Monthly Archives: May 2010

Life is Just A…


…Bowl full of cherries. That’s right, I said it. You know why that’s such a great metaphor? Because there’s nothing better than a bowl full of fresh, bright, juicy deep red cherries. Can you tell I really like cherries? Yes, they are one of my favourite fruits.

I imagine the pit has something to do with the cherry/life metaphor too. Maybe something like, you take the bad with the good. With life though, unlike cherries, you can’t just spit out the pit. It doesn’t work like that. What you can do is try to move on after life’s little pits and make the most of the delicious cherry flesh because sooner or later you finish that bowl of cherries and you want to have something to show for it.

You get what I’m driving at here right? Life is short. Life is sweet. Life is cherries.

So in celebration of life and my favourite spring fruit here are some cupcakes I made for you. No pits though. Promise.

Cherry Almond Cupcakes
Makes about 2 dozen cupcakes.

Source: My imagination.

3 cup flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cup granulated sugar
4 eggs
1 cup sweet cherries, pitted and rough chopped
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 cup milk
Almonds, sliced and toasted for garnish

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Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and position a rack in the middle. Line two muffin tins with cupcake liners then set them aside.

In a medium sized bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate larger bowl with an electric mixer on medium high speed cream the butter and sugar until it’s light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time mixing until it’s smooth after each one and scraping down the bowl as needed. Beat in the almond extract and chopped cherries then add the flour mixture in three batches alternating between the milk.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins until about 3/4 filled then bake them for about 25 minutes until the tops are light golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow them to cool for at least 10 minutes before you frost and decorate.

Cherry Cream Cheese Icing

1 250g pkg cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup unsalted butter, Room temperature
1/4 cup cherry puree, strained
3 – 5 cup powdered sugar, sifted

Note: Make your icing while the cupcakes are baking to allow it enough time to set up in the refrigerator.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer beat cream cheese, butter and cherry puree until it’s light and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar and mix until it’s smooth and your desired consistency. Refrigerate the icing at least 30 minutes before using it.

When you’re ready to frost the cupcakes fit a pastry bag with your favourite tip, I used a large star tip, and liberally spread the Cherry Cream Cheese Icing over each. After each cupcake is finished being frosted sprinkle the toasted almonds on top. Enjoy!

Cookie + Cake = Lee’s Carrot Cake

Don’t you just love birthdays? Even someone else’s birthday. Actually especially someone else’s birthday. I know everyone says this and doesn’t really mean it, but truly I love giving presents way more than receiving them. More than that, I love to make someone feel special. I love the thrill of planning little surprises to catch them off guard or keep them guessing. I love to make people smile.

That must be why I love to bake so much. It’s got to be one of the best ways to make people instantly happy. How can you not smile when you bite into a freshly baked Lemon Blueberry Streusel Muffin, a chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie or a Hazelnut Brown Butter Cupcake? Ok well maybe you wouldn’t smile as you bite into it. That would be messy. But after there would be a definite smile cracking those crumbly lips.

I also love that mumbling cacophony of off beat voices when you get to that certain part the birthday song where everyone says something a little different. Happy birthday dear… It gets me giggling every time.

But I digress.

It was Lee’s birthday last Monday and I wanted to make him something he would love. Carrot Cake is his favourite so that was a clear winner, but I was itching to do something a little different, something more. He was telling me recently about birthdays from his childhood and these Jeanne’s Bakery cakes from Winnipeg. Apparently they have a Shortbread cookie layer on the bottom so that got me thinking. Carrot Cake with a Snickerdoodle Cookie Crust and Cream Cheese Icing. Yes. That’s the ticket. Because my favourite person deserves only the best.



Lee’s Carrot Cake

Source: Adapted from my family recipe.

