Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Apple crumble cheesecake

When I make the desserts for this blog I start out with a single idea and then I expand, take away and add until I finish with a dessert to be proud of. Some days ideas come easy, other days not so much.

This dessert started with a quick spice cake I made for an after school snack for my children and their friends. The pastry chef in me thought that the cake needed something more so this is where the dessert began to take shape.

I did something similar to this at the restaurant but I refined it a bit to make it easier to do at home. I love layering desserts because I love the clean look and the visual interest the layers provide so I used the spice cake as a base for one of my favourites- cheesecake! I'm not a big fan of cheesecakes with crumb bases because I always find they are too tough or too soggy but the spice cake is a good substitute. (Remind me to tell you the story of the time I mistakenly used breadcrumbs instead of graham crumbs for my cheesecake base!)

The cheesecake is actually a vanilla custard with cream cheese added and set with gelatin. I then sautéed some granny smith apples in butter and brown sugar and added a dash of brandy for flavour. I topped it all off with some homemade oatmeal crumble. I used apples because that is what I had on hand but I think when blueberries are available I would use those. Come to think of it, any fruit would go well with this - cherries, strawberries, peaches or plums. I love that this dessert looks very elegant but it has a down home flavour that makes it very comforting.

I layered these using 3 inch tubes but it will turn out if you do it in a springform pan as well. If you try this recipe let me know how it turns out for you - send me a picture!
Ginger spice cake

113g butter, melted
98g brown sugar
149g corn syrup
149g molasses
7g fresh ginger, finely minced or substitute dried ginger
1.5g cinnamon
generous pinch of nutmeg
4.5g baking soda
195ml milk
85g eggs
227g AP flour
Combine melted butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and molasses. Stir in eggs and fresh ginger. Sift cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda and flour together. Alternate adding flour and milk to sugar mixture. Mix gently until combined. Pour into greased and floured cake pan and bake at 350F until the cake is springy when pressed - about 25 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool in pan for 10 minutes before turning out and cooling completely on rack.

Cheesecake cream

½ cup white sugar
3 ½ Tbsp cornstarch
8 large egg yolks
2 cups milk
zest of one lemon, finely grated
½ vanilla bean
2 sheets gelatin – softened in cold water (or 6 g powdered gelating)
12 oz cream cheese, room temperature
¼ tsp vanilla
Combine sugar, cornstarch and egg yolks. Simmer lemon, vanilla and milk and then add to the egg mixture. Return it all to the pot and boil to thicken. Add softened gelatin and then mix in cream cheese and vanilla. Strain and cool.

Apple compote

Peel and slice apples. Heat some butter, brown sugar and cinnamon in a pan and bring to a bubble. Add apples and cook until softened. Add brandy to taste. Let cool.
Crisp topping

1 ¼ cup AP flour
½ cup white sugar
¼ tsp salt
¾ tsp cinnamon
½ cup melted butter
1 tsp vanilla

Crumble all ingredients together. Sprinkle on prepared pan and bake at 350F until golden.
Final Assembly:
Cut out circles of ginger cake, place in steel round mold. Layer with cream cheese mixture, apples and top with crumble. Chill well before serving.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sweet treats from the grocery store

I love going to the grocery store just to look around. I'm always hoping I'll find something new or interesting that I can incorporate into my baking. In Halifax we have a store called Pete's Frootique and he always has great fruits and vegetables from all around the world.

I was there the other day and was happy to see a great selection of blood oranges. I grabbed a few and was eager to get home to try them in a dessert. I love the colour and sweet flavour of blood oranges and I thought the best way to show that off would be in a tart.

I always try to think of colours as well as flavours when I'm creating desserts. I chose a chocolate short dough tart shell to highlight the colours of the oranges and also to add a slightly bitter contrast in flavour to the sweetness of the oranges. I used my lemon curd recipe - substituting orange juice for lemon - and topped it all off with fresh blood oranges layered with navel oranges.
Chocolate Short Dough – Creaming Method
992g AP flour
85g cocoa
680g softened butter
340g sugar
5ml vanilla extract
170g eggs
Sift together the all purpose flour and cocoa. Set aside. Cream the butter and sugar together well. Add vanilla extract and then the eggs (one at a time) until well combined. Add flour and cocoa mixture and mix on low speed until a thick dough is formed. Scrape dough out of the bowl and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill for at least an hour. When dough is firm, roll out and cut circles to fit your tart pan. Prick the dough with a fork several times and then bake in a 350F oven for 10 -15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool before filling with orange curd. Layer sliced oranges on top.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Old Fashioned Cure

One of the many reasons I collect old cookbooks is that they provide a peek into a woman's life so long ago. I'm always amazed at the responsiblities that a woman had - not only as a provider of food, from scratch, three times a day - but also as the caretaker of the family's health.

