I recently had a conversation with someone about sourdough bread. It all started when I mentioned I was a baker. He told me that there was a bakery near him that sold sourdough, but he didn’t know what it was or what all the fuss was about. I was quite happy to explain as I love talking about baking science.
See, sourdough isn’t a new thing. Despite its recent popularity, sourdough is what all bread used to be back in the day. Before breweries developed the commercial yeast that we now use today, the only kind of yeast we had was wild! Wild yeast is everywhere… in the air, on the walls, etc. – all you need to do is provide it with food, and water to let it grow!
They say Egyptians first discovered how to bake bread – someone left a bowl of a porridge type dish (made of wheat) lying around and discovered it started bubbling. I love the idea of whoever thought “let’s put this in an oven!” And since that day, we have been raising cultures of wild yeast to add air and flavor into our breads.
So, you want to make your own starter? You can go about it two different ways – first you can make one out of just flour and water, or you can use fruit and vegetables! Unwashed fruit contains lots of wild yeast on the surface, plus plenty of sugar inside to feed the yeast culture. Grapes are an obvious choice, but really any fruit and certain vegetables will do (apparently beets work). (more…)
Well, it’s officially 2018! And why not start the new year with some good old fashioned doughnuts? My grandma always called these New Years Küken (or “cookies”) but you may also know them as Portzelky. They are a German Mennonite favorite, always made for New Year’s day.
When I was a kid, these weren’t my favorite thing because they contained a dreaded ingredient – raisins. Not sure why, but I have always disliked raisins, especially in baked goods. You know when you pick up a cookie, thinking it’s chocolate chip, only to eat a raisin?! Worst thing ever… I can remember eating raisins out of those little red boxes as a child, and enjoying it. But now, despite my best efforts to get used to those shriveled little pockets of sadness… I just don’t like ’em.
Now that I am making my own New Year’s cookies, I can use whatever fruit I want! (Eat that, raisins!) I have always wanted to experiment with these little dougnuts, and decided to try three different flavors this year. (more…)
I have always been a fan of strange things. When I was a child, I wanted nothing more than to have red hair and green eyes, because they were uncommon and would make me look unique (brown + brown = boring to little Amy). When my mom would take me to the grocery store, I would ask her to buy all of the strangest fruits. Passionfruit, grenadilla, star fruit, dragon fruit, prickly pear… you name it, I wanted to try it! And for my birthday, I didn’t want any old cake, I always wanted pavlova!
Unlike nowadays, pavlova wasn’t as common when I was a kid in Canada. My siblings always opted for things like cheesecake or chocolate torte, but I wasn’t such a fan of those. Of course, my mom made a version almost more like a traditional cake, with whipped cream icing all around, but it was pavlova all the same. Ever since then, I have been a huge fan of simple meringue bases topped with all kinds of fun and colourful fruits.
Pavlova is a fantastic dessert because you can top it with anything! In this instance, I chose to pick some tropical fruits that we had in the house, and one of my favorite weird ones – passionfruit. For the passionfruit, I chose to make it into a sauce with some coconut water. I had a coconut that I wanted to turn into toasted coconut flakes (for decoration) and decided not to waste the water. It’s not necessary though, so feel free to just use the passionfruit as is if you want.
The next time I make a pavlova, I’m going to try using an italian meringue, rather than a classic french meringue. I haven’t made a french meringue in a while, and kept over-whipping it (I’m just that strong). The nice thing about italian meringue is that the egg whites cook in the simple syrup as you whip it, making it the most stable meringue you can make. Finally, I just decided to add some acid to the mixture in order to make it more stable.
Fancy chefs whip their egg whites in copper bowls, as they create a chemical reaction that helps to prevent over-whipping. You can make a similar reaction by adding a bit of lemon juice to the egg whites, or cream of tartar. For this recipe, I added cream of tartar, but feel free to substitute a couple teapsoons of lemon juice if that’s what you have on hand. Just add the cream of tarter to a couple tablespoons of the sugar, and mix together. Add that sugar first while whipping.
The other great thing about pavlova, is that it looks pretty no matter how perfect the meringue. Even if there are cracks in the meringue, it still looks pretty. And, if you break the meringue accidentally, you can still eat it! Just call it Eton Mess, and mix all the same stuff together in a layered trifle type dessert. Although, according to Richard it’s not an Eton mess if there are fruits other than strawberries and raspberries in it. He’s British.
