indulge me.

I tend to be a bit childish about my birthday.

Never mind that I am an adult – a parent, even! – with responsibilities and practical concerns to attend to daily; when it comes to my birthday, I insist on indulgence of all kinds.

This year was no different.

Although my actual birthday was this past Friday, I have enough wonderful friends and family in my midst that my celebration spilled into the weekend and is still, in some senses, ongoing.

So, I know I owe you more (much more!) than just this, but I hope you’ll indulge me for a few more days…

Birthday Brownies

1 1/3c soft unsalted butter
400g bittersweet chocolate, chopped – the best possible quality (I use Green and Black’s)
6 eggs, room temperature
1 tbsp vanilla
1 1/2c brown sugar
1 1/2c flour
a pinch of sea salt
1/2c white chocolate chips
1/2c chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9X13-inch baking dish and line with parchment. Fill a saucepan with water to the one-third mark, and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat.

Combine butter and chocolate chunks in a medium bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water and melt butter and chocolate together, stirring regularly with a heatproof spatula, until combined.

In another medium bowl, whisk together eggs, vanilla and brown sugar. Combine flour and salt in a separate small bowl.

Let chocolate mixture cool slightly, then whisk in egg mixture. Add flour mixture, white chocolate chips, and pecans, and beat until well combined.

Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake 20-25 minutes.

Cool completely in pan on a rack, then cut into squares.

You should get a minimum of 32, but really, the size (and level of indulgence) is completely up to you.

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solace.

Friends, it has been a bittersweet week.

We lost a beloved member of our community in a horrible accident that hit far too close to home for many of us.

We turned our clocks back on the weekend, which has resulted, paradoxically, in some very short nights around here; and our hitherto unseasonably lovely weather is finally starting to turn, resulting in long days spent indoors and the reminder that those sorts of disgruntled days are only just beginning.

On the sweeter side, my mom has been here, and it’s been everything that I adore about her visits: long conversations, wine in vast quantities, delicious food, a bit of shopping, and all kinds of convivial giggling with my children. A week of pure bliss.

She left this morning, and, because I am home alone just now and taking solace in food is such an integral part of who I am, I suspect that the leftover pecan pie from last night’s dinner will also be gone before I know it.

We did have some spectacular meals this week, though, and I am looking forward to sharing them with you – but first, the pie.

Solace in a dish.


Classic Pecan Pie

We couldn’t quite remember our family recipe for pecan pie, so my mom and I took the one from Gourmet’s All-Time Favourite Seasonal Recipes edition and made it our own.
pastry to fit a 9-inch glass pie plate
6 tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/4c packed dark brown sugar
3/4c maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
grated zest of an orange
a pinch of salt
4 large eggs
3c pecan halves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees with a baking sheet on the middle rack.

Roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface, and transfer to pie plate. Crimp edges decoratively, if you can manage it – I often can’t, and frankly I have given up worrying about it. Chill until ready to use.

While shell is chilling, make filling: melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and whisk together with sugar, syrup, vanilla, orange zest, and eggs; mixture should be quite smooth and sugar mostly dissolved. Stir in pecans.

Pour filling into prepared pie shell. Place pie on baking sheet in oven and bake until crust is golden and filling is mostly set (it will be a touch wobbly in the middle), 45-55 minutes.

Cool completely before serving, preferably with whipped cream.

Serves 8.


l’action de grace.

Friends, I hope the upcoming weekend is perfect for you, replete with love and good cheer and tables laden with delicious and satisfying food.

For my part, I started celebrating the long weekend a little early last night, so I’ll spare you the meanderings of my slightly soupy brain today and get right to the recipes.

Either – or both! – of these lovely cakes will be right at home at your Thanksgiving feast, and both of them will serve a crowd quite nicely.

My daughter, who just started in French immersion, came home from school today and told me that “L’action de grace is about remembering that some people don’t have enough food; and also, we need to make a really big pie.”

So I have my mandate.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


The Great Pumpkin Cheesecake

My mom, who is no slouch when it comes to baking (remember this? And this?), created this recipe years and years ago, and making it is a Thanksgiving tradition in our family.