Snickerdoodle Cookie Crust:

3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 tsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Cream Cheese Icing:

1 250g pkg cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup unsalted butter, Room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 – 5 cup powdered sugar, sifted

Carrot Cake:

2 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
I tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
I tsp cinnamon
4 eggs, room temperature
1 cup oil
2 cup granulated sugar
3 cup grated raw carrots (5 medium carrots)

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To Make the Snickerdoodle Cookie Crust:

Note: This recipe is a quarter of my original Snickerdoodle Cookies recipe. I halved it when I made it and realized it was still a bit thick so I halved it again to give you a thinner version.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and position a rack in the center. Spray a 9 inch round cake pan with cooking spray and line the bottom with a round sheet of parchment paper then spray that as well.

In a small bowl whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt.

In a separate bowl with an electric mixer cream together the butter, sugar and egg. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and blend it well.

Combine the cinnamon and 1 tsp sugar then sprinkle half a into the prepared cake pan then. Scoop the cookie dough carefully over top then smooth it out with your fingers. Sprinkle the remaining sugar and cinnamon mixture on the top. Bake it for about 10 minutes until it becomes light golden brown. Let it cool in the pan for 10 – 15 minutes then carefully flip it out onto a cooling rack. Make sure to remove the parchment paper before assembling the cake.

To Make the Cream Cheese Icing:

Note: Make the icing first to allow it to set up nicely in the refrigerator.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer beat cream cheese, butter and vanilla until it’s light and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar and mix until it’s smooth and your desired consistency. Refrigerate the icing at least 30 minutes before using it.

To Make the Carrot Cake:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and place a rack in the middle. Butter and flour two 9 inch round cake pans and set them aside.

In a medium sized bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. In a large bowl using an electric mixer beat the eggs, oil and sugar. Blend in the dry ingredients then fold in the grated carrots.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans and bake them for about 30 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let the two cakes cool in their pans for at least 15 – 20 minutes before you flip them out onto the cooling rack to cool completely.

Assembling the Cake:

Place your Snickerdoodle Cookie Crust on your serving plate and spread a thin layer of Cream Cheese Icing. Next position your first completely cooled layer of Carrot Cake and spread a thick layer of Cream Cheese Icing. Place the finial layer on top and evenly frost the cake with the remaining icing. Enjoy!

Delicious on a Dime.

I love slapping people in the face with my mad design on a dime skills.

They admire my kitchen utensils and I’ll be so proud to announce, “Aren’t they nice? I got them from this little store called Dollarama. Maybe you’ve heard of it.”

Or someone will compliment my skirt and I’ll be all too pleased to play the guess-how-much-it-cost game. I always win at that game.

Or I’ll get asked where I bought my necklace or the framed print on the wall and I’ll answer proudly, “I made it myself.”

I’m not cheap. I’m thrifty. There’s a huge difference. When I go shopping and I see something that I like but it’s a little pricey I’ll more often than not think, “That’s nice but I could totally make that myself for half the cost.” So I do and I love it. I love seeing a beautifully decorated vignette in a magazine then pull it off in my own living room with Ikea furniture and thrift store accessories. I love seeing a trendy new style from a fashion show then whipping it up myself with clothes and accessories diligently sought out and bought at a fraction of the designer cost.

The same goes with food. No where does it say that to make delicious and equally fabulous gourmet food you have to shop at ridiculously overpriced grocery stores or markets. I shop at Superstore and I often buy discounted No Name, no frills brands. I am no food snob, that’s for sure. I also find it strangely exciting to plan recipes as inexpensively as possible without sacrificing quality.

This Caramel Corn is perfect for that. It’s made with ingredients that most people already have stocked in their cupboards. It’s pretty surprising what you can make with a little sugar, corn syrup, butter and water. Then you add some popcorn, nature’s Ramen noodles, and that’s an amazing snack.

Caramel Corn
Makes about 20 cups of popcorn.

Source: Adapted from Joy of Baking’s Caramel Corn.

20 cup popcorn, popped and unflavoured
3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup corn syrup
1 cup water
4 tbsp butter
2 tsp salt
4 tsp baking soda

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Lightly spray a large bowl with cooking spray and pour all your popcorn into it. Also spray two baking sheets with cooking spray and set them aside.