So whether you serve it broken up, as one large meringue, or as the individual ones here, give pavlova a try! Who doesn’t like fresh fruit, cream, and copious amounts of sugar?
First, make the pavlovas. Preheat the oven to 100 degrees Celsius and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Mix together the cream of tartar with a couple tablespoons of the 300g of caster sugar. Whip the egg whites until foamy, and soft peaks are beginning to form.
Sprinkle over the sugar, a few tablespoons at a time, beginning with the cream of tartar sugar. Continue to whip the egg whites and sugar until stiff, glossy peaks form. Be careful not to overwhip.
Gently fold in the coconut and divide into four mounds on the parchment paper. Using a spoon, create little depressions in each meringue for the cream.
Bake in the peheated oven for 1 hour, 25 minutes. Turn off the oven, and allow to cool to room temperature.
To make the passionfruit sauce, stir together the 150g sugar and coconut water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat, and stir in the passionfruit seeds.
Shortly before you're ready to serve, whip the cream to medium peaks and mound on the meringue shells. Add the mango cubes on top, the coconut flakes (if using), and the passionfruit sauce.
As I mentioned in the lemon tart recipe post, one of my favorite cookbooks is by the Bouchon Bakery. It contains a recipe for a plum tart that uses a wonderful pâte sucrée crust, and frangipane filling. I made it before as a thank you for some plums I was gifted, and have loved the combination ever since. Frangipane works well as a base for almost any fruit, especially stone fruit. So when we were given a load of damson a week ago, it was the first recipe I wanted to try.
Now, a word of warning here. Unless you’re a masochist for baking (like me!), I won’t recommend making a damson tart. Instead, use any larger plum, or even nectarines, or peaches. The amount of wedges you need to cut from the tiny damsons is ridiculous, and takes ages. However, if you’re like me, and have more damsons than you can eat (and a lot of free time), why not? (more…)
So I’ve been on the hunt for the perfect banana recipe – banana bread or banana muffins, I’m not picky. I’m always buying bananas, in an effort to get my 5 a day, but they keep ripening too fast!
Richard thinks I’m crazy, but when a banana has more than a few spots, I sort of lose interest in eating it. I like my bananas more on the green side. Speaking of which, when I was in Nepal, they had the best bananas (and they were always super green)!! As the food in the orphanage I worked in was dal bhat twice a day (gets a bit monotonous) the piece of fruit as dessert each evening was most enjoyable. And one of the best fruits I found, was the humble banana! It might have been the lack of variety in my diet, but those bananas were like the equivalent of candy over there.
I’ll eat the ones on the right, but the other ones are only good for baking IMHO
So in an effort not to waste my spotted bananas, I’ve been baking with them! Unfortunately, lots of the recipes just aren’t quite as good as I’m hoping for. I want something decidedly more-ish, but kept ending up with dry or bland, and certainly not banana-y enough. Like all my made up words there?
After all those failed attempts (okay, two), I decided to rework a banana muffins recipe that I had. I could vaguely remember a good recipe from an old job that I had loved, and used it to alter my current one. I increased the banana amount considerably, added some chopped chocolate, and a bit of cinnamon. It’s still not quite perfect yet, but good enough to share. (more…)
Every pizza is a personal pizza if you believe in yourself
A couple of years ago I found myself working at a little cafe in Victoria. It was a great job, as there were only two of us in the kitchen, and we had plenty of freedom in terms of our hours etc. One of the other great perks of this job was the lunch! Most restaurants etc. have free food as part of the job, but from my experience it’s almost always unhealthy! Pasta, pasta, pasta… pretty much cheap carbs every day. But here we could make our own lunches with salads, sandwiches, and the occasional pizza!
They would make these individual pizzas for lunch each day, with different toppings. And boy, were they good! They would also sell the pizza dough for people to make their own at home.
As the baker, it was my job to make the pizza dough in large batches, and then we would defrost a few each day. These small balls made perfect thin crust personal pizzas – so you can imagine I decided to make them at home! I adjusted the recipe a little bit for myself (I’m not super into whole wheat flour), and then would make a batch and freeze them. Then, all you need to do is pull a couple little pizza dough balls out, and let them prove/defrost for a couple hours. You can even bring them out first thing in the morning, and let them defrost in the fridge. (more…)
Are you lucky enough to find yourself with an excess of lemons and oranges this Easter? Looking for something to make with them all? This was the bounty that I had the other weekend, and I was quite keen to use them all.