For Crust:
1 1/2c graham crumbs
1/4c unsalted butter
2 tbsp brown sugar

For Filling:
4 eggs
1c packed brown sugar
500g (2 bricks) cream cheese
1 – 398ml can pureed pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling!)
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

For Topping:
1c whipping cream
1/4c maple syrup
a handful of sliced almonds, toasted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine crust ingredients in food processor and pulse until well combined and beginning to clump together. Pat this mixture firmly into the base of an 8-inch spring form pan and refrigerate until ready to use.

Give your food processor bowl a wipe with a damp paper towel – you’ll be using it for your cheesecake filling too.

For filling, process eggs and brown sugar until smooth. Add cream cheese, pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg and process until mixture is completely combined.

Pour filling onto crust and bake 45-60 minutes, until cake is set on the outside but still wobbly in the middle.

Place pan on a rack to cool completely, then refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

Just before serving, run a hot knife around the outside of the cake and gently remove springform pan sides. Whip cream together with maple syrup. Cover top of cake with whipped cream, and arrange toasted almonds in whatever decorative fashion suits you.

Serves 10-12.

 

Chocolate Gingerbread Cake

This is liberally adapted from one of Nigella’s recipes, so I’ve kept the original weighed measures, with approximate conversions in parentheses.

For Cake:
175g (3/4c) unsalted butter
125g (1/2c, packed) brown sugar
2 tbsp granulated (white) sugar
100g (1/4c) molasses
200g (1/2c) maple syrup
100g (1/4c) runny honey
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
a dash of ground cloves
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp warm water
2 eggs
1c milk
275g (2 1/4c) light spelt or all purpose flour
40g (1/3c) cocoa powder
175g (1c) chocolate chips

For Icing:
500g (2 bricks) cream cheese
300g (2c) sifted icing sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract

For Cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two 9″ square baking pans with parchment.

In a large saucepan, combine butter, sugars, molasses, syrup, honey, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves over low heat, stirring, until butter in melted.

In a small bowl, combine baking soda and warm water, stirring to dissolve.

Remove saucepan from heat and beat in eggs, milk, and baking soda mixture. Stir in flour and cocoa powder, and whisk to combine. Fold in chocolate chips.

Divide mixture between prepared pans and bake 30-35 minutes, or until a tester inserted into centre of cakes comes out clean.

Cool 15 minutes in pans on racks, then turn cakes out onto racks to cook completely.

When cakes are cool, make icing: in food processor, combine ingredients and process until smooth.

Place one cake layer on a plate and cover with half of icing. Place second cake layer in top, and use the remaining icing to cover top of cake.

Serves 10-12


let’s start with this.

What a delightful week this has been.

The weather has been nothing short of spectacular, a trend that is scheduled to continue for at least another few days; I have discovered a wonderful new album and also rediscovered an older one that, it turns out, is as beloved now as it ever was.

We are ramping up to what is by far my favourite weekend of the entire year, and I am awash in nostalgia, the autumns of my past a film constantly flickering through my mind’s eye. There is no place I’d rather be than in this present, but I am grateful to have such a stack of happy memories to conjure up as I move through my days.

It needs to be said, though, that my inner Martha is cringing in horror at the state of my house. Considering that I love Thanksgiving the best of all of the food-and-tradition-laden holidays in our calendar year, you’d think that I’d be all over the cleaning and seasonal decorating that such an occasion deserves.

Instead, I am plotting the move of yet another piano out of (and another one into) our dining room, wondering whether I have time to repaint the dining table while the weather is still warm enough to open the windows, and leafing through cookbooks and magazines, contemplating elaborate feasty menus that I will absolutely not be preparing – at least not this weekend

(I will be cooking a duck, which you won’t likely be seeing here until after the fact, but fear not, friends! I have not one but two spectacular autumnal desserts coming your way tomorrow. That’s right. I’ve got your backs).

And thinking fondly of everyone I love, near and far. If you were here with me now, I’d make you a coffee and whisk the milk in a pot on the stove and feed you one of these scones.

Let’s Start with This (sweet potato scones)

I was attempting to clean out the kitchen drawer (you know the one I am talking about, the one with everything haphazardly crammed into it) a couple of days ago and found this list of ingredients scrawled on a scrap of paper.

1c rolled oats
3/4c buttermilk
2 1/4c light spelt flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
scant 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4c chilled butter, cut into small cubes
1/4c maple syrup
1/2c canned pureed sweet potatoes (or leftover fresh ones if you have them)
1/4c finely chopped pitted dates
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment.

