Did you have a dad/grandpa/uncle who would – come dessert time – gesture excitedly out the window at the deer/rabbit/bird in the backyard? He'd point, you'd look and half your dessert would disappear in the meantime. W. tried this a lot when I was a kid, but I think it worked more often on my mom than me. I tend to keep my enemies close and my desserts even closer. Now if he had tried it with the broccoli, it would have been a different story...
The point being, I don't fall for that trick. Or I thought I didn't. But somehow, while my nose was buried in this here internet, summer packed up its blue sky, switched the sun to energy-saver mode and skipped hemispheres. All it left me was a pile of blueberries and peaches which isn't so bad, all things considered.
Even better when they're laid to rest in a sunflower pattern on a bed of graham cracker crumbs and lime cream cheese linens. Oh summer, why'd you have to go?
Fresh Fruit Tart with Lime Cream Cheese Filling
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
8 ounces or 1 package cream cheese (regular or light)
1 teaspoon lime zest
2 tablespoons lime juice
3 1/2-4 cups fresh fruit
4 tablespoons peach or apricot jam
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
To prepare the crust, stir together the graham cracker crumbs and sugar. Add the butter and mix well with a fork. Using your fingers and/or the back of a spoon, press the mixture evenly and firmly into a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. (Failing that, use a springform pan or pie plate of the same size.) Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes. Cool on a rack for 10-20 minutes until firm before releasing the crust from the pan onto a serving platter. (Skip this step if you don't have a tart pan.) Let the crust cool completely before moving on to the next step.
To prepare the filling, whisk together the brown sugar, sour cream and vanilla in a small bowl until the sugar is dissolved. In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the sour cream mixture, lime juice and lime zest and beat just until combined. Spread the cream cheese filling evenly on the bottom of the crust.
In a small saucepan, heat the peach jam over low-medium heat until runny. In the meantime, wash and slice (if necessary) your fresh fruit. Arrange the fruit on top of the cream cheese filling. Brush the tops with heated jam. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Source: Inspired by the Blueberry Lemon Cream Tarts at Epicurious.com.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Friday, August 22, 2008
Lists can be anxiety inducing. For one, they're never-ending. Just when you're finally closing in on the last few to dos, you sabotage your success by moving them to the top of a new list. Then there are those to dos that you know you'll never get to, like putting your photos in albums. Why are you even writing that down? These to dos are destined to be shifted from list to list ad infinitum, so I like to call them lifers.
To compensate for lifers, you have to start cheating. It begins with a few small or insignificant to dos appearing at the bottom of your list: things you know you can knock off in no time flat, things you don’t really need to be reminded to do.
Then you start breaking down big jobs into smaller parts to cross them off individually. “Cleaning the office” becomes “clearing off the desk”, “filing bills” and “organizing pens” or something equally as ridiculous. Before you know it, you're adding items to the list that you've already finished, chasing that completion high. Don't think you're fooling anyone.
Last month in Ottawa, I happened upon a list-maker support group of sorts. A few of my friends have sworn off lists in a bid to reduce stress and focus on enjoying the here and now without a constant reminder of what needs to be done in the future. Sounds good, right? I was in.
Then we got back to K.'s place -- she's the founder of Listaholics Anonymous, as I like to call it -- and made these Ducat Cakes. She'd been eyeing this recipe for a while. No sooner had we licked the final sticky bits of frosting from our fingertips than K. emerged from upstairs, list and pen in hand.
It seems that Ducat Cakes were a to do and I'd been the unwitting accomplice to a listaholic relapse. The worst part is: I think it was worth it.
K. gives Vanna White a run for her money as she reveals the freshly baked Ducat Cakes.
Update: The Casual Baker is 5 weeks, 5 days list-free and counting.
2 heaping tablespoons yeast
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1/4 cup + 3 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk
4 cups flour
3 egg yolks
Mix the yeast, sugar and salt thoroughly, until liquid.
Heat the butter, milk and sugar until warm. Add the yeast and wait until it begins to activate (about 10 minutes). Add the egg yolks and beat lightly until smooth.
In a separate bowl, mix together the flour and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and work into a dough. Cover dough and leave it in a warm place to rise for 30 minutes.
Lightly grease a cast-iron frying pan, glass baking pan or casserole dish. On a floured surface, roll out the dough to the thickness of a finger. Cut out small circles using a glass or cookie cutter dipped in flour. Place the cut-outs side by side in the prepared dish. Cover and let rise for another 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Brush a bit of melted butter on top of the dough. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden. (We found that our Ducat Cakes browned up very quickly, so we reduced the heat and watched them closely to avoid burning.)
Frost the warm Ducat Cakes with a thick icing made of icing sugar and milk. Toss a handful of chocolate chips on top and enjoy!
Notes: I can't be sure of the authenticity of our Ducat Cakes as some aspects of the recipe seemed to be lost in translation. We ended up making things up as we went along. The recipe suggested serving these cold, but we nixed that idea early on.