In a large heavy bottomed sauce pan combine the sugars, corn syrup and water. Bring it to a boil over medium heat stirring it occasionally then immediately cover it with the lid when it boils and leave it for 2 – 3 minutes. Uncover the pan and clamp your candy thermometer to the side and continue to boil it while stirring sometimes until it reaches 240 degrees.

At this point stir in the butter and keep boiling it until it reaches 300 degrees. To be quite honest I think I messed this part up. I don’t own a candy thermometer so I made due with a meat thermometer that I realized mid way through making my caramel doesn’t go to 300 degrees. Opps. So I winged it and my Caramel Corn turned out a little sticky. Ok, a lot sticky. But it’s still good. It’s critical that your caramel reaches 300 degrees so it will be able to harden properly. If not you’ll have a sticky, but albeit tasty, mess like me.

So once it reaches 300 degrees remove it from the heat and carefully add the salt and baking soda. It will foam up when you do this so just watch out. Once it’s incorporated evenly pour the caramel over the popcorn and toss it until most of the popcorn is covered in caramel goodness. Divide it between the two prepared baking sheets and separate them as best you can so they don’t harden in clumps.

Allow the caramel to harden completely before transferring it to a air tight container or your mouth. Enjoy!

Good Pie to Say Goodbye.


I have fond memories of my Grandparent’s house. It was always so immaculately clean, decorated with sophistication and smelled of leather, perfume and Old Spice. Dinners at my Grandparent’s were always something to look forward to. They would serve jello and whipping cream with dinner then afterward we’d play pool downstairs in my Grandpa’s workshop and studio. I used to drink Pepsi out of green Coke glasses at their tiny marble bar in the corner of the basement and feel so fancy swinging my legs on a stool that was too high for me. The comedy and tragedy theatrical masks at the bottom of the stairs would always have to be taken down prior to my visits because they’d frighten me to tears. I used eat oatmeal and tomato soup then proceed to crawl under the table of the booth style kitchen nook so no one would have to slide down the seat and get up to let me out.

A few years ago my Grandma died and quite recently my Grandpa followed her. I never got to say goodbye to either of them so I thought I’d make them a sweet little tribute. One of my Grandma’s most famous desserts was Grasshopper Pie and I remember as a child knowing for certain it was made with real grasshoppers encouraged by the unwaveringly serious insistence of my Dad and Grandpa. Once I tried it of course I knew different. It’s still a family favourite dessert and now a favourite with Lee and Sable, the newest additions to my family.

This is for you Grandma and Grandpa. I miss you. I hope wherever you are, you’ll be going dancing tonight.

Grasshopper Pie

Source: A family recipe.

1 400g pkg of Oreo cookie crumbs
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 198g jar marshmallow crème
1/3 cup crème de menthe liqueur
2 cup whipping cream

Note: This recipe is easy, light and impressive for a dinner party and best made the night before serving. It can be rather crumbly and sloppy if you don’t wait long enough which doesn’t impress anyone.

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Butter an 8 inch square glass pan and set it aside.

In a medium bowl mix together the Oreo cookie crumbs and melted butter then firmly press flat half of it into the bottom of the prepared pan.

In a large bowl stir the crème de menthe and marshmallow crème together until it’s smooth and there are no marshmallow lumps. In a separate large bowl with an electric mixer whip the cream until stiff peaks form then fold it into the marshmallow mixture.

Pour it into the pan over the pressed cookie crumbs and smooth out the surface with a spatula. Sprinkle the remaining cookie crumbs evenly over the top and freeze it for at least 3 – 4 hours or overnight preferably until the center is firm but not like ice cream cake kind of hard. Enjoy!

Jonesing for Jones.


Have you ever had a craving for something you just couldn’t ignore? A nagging, overwhelming insurmountable need for a specific thing that couldn’t be sated any other way than to ravenously devour the thing in question.