Most cookbooks from the 19th and early 20th centuries include sections on medicinal remedies. "Cures" for smallpox, typhoid fever, diptheria and cholera are included along with recommendations on how to treat fits and hysteria ("chiefly seen in females, and generally connected with uterine irregularities" according to The Dominion Cook Book-1899). While some remedies seem laughable knowing today's science other remedies still make perfect sense. "Rules for the Preservation of Health" in the latter cook book include instructions to drink water, avoid excess of spirits, exercise regularly and sleep in a well ventilated room.

Some remedies call for tincture of opium and chloroform - I can't imagine you would feel anything after that! Ingredients that I don't think I could find in a grocery store or at a pharmacy are listed: antimonial wine, laudanum, best manna, and tincture of senna are things I have never heard of before.

So while I was wrapped up in a blanket on the couch trying not to feel sorry for myself after developing my fifth cold since December, I decided to consult my old cookbooks for an old fashioned cure. Egg gruel or beef tea didn't sound appealing and I really didn't like the idea of simmering bacon in vinegar and then laying the bacon on my sore throat for a cure. I settled on "A valuable recipe for fever and ague" figuring I at least had the fever. According to Mrs. R.A. Sibley from "The Home Cook Book" of 1877 I should steep 4 ounces of galangal root in a quart of gin left in a warm place; take often. Unfortunately I didn't have any galangal root handy but I substituted some tonic water. Now I feel just fine!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Grown up Easter eggs

Here's a fun extra treat I made for Easter. I made some egg shaped chocolate shells and filled them with honey sweetened mascarpone lightened with whipping cream and topped with lemon curd. The lemon curd recipe is really great. You can substitute lime juice, too, for something a little different!

Lemon/Lime curd
298g butter
255g sugar
270ml lemon/lime juice
17g lemon/lime zest
255g egg yolks

Combine sugar, juice, zest and ½ of the butter and bring to a boil. Temper egg yolks and return to the pot and bring to a boil. Add remaining butter, mix, strain and then chill.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter eggs and lemons

After single handedly keeping Cadburys in business this Easter (thanks Easter Creme eggs!!) I decided that for our Easter dinner dessert this year I would avoid chocolate and go for a lighter flavour. I certainly was not doing traditional this year, having applewood barbecued pork loin with smashed potatoes and asparagus for the main meal - chocolate would not be missed at the end.

So when I went into the grocery store on Saturday they had blackberries and lemons on sale. Great! I knew I had some phyllo in the freezer so homemade lemon curd, blackberries and brown sugar Italian meringue with crispy phyllo layers would do the job.

Once at home I set to work. The kids were dying the Easter eggs and I was layering the phyllo and baking it off. I decided to wait until later that evening to make the lemon curd so the kids would be in bed and my full attention would be in the kitchen. Little did I know that my plan would hit a slight snag.

Happily sequestered in my kitchen, I started measuring the ingredients for the lemon curd and this is when Murphy's law set in. I had decided to buy a different brand of eggs and as I was separating them I noticed that the yolks were noticeably smaller than I was used to. When I had used up all my eggs I was stuck. It was late at night, stores were closed until Monday and I needed eggs. All that was left for me were the coloured Easter eggs that my children had lovingly decorated just hours before. I had to pause, the mom side debating the pastry chef side of me, before I reached for the eggs. Dessert trumped decoration in my house! Of course I felt guilty destroying my children's hard work but in the end I convinced them it was worth it - they loved the dessert and asked for seconds!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Keeping it simple

Sometimes I can't help but fuss with things to make them perfect. A dessert needs a little bit of this or an extra bit of that and it is my job as a pastry chef to present a sweet in the best possible way.

Which brings me to strawberries. I love strawberries. To me every bite of a sweet, juicy strawberry tastes like sunshine especially when it is a freshly picked, local strawberry. I always have a difficult time when I'm asked to make a dessert that focusses on strawberries because to me a strawberry is perfection as is. No need to embellish, no need to sauté or chop or drizzle. Give me a bowl of strawberries and I am happy to eat them all. Adding chocolate is nice but not necessary and the thought of destroying that fresh flavour of sunshine by adding a little bit of this or a whole lot of that makes me cringe with regret.

So please don't ask me to make a strawberry dessert for you. Keeping it simple is sometimes a good thing, especially when it comes to strawberries.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Banana Bread and Rainy Days

Ah spring! At least I think it's spring. Living in Nova Scotia next to the Atlantic ocean you can be guaranteed a few things: fresh lobster, beautiful blueberries and a rainy, foggy spring! One week ago it snowed but today it rained buckets through thick fog, washing winter away for good.