The other day I posted about the more unique take on Paska that I made this past weekend, and I promised more. I decided to try making a regular paska recipe that my aunt gave me, as well as using a challah bread recipe to make a paska flavoured challah. I had remembered paska dough as being quite wet, and wanted something I could braid into shapes. However, after making my Aunt’s paska recipe, I realized it wasn’t as wet as I thought. I could have easily braided it into wreaths etc.
But you want to know what this huge amount of paska means, besides being something Richard can take to work? Paska French toast!! Awesome Easter breakfast… if I do say so myself.
The bakery that I work at in London, is quite well known for its doughnuts. When I first tried one without any filling, just the doughnut, I could only think of one thing. PASKA! They use lemon zest in the dough, and the combination of yeast and citrus just brought back memories of paska. It’s not really strong enough to come through when there is a filling in it, but on its own it’s like warm memories of my childhood.
For those of you who don’t know what paska is, it’s a yeasted Ukrainian Easter bread, flavoured with lemon and orange. It’s usually served with sweetened cream cheese – or at least that’s what my grandma always made with it. And if you grew up in a Mennonite family, then you’re probably used to seeing paska with some simple icing on top, sprinkled with rainbow sprinkles… like this!
But I wanted to make something different this year! So with those doughnuts as my inspiration, I decided to make paska flavoured doughnuts! Using a recipe from Justin Gellatly’s cookbook Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding – I adapted it to include the paska flavour. All it took was increasing the amount of citrus zest exponentially, and changing the water to citrus juice. (I also used active dry yeast instead of fresh, as it’s kind of hard to find.)
A couple years back, I was in the cookbook section of my local library, looking for books on making pasta. Unfortunately, I hadn’t done my reconnaissance properly, and didn’t realize the books I was looking for were at other branches. But while I was in there, another book caught my eye – the Bouchon Bakery cookbook.
It was so big that it stuck out from the shelf, and looked like it would contain good recipes. And yes, I definitely pick books based on their covers…
Imagine a photo of this book right here… but it’s currently stuck in a gap beside our upper kitchen cabinets! We need to take stuff apart to get it out…
Bouchon Bakery has become one of my favorite cookbooks, and contains lots of classic recipes – including the pâte sucrée crust for this tart. I pretty much use this recipe for any tart I am making – whether it be for a frangipane and fruit tart, or classic lemon.
Lemon tart is one of Richard’s favorite desserts. So the other day, I decided to surprise him with a lemon tart when he came home!
I had a recipe from the Waitrose magazine that I was thinking of trying, but I was worried that it wouldn’t be good. (Although, I haven’t had a bad one yet…) Instead, I decided to break out my whisk, and make something I knew would work – this lemon sabayon.
Sabayon is simply the name given to cooking eggs over a Bain Marie while whisking. Unlike other tarts, this one mostly cooks the eggs before you bake, which reduces the possibility of cracks.
The original recipe is for an 8″ round tart shell, and the lemon mixture shouldn’t be whisked too much, as you don’t want to incorporate air. Since my only tart shell is 10″ in diameter, I whisked my mixture a bit fuffier so that it would fill the shell. Turns out I should have done the math on the volume of my shell, rather than the surface area.
The original recipe was an 8″ round that was 1.5″ tall, and my 10″ round was only 1″ high. I ended up with too much filling, and it gave it a slightly weird sensation when eating. Almost like those “whipped” yogurts that were popular a few years ago? Very light and airy tasting, but still lemony. Not unpleasant at all, but it made it feel like something other than a lemon tart.
top this with fresh fruit, and even a dusting of icing sugar – the choice is yours!
So depending on the texture you are after, watch how much you whip the lemon over the stove. You’re not trying to increase the air, just keep it moving so that the egg doesn’t cook in big chunks. Unless, of course, you want an airy-whipped-lemon-tart. Maybe that’s your thing?
If, like Richard, you’re a fan of the classic lemon tart – perhaps give this method a try!
For the pâte sucrée, sift together the flour, ground almonds, and 23g icing sugar. Add any of the almond that doesn't pass through the sieve back into the mixture.
Beat the butter and vanilla seeds until light in colour and soft, and then sift in the remaining icing sugar. Whip the sugar with the butter until light and fluffy.
Add the sifted dry ingredients to the bowl and mix until it resembles a sort of wet sand. Tip the bowl out onto your work surface, and press together.