For me, recently at least, that thing was Jones Soda. If you’ve never had this particular brand of soda pop I suggest that you do so. Now. For reals. They have countless flavours made of pure cane sugar to indulge your taste buds and yet, frustratingly enough, they can’t be found at most stores. No, the kind folks at Jones Soda Co. make it tricky. Occasionally you can find a flavour or two at your local 7 Eleven or corner store, but usually you have to go to those speciality gourmet candy shops to get the better selection.

I’m not a real soda pop connoisseur, not even a real fan. The fizz gives me hiccups. Rather annoying inconvenient hiccups. But for Jones Soda and their large repertoire of flavours I’ll brave the involuntary spasms. My current favourite is good old fashioned Cream Soda. It tastes like cotton candy and that’s just fine. The close second is Berry Lemonade.

So why not make a cake out of my favourite soda pop? And not just any soda pop cake, a marbled cake with two of my favourite flavours rolled into one. Just a word of caution. If you don’t like cakes that are pretty high up on the sweet spectrum then I would not recommend this. But if on occasion, like me, you have the need to eat sugar by the spoonfuls then, by all means, please make this cake.

Jones Soda Cherry Berry Lemonade Pound Cake

Source: Adapted from Confessions of a Cookbook Queen’s 7 Up Pound Cake.

1 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cup granulated sugar (yeah that’s right)
5 eggs
3 cup flour
1/2 cup Jones Soda Cream Soda
1/2 cup Jones Soda Berry Lemonade
A few drops blue food colouring (optional)
A few drops red food colouring (optional)

1 cup powdered sugar for glaze
1 tsp milk for glaze
8 maraschino cherries

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Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and position a rack in the center. Butter and flour a bundt pan and set it aside.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer cream together the butter and sugar until it’s light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beating well after each addition. Add the flour and mix it well.


Evenly divide the batter between two bowls and add the separate food colouring and soda pop flavours. Take note that this cake is flavoured only by the soda pop and not with any other extracts which makes for a lightly flavoured and scented cake. Fold in the soda pop with a different spatula for each.

Pour the Cream Soda batter into the prepared bundt pan then layer it with the Berry Lemonade batter. Take a knife and run it through the batter, taking it out and putting it back in a few times to create the marbling effect. Lightly smooth out the top of the cake and bake it for 80 – 90 minutes until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let it sit for about 30 minutes then gently turn it upside down onto the rack. If it’s needed run a small sharp knife around the edges to loosen it. Let it cool completely before mixing the glaze and spooning it over the top and garnishing with cherries. Enjoy!

Spring Has Sprung, The Grass Has Ris…

…I wonder how this pie is. To answer your question, pretty flipping awesome.

Did you miss me?

It won’t happen again. I promise. I’ve been doing quite a bit of spring cleaning. Doesn’t it feel satisfying to clean? No? Just me? You don’t get a certain rush out of scrubbing something so shiny you can see your reflection in it? Or mopping the floor so clean you could eat off it? Or maybe vacuuming every square inch of the floor? Or organizing all 76 fridge magnets into uniform size descending lines? Well I do. And seriously, 76. I counted them.

I’m not sure who decided spring was the appropriate season to clean your head off, but it seems to make sense. Maybe it’s something about opening up all the windows and pushing back the curtains that makes you see every last speck of dust and disorganization that somehow alluded your discerning eyes all winter. Maybe it’s because spring is the season where everything begins again, grows and transforms, so why not mirror that on the inside right?

I have all these gardening plans this summer that I am so excited about. I’ve begun planting herbs in peat moss pots inside to transplant into my very own soon-to-be-built herb garden. That way I can make fresh pesto with my own basil and cut chives into sour cream like my mom always did. More often than not when I want to make pesto the supermarket is all out of the fresh kind so I actually buy the diced up stuff sold in a tube. I won’t complain about the convenience, but I don’t mind dicing it myself when I can be sure it’s fresh instead of feeling like I’m squeezing toothpaste into my garlic, parmesan and pine nuts.