So while it was grey and dreary outside I warmed up the inside with the smell of fresh baking. I decided to use up some ripe bananas and make banana bread. Now banana bread can be a heavy, greasy mess if you use too much butter and it can be tough if it is mixed too much. This recipe makes a dense loaf with a nice crunchy crust on top but it's not too heavy or at all greasy due to the addition of yogurt and gentle mixing by hand.

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
6 very ripe, soft, darkly speckled large bananas, mashed well (about 3 cups)
1/2 cup plain yogurt
4 large eggs, beaten lightly
3/4 cups unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare 2 loaf pans by spraying with pan spray and lining with parchment.
In a large bowl whisk together dry ingredients. In a separate bowl combine mashed bananas, yogurt, eggs, melted butter and vanilla. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir gently to combine. Divide batter into the two prepared pans and bake for approximately 40 minutes, until the loaves have risen and a golden crust has formed. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for 5 minutes and then turn out the loaves onto a cooling rack and let cool before slicing.

Monday, April 06, 2009

A Sweet Treat

I have a confession to make. Now it may not seem outrageous or scandalous to you but in the world of a pastry chef it's something I want to keep hush-hush. My secret?? I love candy bars. Not the single origin organic dark chocolate kind that professional pastry chefs will tell you they like but the impulse buy at the grocery check out kind...the sweet, gooey, crunchy fake chocolate kind. It doesn't matter if it's a KitKat or a Coffee crisp, peanut butter cups or Twix, if I'm craving chocolate and I'm at the cash register I'll pick up one (or two)!

Which brings me to todays recipe. I was indulging in a Twix bar - all chocolate, caramel and biscuit goodness - when I thought about how I could use the elements that make the candy bar into a dessert that I would proudly serve to friends and family. This is what I enjoy about being a pastry chef - taking elements from different recipes and putting them together to create something even better. This uses the shortbread cookie recipe from March, a chewy caramel centre I use when making chocolates and and easy glazing chocolate to top it off. Voila! A sweet treat to have with your tea or coffee that is crispy, chewy and chocolatey all in one. Enjoy!!


Use the shortbread recipe from March. Line a 9 inch square pan with parchment and press the dough evenly into the bottom. Prick with a fork and bake approximately 20 minutes at 300F or until the edges are golden. Remove from oven and let cool.

Chewy caramel filling (this makes a little more than you need):

2 cups white sugar
3/4 cups Lyle's golden syrup
1/2 cup water
juice from 1/2 lemon
1 cup whipping or heavy cream
1 cup sweetened condensed milk

Heat the cream in a small saucepan and set aside. Combine the sugar, syrup, water and lemon juice in a saucepan. Stir to combine then wash down the sides of the pan with a silicone pastry brush to dissolve any sugar crystals. Bring the sugar mixture to a boil and then, using a candy thermometer, bring the syrup up to 300F - this should take about 10 minutes. Remove the syrup from the heat and let the mixture stop bubbling. Whisk in the hot cream slowly - the mixture will bubble up so be careful! Whisk in the sweetened condensed milk and stir until smooth. Return the pan to the heat and stir constantly while bringing the mixture up to 240F. Remove the caramel from the heat and let the mixture stop bubbling. Pour caramel over the shortbread crust and allow to set either at room temperature or in the fridge.

Chocolate Glaze:

6 oz finely chopped 70% dark chocolate or your favourite bittersweet chocolate
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

Melt the chocolate and butter together in the microwave or over a double boiler. Spread over cooled caramel and allow to set.

When set, cut into desired shape and enjoy!!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Sunday Morning Sticky Buns (made Saturday night)

Sunday mornings always mean a special breakfast for me and my family. I have fond memories from when I was a kid and my dad would make us porridge in the winter and bacon and eggs in the summer. I carry on the tradition with my children, usually by making pancakes. Today, however, we indulged in home made sticky buns that I started the night before.

Daughter #2 had a friend sleep over so I wanted something special for breakfast and I hadn't made this recipe in a while. As luck would have it I had all of the ingredients on hand.

It's a basic yeast dough enriched with butter and an egg, given one rise and then filled and shaped and placed in the pan and in the fridge for a slow rise overnight. In the morning you just stick it in an oven at 350F and in half a hour you have breakfast. It is really a great tasting way to impress guests. I added some chopped apple to add some interest but if you like, nuts or dried fruit can be added as well.

