately, interior scenes in the Von Trapp residence were
filmed in Hollywood, and so I was unable to photograph
my family in the "So Long, Farewell" pose.
Next week: another moment on a trip that was inspired by a movie!

Orange you glad it's my birthday?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

For my birthday a week and a half ago, I wanted to bake my own cake (of course).  But when it comes to desserts, I’m not really a cake person.  I toyed with the idea of baking a birthday Apple Pear Cherry Crisp, but in the end tradition won out.  And I found a gorgeous recipe for Orange Chocolate Chunk cake in Barefoot Contessa Parties.

Cleverly I decided that, rather than baking a regular size cake, I’d make half a recipe in a 6-cup bundt pan, avoiding the leftovers and the temptation that come with a full cake.

I hadn't baked a bundt cake before, so I was nervous about unmolding it.  After some research, I found a great technique for removing bundt cakes from the pan that worked perfectly. I’ve included it at the bottom of the recipe.

What I should have worried about, given that I was guessing at baking time, was whether the cake was actually done.  The girls were watching as I took it out of the oven.  Our “Oooh”s at seeing the perfectly formed cake pop out of the pan turned into “AAAAH!”s when the squishy insides started oozing their way out.  I propped the shell up with a few ramekins and stuffed it back into the oven so it could finish baking.  But, flattened and misshapen, it wasn’t camera-ready.  So I made the recipe again last week, thereby nullifying any benefits of making half a cake.

The great news is, I loved it!  It was so orange-y, every bite tasted like summer sunshine. I kept the same amount of orange glaze called for in the original recipe and it was just perfect.  Next time, I might even make it without the chocolate ganache.  The sweet orange cake studded with chunks of chocolate was so wonderful, it didn’t need an adornment at all. 

Orange Chocolate Chunk Cake
(adapted from Barefoot Contessa Parties)

1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
zest of two oranges
1 1/2 cups flour, plus one tablespoon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
6 Tablespoons buttermilk
1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup good semisweet chocolate chunks

For the syrup:
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

For the ganache:
6 ounces semisweet chocolate
6 Tablespoons heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour a 6 cup bundt pan.  Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer for about five minutes, or until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, then the orange zest.

Sift together 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.  In another bowl, combine the orange juice, buttermilk and vanilla.  Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately in thirds to the creamed butter, beginning and ending with the flour  Toss the chocolate chunks with 1 Tbsp flour and add to the batter.  Pour into the pan, smooth the top, and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.

While the cake is baking, make the syrup.  In a small saucepan over medium low heat, cook the sugar with the orange juice until the sugar dissolves.  Remove the cake from the pan as specified at the end of the recipe, set it on a rack over a tray, and spoon the orange syrup over the cake.  Allow it to cool completely.

For the ganache, melt the chocolate and cream in the top of a double boiler over simmering water until smooth and warm, stirring occasionally.  Drizzle over the top of the cake.

To remove bundt cake from the pan:

Just before the cake is done baking, place a folded towel in the sink and saturate it with steaming hot water.  When the cake comes out of the oven, set it on top of the towel, pan side down, and leave it for ten seconds.  Immediately invert the cake onto a cooling rack.  The cake will come out clean and whole without sticking.  Be careful because cakes are very delicate when hot and can break apart easily.  If it starts to break apart, leave it in its pan to cool for 20 minutes and try again.