Enough about me. I know you’re really just waiting for me to shut up so you can hear about that amazing Boston Cream Pie. It’s my way of saying sorry for the abnormally long blogging intermission. Now back to our regular scheduled programming.

Boston Cream Pie

Source: Adapted from a family recipe.

Custard:

6 egg yolks
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup flour
3 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Sponge Cake:

3 tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup cake flour (or substitute)
5 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Chocolate Ganache:

4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 tsp unsalted butter

Almonds, sliced and toasted for garnish
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp milk

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To Make the Custard:

Make the custard first because it takes a while to reach room temperature and you can make the rest while you wait.

In a double boiler or a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water on medium heat whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, salt and flour.

Meanwhile bring a pot of the milk up on medium high heat. You have to scald the milk which means you have to let it come up to temperature slowly while stirring occasionally until steam rises and it foams slightly on the edges. Don’t let it come to a rolling boil. As soon as you see the steam and the foam take the pot off the heat and pour it gradually and slowly over the custard making sure to stir between additions to get all the custard lumps out.

Now the fun part. I was determined this time so I had the patience to stand there and stir the custard frequently for an hour until it thickened enough. It might take less or more time depending on factors like the freshness of the eggs, the fat content in the milk, the heat of the double boiler, etc. It will thicken very slowly and it’s important to keep stirring it, if not constantly then at least very often, to make sure a skin doesn’t form and it cooks evenly. You should do this until the milk foam is incorporated, it gets to the consistency of thick pudding and you can see the whisk leave marks on the surface that don’t spread out. If you go very far past this point your custard could start to boil then become lumpy, grainy and overcooked.

Once you’re satisfied with the thickness take the bowl off the heat, add the vanilla and cover it with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard so a skin doesn’t form. Then leave it out on the counter to cool to room temperature. It will thicken slightly while it cools but it does not set. You may store it in the refrigerator once it’s reached room temperature.

To Make the Sponge Cake:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and position a rack in the center. Butter and flour two 9 inch cake pans and set them aside.

In a medium bowl with an electric mixer blend the water, vanilla, egg yolks and sugar until it gets light and fluffy. Add the flour and mix it until it’s smooth.

In another large bowl with an electric mixer beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar and continue whipping it until stiff peaks form.

Gently fold the egg yolk mixture into the egg whites until it’s combined. Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans and smooth out the tops. Bake them for 20 – 25 minutes until the tops get golden brown and are springy to the touch. Let them cool on cooling racks then pop them out. You might need to run a small knife along the edges to help the process along.

To Make the Chocolate Ganache:

Place the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set it aside. In a medium sauce pan melt the butter and whipping cream on medium heat. Bring it to just a boil and then immediately transfer the mixture to the chocolate bowl. Let it sit for five minutes then stir it with a whisk until the chocolate melts smoothly. Leave the chocolate out on the counter since you’ll be using it soon.

Assembling the Cake:

With a cake leveller or a long serrated knife cut each sponge cake into two even layers. Place the bottom layer on your serving plate then liberally spread custard on top. Repeat this with the next three layers leaving the top clean. Then spread a thick layer of custard on the outside edge of the cake like frosting. Pat the toasted almonds onto the custard on the sides, again leaving the top clean.

Mix together the powdered sugar and milk making sure that it’s the same consistency of the ganache, adding more milk or sugar as needed. Spoon it into a small resealable sandwich bag and snip of a small piece of one corner. Spread the ganache evenly over the top of the cake and smooth it out. Next make a spiral with the icing and run a knife repeatedly from the middle to the edge to form a spiderweb pattern. Refrigerate the cake to set the ganache. Enjoy!

The Custard Thickens.

I consider this dessert a pivotal personal achievement. I’ve been putting it off for a long time now since a certain incident involving custard. Very stubborn custard. It was just awful. I don’t like to talk about it…

…Ok you twisted my arm.