Dough (recipe modified from Robin Hood flour)
4 cups All purpose or bread flour
1/3 cups sugar
1 tsp salt
2-1/4 tsp instant yeast [2 envelopes (8 g)]
1 cup milk, warmed
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 egg

1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup corn syrup or real maple syrup (not pancake syrup)
1 cup nuts or dried fruit - optional

2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cups nuts or dried fruit - if using
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1-1/2 tsp (or more) cinnamon
For the dough, combine 2 cups/500 mL flour, sugar, salt and yeast in large bowl. Add milk, butter and egg. Beat 1 minute. Stir in enough remaining flour to make a soft dough.
Knead dough on floured board for 5 minutes. Place in greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in warm place until doubled, about 75 minutes.

While the dough is rising, prepare the topping. Bring brown sugar and butter to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in syrup. Pour into a 9x13 pan. Sprinkle pecan halves on top, if using.
Punch dough down. Roll out into a rectangle with the dough about a 1/4" thick. Spread with melted butter.

Combine brown sugar, cinnamon and dried fruit or nuts if using. Sprinkle over dough.
Starting at long side, roll up tightly, pinching seam to seal. Cut into 12 pieces. Place in pan. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate 12-48 hours.

Bake uncovered at 350°F/180C for 25 - 30 minutes, or until golden. Let stand 3 minutes in pan, then invert onto serving platter.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Bread Making 101 - Part 2

I really enjoy making bread by hand. I feel like I am really in touch with my food when I make a loaf or two. I enjoy the process of kneading, the feeling of the dough as I pat it down and shape it and the anticipation of the final results while it is baking in the oven. I also love the looks of wonder and appreciation when my family enjoys the results because nothing tastes like homemade bread fresh from the oven!

French Bread – adapted from Peter Reinhart’s “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice”

Pate fermentee from previous recipe
1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
1 ¼ cups bread flour
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp instant yeast
1 ¼ cups water, lukewarm

Make sure to remove the pate fermentee from the fridge at least one hour before you are going to use it to take off the chill. To warm it quicker, cut it into small pieces, cover with plastic and let sit for an hour.

Stir together dry ingredients, yeast and pate fermentee. Add the water and stir until everything comes together. Adjust the flour or water if necessary – you want a dough that is not too sticky, almost rubbery. Knead by hand for about 10 minutes or with a dough hook for about 6 minutes. The dough should be smooth and springy and have an internal temperature of around 80F.
Place dough in an oiled bowl, turn the dough over to coat lightly in oil, cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 2 hours or until the dough doubles in size.
Gently remove the dough from the bowl and put it on a lightly flour counter. Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces, taking care to degas as little as possible. Form the pieces into baguettes or long cylinders by rolling gently. Place on a parchment lined baking tray and let proof at room temperature for 45 minutes or until the loaves are about 1 ½ times their original size. Spray loaves with a fine mist of water and slash the loaves with 3 or 4 short diagonal cuts using a very sharp knife, razor or baker’s blade.
Preheat oven to 500F and make sure to have an empty tray in the bottom of the oven – you’re going to use this to make steam.
Put the loaves in the oven or transfer to a baking stone (if using). Pour 1 cup of hot water into the pan at the bottom and close the oven door. After 5 minutes lower the oven temperature to 450F and bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the pans to ensure even baking and bake for another 10 – 20 minutes until the crust is a deep golden brown and the internal temperature registers at least 205F.
Remove the laves fro the oven and cool on a rack for at least 40 minutes before slicing or serving.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Wish List

Working as a pastry chef is different than baking at home. Most people don't realize that being a pastry chef is hard work. It is a very physical job where you're on your feet for 8 to 10 hours a day, you are constantly lifting heavy bags of flour or big bowls of dough and the heat in the kitchen can be hotter than Hades on some days.

However, there are advantages. Most professional kitchens are just that - professional. Your equipment is at your fingertips, ingredients are organized and in bins just where you need them, tables can be scraped and wiped down with ease and you have large ovens that fit all of your trays and give a nice, steady heat especially if you are lucky enough to have a convection oven. Essentially, the kitchen works with you.

Which brings me to today. I am at home baking bread, something I know how to do. I used to make at least a dozen loaves a day when I worked at the restaurant, no problem. And still, most of my baking is done at work not in my own home kitchen. My problem today was with my oven, an ordinary electric oven that heats from the top and bottom. Unfortunately for me it heats more from the top than the bottom so my bread was baked on the top but not on the bottom.

So my wish for today is that somehow, someday I will get a convection oven. I already have my eye on a steam assisted convection oven from KitchenAid. Perhaps Santa will think I've been a good pastry chef and send one my way next Christmas....then again, my birthday is coming up - perhaps he'll show up early.
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