To make sure all of the vanilla and sugar is evenly mixed, you will use a technique called 'fraiser' or 'fraisage'. Use the heel of your hand to smear the mixture together on the table, then scrape it off the table, fold it over itself, and continue smearing until it's evenly mixed (see image above).
Pat the dough into a disc, and wrap in cling film, Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 325°F (162°C), grease and line a tart pan with a circle of parchment paper.
To roll out the dough, place the disc between two sheets of parchment paper. Roll out until it is large enough to fit your tart pan and lay inside*.
Press the dough into the corners and fluted edges of your tin, then trim the edge either with your fingers, or by rolling over with your rolling pin,
Line the tart with parchment paper, and fill with rice or beans.
Bake in your preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the edges are starting to turn golden. Remove the beans and paper, and continue to bake for another 10-15 minutes, or until the bottom is golden brown. If the edges brown too quickly, cover them with some aluminum foil.
Remove tart from the oven and allow to cool slightly.
While the shell is baking, prepare the lemon sabayon filling.
Place a large heat safe bowl over a boiling bain marie, and whisk together the lemon zest, juice, sugar, and eggs.
Continue to whisk the mixture slowly, trying not to add too much air, until the sabayon is lighter in colour and thick. You should be able to draw a figure 8 on top with the mixture and it'll sink slowly. If the mixture is heating too quickly, don't whisk more, simply take the bowl on and off the heat to prevent it from getting too warm.
Remove from the heat, and whisk in the cubed butter, a little at a time. Preheat oven to 300°F (148°C).
Pour the mixture into your tart shell, and bake in the preheated oven for 10+ minutes, or until the sabayon forms a skin, and the tart is set but jiggles a bit in the middle.
Allow tart to cool before removing from the tin, and decorating with fresh fruit or a dusting of icing sugar, if desired.
*This dough is very forgiving - if it cracks or breaks, simply press pieces together. No need to remove and roll again.
I’m starting to realize that I can’t do everything by hand. And I don’t mean that in the sense of handmade… but that sometimes, you just need machine power when baking. Case in point – these Nanaimo Bars.
When I was studying pastry in Vancouver, our course had us doing almost everything by hand. Whether that was whipping cream, or making meringue, there were few things that we did with our Kitchenaid mixers. One of the few things we did with a machine was an italian meringue – and I resigned myself to not making them while living in this tiny flat. (I also resigned myself to not making marshmallows while here, as it’s pretty much the same process.)
As I couldn’t bring my Kitchenaid mixer from Canada, and had no room to put one here even if I did, I didn’t bother to buy a hand mixer. Maybe it’s because once you go Kitchenaid you never go back? Or perhaps my hand mixing at school had made me cocky? Bah ha ha, you puny machines – look at the strength of my arms!!! Mwah ah ah…
But seriously – if I could whip cream by hand, and make meringues (just not italian), why did I need a hand mixer? Well folks, creaming butter, that’s why! It is easy to do when you’re just softening it for a cookie dough, but trying to incorporate air and make it fluffy?! My upper body strength has its limits. So the next time I need to make a fluffy layer, I may just review my aversion to hand mixers.
For anyone not already aware, Nanaimo bars are something from the West Coast of Canada (named after the city of Nanaimo). They are so ubiquitous that as a child I thought they were as common as chocolate chip cookies. It’s a crust of digestive/coconut/nut/chocolate, covered with a buttery custard layer, and topped with more chocolate. Normally the crust contains graham crackers, but over here I substituted with digestive biscuits.
I personally was never the biggest eater of Nanaimo bars, as I found them too sweet/rich as a child, but homesickness has crept in. Either than or my new Canadian coworker, lamenting the lack of these delectable bars, persuaded me to break out the ol’ wooden spoon.
Maybe you will too? Or do you have one of those fancy hand mixers?
Add the egg, and stir until it has cooked and thickened.
Remove from the heat, and stir in the crumbs, and nuts.
Press firmly and evenly into the pan. Chill in the fridge while making the second layer.
For the custard layer, cream together the butter, custard powder, and icing sugar, until light and fluffy.
Add whipping cream, and whip until light. Spread over first layer, and chill until firm.
For the chocolate topping, melt the butter and chocolate together over a bain marie, being careful not to overheat.
Remove bowl from the heat, and allow to cool. Once cool, but still pourable, spread over the custard layer, and chill to set.
*Bain marie is a fancy way of saying hot water bath. It is used to describe cooking items in the oven surrounded by water (to ensure even cooking), or cooking items in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. In our case, it means the latter.