So it was New Year’s Eve and I wanted to make something fancy to celebrate. We bought a shrimp ring and veggies with dip, I made sweet and sour cocktail meatballs and a layered salsa dip. There was just the dessert left to contend with. My mother started making this Angel Icebox Dessert for family functions years ago and it quickly became a family favourite even rivalling my Oma’s coveted Cherry Delight. I thought I’d give it a try. How hard could it be right? Famous last words.

So there are three different layers. I didn’t have the time or patience to make my own meringue nests or pavlovas so I bought some. Don’t judge me, I’m impatient. Next is the whipping cream. That’s easy. Then comes the custard.

Up until now I had never made custard and it was a little intimidating to say the least. Despite that I set aside my fears and soldiered on. I followed the recipe exactly. Six eggs yolks. Check. Sugar and salt. Check. Flour. Check. Scalded milk. After a googling what that even meant, check. Vanilla. Roger.

As I was stirring my custard in my makeshift double boiler feeling pretty darn happy with myself I’d come this far I realized to my horror that it wasn’t thickening. Why was this happening? What had I done wrong? Were the custard gods punishing me for some significant sin? I read and reread the recipe dozens of times finding no evidence to my fault. After 45 minutes of tedious stirring to no avail I decided to refrigerate it and hope for the best.

Nope. Not even a little thickening. It was custard soup. That just won’t do.

So my mother got a frantic phone call that day. Apparently the freshness of my eggs was questionable having bought them from a supermarket and not straight from the hen. I also should have used whole milk instead of 1% like I normally do.

Basically I became instantly and inconsolably depressed. She explained to me that I could try it again with an extra egg yolk and that should do the trick. I really didn’t have it in me to go through all that again so I cheated and used an instant custard powder Lee dotingly picked up for me at the store. It was still yummy, but it had a faint aftertaste of failure I wasn’t so fond of.

So yesterday I decided to best this custard thing. I was bigger. I was stronger. It wasn’t going to beat me again. So like my Mom suggested I used an extra egg yolk. After a few minutes of stirring it started to thicken like it hadn’t before. So of course, I turned up some happy music and danced like a maniac to celebrate. I jumped the gun. It’s thickening plateaued and, in my naivety, I crossed my fingers for a miracle then banished it to the refrigerator.

When I couldn’t get a hold of my Mom for some sage advice I called Lee at work for some comfort instead. After some quiet conversation he could tell something was bugging me.

Lee: “Are you ok?”
Me: (Sigh) “Yeah, I’m just worried about my custard.”

That’s not normal is it? I worried all afternoon if my custard would thicken and, like an overbearing parent, checked on it every few minutes.

And guess what happened?

Nothing.

After another frantic phone call to my Mom I was informed that custard isn’t like a gelatin or a pudding and it doesn’t thicken or set in the refrigerator. My bad. I shouldn’t have assumed. And apparently using whole milk for custard is absolutely imperative. Something about the high fat content.

So 19 eggs, 24 hours and a whole lot less sanity later I tried it again. This time with whole milk and a new carton of eggs. Whisk in hand, I was determined to kick some serious custard butt.

All I have to say is, perseverance has prevailed. I am the winner. I am the champion. I know where you live, custard. I don’t mind a rematch. Anytime. Anyplace.

Angel Icebox Dessert
Makes 12 – 15 individual desserts.

Source: Adapted from a handed down recipe.

Meringue:

6 egg whites
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Custard:

6 egg yolks
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup flour
3 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

1 pint whipping cream
Almonds, sliced and toasted for garnish

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Note: This dessert is best served the same day but each layer may be made ahead of time and stored separately until you’re ready to eat it. If stored assembled in the fridge the meringues collect condensation and become spongey.

To Make the Meringues:

Make the meringue first since they keep easily in an airtight container and take the longest to bake.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees and position two racks towards the middle. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and tape them down with a bit of masking tape. Prepare your pastry bag with the tip of your choice and set it aside. I used a large star tip.

Combine the eggs whites and sugar in a double boiler or a heat proof bowl set over a pot of simmering water on medium heat. Gently whisk them until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch for about 3 – 5 minutes. Remove it from the heat and, using an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, beat it on high speed until stiff peaks form.