Source: Adapted from Best Czech Recipes by Harald Salfellner.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
About a week ago, the sky darkened, temperatures dipped and rain clouds rolled into Vancouver, spilling a few drops on their way through town. A collective groan rose from the city, as beach plans were aborted and the go-getter gardeners kicked themselves for their early morning watering.
I didn't have plans to laze in the sand and I most certainly did not get up at some ungodly hour to water the lawn. The rain didn't ruin my day. The rain made my day.
Let's face it, a light drizzle can be a refreshing break from the beating sun on your morning jog.
You can pull out that pair of jeans that's hiding at the back of your drawer and avoid doing laundry for one more day.
Plus it's a great excuse to try that stick-to-your-bones dessert you've been eyeing for months but couldn't justify making, what with all that time over a hot stove and all the fresh berries to be had instead.
At the very least, it won't last forever.
Creamy Chocolate Rice Pudding
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
5 cups milk
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup Arborio rice
1/4 cup Kahlúa
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup yogurt, preferably Greek-style
Whisk together the cocoa, sugar, salt, and milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and then remove from heat.
In a second medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, until the edges are translucent (about 1 to 2 minutes). Add the hot milk mixture and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the rice is tender and has absorbed most of the liquid (about 30 minutes). Remove from heat.
Add the Kahlúa and chocolate and stir until the chocolate has melted. Pour into a bowl and refrigerate until cold (about 2 hours). Stir in yogurt and enjoy!
Source: Based on Martha Stewart's Chocolate-Hazelnut Rice Pudding.
Notes: Martha says to serve this pudding cold but, after trying it both ways, my testers and I unanimously agreed that warm was the way to go. If you agree, either skip the refrigeration step in the directions above or re-heat the finished product.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
If there was a berry pageant and I was the judge, blueberries would take the top prize hands down.
These blue babies have talent in spades. Ranked #1 among berries for their antioxidant levels, they lower cholesterol, strengthen the immune system's resistance to flu and viruses and reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. Oh, and did I mention their anti-aging properties? Better yet, you can pop them in your mouth without fear of stem, seed or stain.
But are they beautiful, you ask? The swimwear component strips the berries to their core, leaving little to chance or imagination. With their smooth, taut skin, it's clear they've been hitting the gym and eating right. The silvery sheen of their unblemished violet complexion positively glows in the spotlight.
The eveningwear event is where they really shine though. Classic and elegant, these no-fuss berries need little in the way of preparation and dressing after a quick rinse in the shower. Fitted in streusel crumbs, arm-in-arm with lemon, blueberries are the star of the evening.
(cue the roses, crown, sash and tears)
Blueberry Streusel Bars with Lemon Cream Ribbons
1 cup butter, softened
3 cups flour
1 1/2 cups rolled oats, old-fashioned
1 1/3 cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 large egg, separated
14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 1/2 cups blueberries, room temperature
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 9" x 13" pan with parchment paper, leaving a 1" overhang at either end.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, oats, sugar, salt and baking powder. Use your fingers to blend the butter into the mixture. Set aside 2 cups of these streusel crumbs for the topping.
To the remaining crumbs, add the egg white. Mix until distributed evenly. Press these crumbs into the bottom of the prepared pan to form a level crust. Bake the crust until it begins to dry on top (10-12 minutes).
While the crust is baking, prepare the lemon cream. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sweetened condensed milk, lemon juice, lemon zest and egg yolk. Set aside for 5 minutes to thicken.
Remove the crust from the oven and sprinkle the blueberries evenly on top. Drop spoonfuls of the thickened lemon cream over the blueberries. Use a spatula to carefully spread the mixture, taking care not to crush the berries in the process. Return the pan to the oven and bake just until the lemon mixture begins to develop a shiny skin on top (7-8 minutes).
Sprinkle the reserved streusel crumbs evenly on top. Bake until the filling is bubbling at the edges and the topping is golden brown (25-30 minutes).
Let cool in the pan for about 1 hour before carefully moving to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in the fridge.
Yields 24 pieces.
Notes: Given the surfeit of blueberries from 2007 in my parents' freezer, I used frozen blueberries (defrosted and drained).
Source: Fine Cooking magazine, July 2008.
Labels: Bars and squares
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
I’m not sleeping well at night. I used to have trouble sleeping when I changed beds too frequently. Now I can’t sleep in the bed I’ve slept in since I was 7. I may be frugal, but it’s not the Ghost of Christmas Past that’s causing me to toss and turn.
It’s the Ghost of Birthdays Passed.
During my (ahem) extended absence, I’ll admit that some birthdays came and went without so much as a present, a phone call, a card, an email or — I’m ashamed to admit — even a Facebook message.
To everyone I missed, my sincerest apologies. The next time I’m in your particular neck of the woods or you’re in mine, I’ll bake you up one of these. You’ll forget all about my oversight before the fork leaves your lips. Bygones?
So whose birthday did I remember? R.’s of course. Those milestone years are hard to miss, especially when it’s a champagne birthday to boot.
