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


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)


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.