Fold in the vanilla gently until it is smoothly combined. Fill your pastry bag with the meringue and pipe the shapes onto the prepared baking sheets. Make a spiral starting from the center and circling out to make a rose shape.


Bake them for about 90 minutes – 2 hours or until the meringues are crisp and lightly browned. Turn the oven off and allow them to cool inside then transfer them to an airtight container for storage.

To Make the Custard:

Make the custard while the meringues are baking.

In a double boiler or a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water on medium heat whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, salt and flour.

Meanwhile bring a pot of the milk up on medium high heat. You have to scald the milk which means you have to let it come up to temperature slowly while stirring occasionally until steam rises and it foams slightly on the edges. Don’t let it come to a rolling boil. As soon as you see the steam and the foam take the pot off the heat and pour it gradually and slowly over the custard making sure to stir between additions to get all the custard lumps out.

Now the fun part. I was determined this time so I had the patience to stand there and stir the custard frequently for an hour until it thickened enough. It might take less or more time depending on factors like the freshness of the eggs, the fat content in the milk, the heat of the double boiler, etc. It will thicken very slowly and it’s important to keep stirring it, if not constantly then at least very often, to make sure a skin doesn’t form and it cooks evenly. You should do this until the milk foam is incorporated, it gets to the consistency of thick pudding and you can see the whisk leave marks on the surface that don’t spread out. If you go very far past this point your custard could start to boil then become lumpy, grainy and overcooked.


Once you’re satisfied with the thickness take the bowl off the heat and cover it with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard so a skin doesn’t form. Then leave it out on the counter to cool to room temperature. It will thicken slightly while it cools but it does not set. You may store it in the refrigerator once it’s reached room temperature.

Assembling:

Once the custard is cooled liberally spread a layer of custard on top of the meringues. Then spoon a layer of whipping cream on top of that. Top with the toasted almonds and serve it immediately. Enjoy!

Just Whip It…

…Whip it Good.

No seriously.

I’m sure you’ve tried those store bought shortbread cookies before. Then you must remember how they’re so dense, crumbly and heavy. Well be prepared for a change in the winds. And what a wind. A wind that brings deliciously light, melt in your mouth soft and adorably pink little shortbread cookies. That’s my kind of wind.

I think the secret is in the whipping. It aerates the dough and makes it light and fluffy, two words that you would not normally use to describe shortbread. So with all those air bubbles in it the dough rises a little even though there are no actual leavening ingredients. There’s another way you’ve never thought of shortbread, am I right?

Speaking of store bought cookies, I don’t think I can bring myself to eat anymore. I tried it last weekend. I wasn’t planning on baking anything, but I had a craving for some chocolate chip cookies. I got those President’s Choice Decadent Cookies. Let me tell you, decadent they are not. Bleh! They’re just so dry, crumbly and, I don’t know if I’ve been spoiling myself lately with oodles of sugar, but they just were not sweet enough.

Here’s a good cookie test. If they’re still sitting in the cupboard after a week you know you have a bad cookie. When I make a few batches of my Chocolate Chip Cookies, no word of a lie, they are gone within a day. That’s a good cookie.

I made exactly four dozen of these Cherry Shortbread Cookies yesterday and today I’m missing half. I may or may not be responsible for a dozen of those disappearances. Ok yeah, I am.

Cherry Shortbread Cookies
Makes 4 dozen cookies.

Source: My own imagination.

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup salted butter, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup corn starch
3 cup flour
1 cup diced maraschino cherries
2 tbsp maraschino cherry juice

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Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and position a rack in the center. Line your baking sheets with parchment paper and set them aside.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer cream together the butter, powdered sugar and corn starch until there are no lumps. Add the flour and whip it on high until it’s creamy and fluffy. Add the diced cherries and juice then whip it up some more. You can’t really over-whip it so don’t worry.

Refrigerate the dough for about 30 minutes, just enough to stiffen it slightly but not enough to harden all the butter.