We sipped some bubbly (the real stuff, in honour of our newly developed francophilia) and consumed copious amounts of cream cheese (which I missed terribly while we were gone). We talked about the first 30 and made plans for the next.
It wasn’t even my birthday and I had a good time.
Don’t be daunted by the lengthy recipe. It’s a time-consuming, but not difficult, process well worth every second. You could skip the ganache and topping if you’re short on time, but it makes me sad just thinking about it. Don’t do it.
* Before the grammar police break out their batons, I went back and forth between past and passed before settling on what I consider to be the cleverer of the two. And yes, Virginia, cleverer is a word.
Cappuccino Fudge Cheesecake
2 cups Oreo cookie crumbs
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
7 tablespoons butter, melted and still hot
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
20 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup Kahlúa
4 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons dark rum
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder or instant coffee crystals
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons fancy molasses
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
To prepare the crust, pulse the cookie crumbs, chopped chocolate, brown sugar, and nutmeg in a food processor just until combined. Add the hot butter and continue processing until the crumbs begin to stick together (about 1 minute).
Transfer the crumbs to a 10-inch springform pan with 3-inch sides. Press the crumbs firmly up the sides of the pan to within ½-inch of the top edge, then over the bottom of the pan.
To prepare the ganache, bring the whipping cream to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat and add the chocolate and Kahlúa. Whisk until the chocolate is melted and the ganache is smooth.
Pour 2 cups of ganache over the bottom of the crust. Freeze until the ganache is firm (about 30 minutes). Cover the remaining ganache and let stand at room temperature. You’ll use it to decorate later on.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
To prepare the filling, beat the cream cheese and sugar in a large bowl until blended. Mix in flour. In a small bowl, stir together the rum, espresso powder or instant coffee, vanilla and molasses until the espresso/coffee dissolves. Add this to the cream cheese mixture and beat. Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition and occasionally scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
Pour the filling over the cold ganache in the crust. Place the cake on a rimmed baking sheet in the oven. Bake until the top is brown, puffed and cracked at the edges. The middle 2 inches should move only slightly when the pan is gently shaken. This will take about 1 hour 5 minutes.
Transfer the cake to a rack. Cool for 15 minutes while preparing the topping, but maintain the oven temperature. The top of the cheesecake may fall slightly.
To prepare the topping, whisk together the sour cream, sugar and vanilla in a medium bowl. Pour the topping over the hot cheesecake, spreading carefully to ensure even coverage. Bake until the topping is set (about 10 minutes).
Transfer the cheesecake to a rack and immediately refrigerate the ensemble until cool (about 3 hours).
Run a small sharp knife between the crust and the side of the pan to loosen the cake. Release the pan sides. Transfer the cake to a platter.
At this point, the original recipe calls for some fancy dancy lattice and rosettes. I smeared the ganache on top of the cake instead, creating a free-form 30 in swirls.
Chill at least 6 hours or until the ganache is firm. The cake is best served the next day, but will keep for up to a week covered in the fridge.
Serves 12 according to Bon Appétit and many more according to me.
Source: Based on a recipe for Cappuccino-Fudge Cheesecake from Epicurious, which was originally published in Bon Appétit in February 2002.
Saturday, August 02, 2008
Helllllooooo? Is anybody out there?
I’ve been stewing about this post for awhile now. Returning to The Casual Baker is much like prying the lid off a dusty old box, eyes squinting, nose wrinkling and body tensing in fear of what rank scent or creepy crawly might emerge. It has something to do with being away so long, wondering what’s happened while I’ve been gone and worrying that there’s no one left to listen.
As I see it, you have two options when meeting friends for the first time after an extended absence. You can try to catch up on all that’s been missed, those little things that seem important in a day or even a week but fade in significance over months or years. The second approach is to forget the catch-up, pretend you’ve never left and pick up exactly where you left off.
I think you can see where I’m going with this.
Driving through the Rockies from Edmonton to Vancouver last week, we picked up a box of apricots just off the highway. Within a day or two, they had developed black freckles and were verging on compostable. The home team sprung into action: W. with his apricot jam, J. with her apricot raisin chutney and I with my roasted apricots.
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cut each apricot in half and remove its pit. Squeeze the pieces, cut side up, into a baking pan with sides. They should fit closely together but not overlap.
Drizzle the honey over the apricots. Put a small piece of butter in each apricot cavity. Sprinkle the brown sugar and cinnamon on top.
Bake for 15 minutes at 375 degrees. Remove the apricots from the oven and baste them with pan juices. Increase the temperature to 400 degrees and return the pan to the oven. Continue to baste the apricots every 10 minutes until they begin to caramelize and the liquid thickens to syrup. This should take about 45 minutes, from start to finish.
For a tangy dessert, ladle the warm roasted fruit and syrup over ice cream, yogurt or fromage blanc. For an appetizer or cheese course, spread the apricots on a wheel of baked brie instead.
Source: Based on a recipe published in the Los Angeles Times on June 18, 2003.