Scoop a heaping tbsp of dough per cookie and gently roll it into a ball then place it on the prepared baking sheet. Flatten the balls of dough under your fingers. You could use the flat bottom of a floured glass to do this, but I used the quick and dirty method. Bake them for about 15 minutes until the edges are light golden brown. Carefully transfer them to to cooling rack. They are still very breakable when they’re warm. Enjoy!

Lesson Learned.

Up until a couple days ago I had never baked a cheesecake. You could still say I’ve never baked a cheesecake… successfully. They’re tricky little buggers, those cheesecakes.

Nobody’s perfect right? Right.

I’m not here today to show off pictures of my pretty cheesecake and swoon about how amazing it turned out. I could have concealed those cracks with some candied orange peel or sauce. I could have adjusted the contrast of the browned edge of the cake to make it appear less overdone in photoshop. I could have pretended to do everything right when, in reality, I did the polar opposite. But I won’t. That would be a lie and I try not to lie to you.

Instead I’m here today to serve as a lesson. Instead of telling you everything that I did wrong, I’m going to tell you how to do it right. I’ll make sure to put these lessons to good use once I’ve overcome my crushing cheesecake failure. But hey, it still tasted good.

So cheesecakes crack. They want to, they try so hard to, but you have to do your best to deny them that satisfaction. Oh, how I wish I’d looked up all these tips BEFORE I made my failed cheesecake instead of AFTER the catastrophe.

Firstly cheesecakes that are baked with flour or corn starch added are less likely to crack than those without. The starch molecules apparently get in between the egg proteins preventing them from over-coagulating. If your cheesecake recipe doesn’t call for flour or corn starch you can safely add in 1 tbsp – 1/4 cup with the sugar. Your dessert won’t explode. Promise.

Second thing you need to make sure of is not to over-mix. You can mix it all you want before the eggs are added but after you better put that mixer on low and pay close attention. Over-mixing your cheesecake batter during the egg stage creates bubbles. I’d suggest treating it like muffin batter with delicate blueberries in it. Add the eggs one at a time and once you see that yolk break and start to combine stop and add the next egg.

Third thing you need to do is make sure to grease your spring form pan or line it with parchment paper. Cheesecakes have a tendency to shrink while they cool so you might think you’ve accomplished a crack-free cheesecake when you take it out of the oven, but half an hour later it’s crack city. A well greased pan allows the cheesecake to shrink as it likes without any resistance from the edges.

Forth thing to do is to wrap the base of your filled spring form pan in aluminium foil then set it in a shallow dish filled with water that reaches halfway up the pan. This serves two purposes. The water bath adds humidity to the oven air and also allows the cheesecake to bake evenly and gently. The aluminium foil is there just to make the pan water tight.

The fifth prevention measure is to make sure not to over-bake your cheesecake. It should be baked at a temperature no higher than 325 degrees and baked slowly. After about 45 minutes of uninterrupted baking the surface of your dessert should be smooth, the edges firm and the middle should still jiggle slightly. Don’t worry, it will set while it cools.

The sixth and final thing you need to do is allow your cheesecake to cool slowly. Good things come to those who wait right? When it’s finished baking just turn the oven off and allow the cheesecake to cool inside for another hour. Then take it out of the oven and leave it to reach room temperature with a plate inverted over top. This is to make it cool as slowly as possible. Like I said before, most of the cracks occur during the cooling process. That big ol’ doozy in the center of mine happened while it was left out on the counter all by its lonesome to cool. Once it’s cooled to room temperature then, and only then, remove it from the spring form pan and put it in the refrigerator to set up for 4 – 6 hours, or even overnight. The longer the better.

That was a lot of information to take in at once so let’s summarize…

1. Make sure to add flour or corn starch to the batter.
2. Don’t over-mix during the egg stage.
3. Grease your pan.
4. Wrap the pan in foil and bake in a water bath.
5. Don’t over-bake.
6. Cool it painfully slow.

I hope your cheesecake turns out better than mine did. Good luck and enjoy!