Combine oats and buttermilk in a medium bowl; stir well and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Cut in butter until mixture resembles small peas.

In a separate bowl, whisk together syrup, sweet potatoes, dates, cloves, cinnamon, and ginger. Stir oat mixture into sweet potato mixture, then add everything to flour and butter mixture.

Stir gently until just combined (dough will be very sticky), then turn out onto a well floured surface and knead a little. Pat dough into a circle about 9″in diameter, and cut into 10 wedges. Arrange scones on prepared baking sheet and bake 25-30 minutes, rotating pan halfway through if you think of it.

Cool scones slightly on pan before transferring to a rack to cool a little more.

Serve warm, with lots of chat.

Makes 10.


it’s a start.

I have spent the last two years grappling with a particular fear.

You could argue (and you wouldn’t be the first) that my fear is essentially unfounded, and that the odds of the thing that I dread actually coming to pass are so minimal that what I am feeling could more accurately be described as paranoia; but nevertheless, it’s there:

I am afraid of being attacked by predators in our local park.

The park is vast and beautiful, and I used to spend hours upon hours there. From the time of my first pregnancy, I have run through it, walked around it, thrown sticks for the dog, eaten ice cream, fed ducks, visited the zoo, gone sledding, and all around revelled in that park.

It’s part of the reason that we chose to live in this neighbourhood, and it’s full to bursting with memories of happy moments.

I could not have imagined a time when my children and I would not while away a large part of our days there, until two years ago, when a dear friend was attacked and killed by predators in the kind of freak encounter that makes international headlines. It didn’t happen in our park, but, to my mind, it could have.

So, to keep myself safe, I have skirted around it – the park, the grief, the horror. I just don’t go there. My running route takes me well around it, and I visit smaller playgrounds with my kids. Instead of the zoo, we take the car to a farm across town.

I don’t think it’s been so bad. But I have been feeling, lately, that something has to give.

So this morning, I met up with another dear friend of mine who has been grappling with some rather weighty concerns of her own. It was pitch dark and pouring rain, and we walked her dog all through that park, chatting all the while. It was wet and muddy and intense, and I was afraid, but mostly it was great.

I loved reconnecting with her, and getting back to a place that has meant so much to me.

It was a start.

I slipped in the door to the sound of my children laughing and the smell of cookies baking in the oven, and not long after that, the sun came out on the most glorious fall day we’ve had yet.

I can’t wait to do it again.

 

Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies

1c light spelt flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
3 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
2 eggs
6 tbsp. melted coconut oil – or other light-tasting vegetable oil
1 1/2c unsweetened apple sauce
1/2c brown sugar
grated zest of 2 oranges
1 tbsp vanilla
3c large flake oats
1c craisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.

In a small bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together eggs, oil apple sauce, and brown sugar. Stir in zest, vanilla, oats, and craisins. Add flour mixture and stir well to combine.

Drop heaping quarter cupfuls of dough onto prepared baking sheets, and flatten cookies slightly with a fork. Bake, one sheet at a time, about 20 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool completely on baking sheets.

Makes 16-18 cookies.


new.

I could get used to this weather.

I love the cool breeze coming through the window, the need for a duvet at night, and pulling out a beloved old cashmere cardigan to walk my daughter to school in the mornings.

I love that this feels like the beginning of autumn, which is my favourite season for a number of reasons, not least of which is the sense of redemption and renewal I feel at this time of year. When the sky is this particular shade of blue, the one that I see looking out my kitchen window right this minute, I feel like I can do anything.

And I am especially excited to get my running shoes on and hit the road.

Although my plan to literally run my ass off this summer was derailed by extreme heat, too many parties and far too much wine, the temperatures in our city these days have lent themselves quite nicely to exercising outdoors. In weather like this, I feel like I could run and run and run.

Not that I am doing that, exactly.

Among other things, I am working on a recipe for homemade poutine.

And watching these girls, whom I find inspiring on so many levels, over and over and over:

And just this morning, while my daughter was at school I could have been running, I made this cake with my son. It was our first time baking just the two of us, and it was delightful. It felt like the two of us could do anything together.

It felt like the beginning of something wonderful and new.

Pear and Gingerbread Cake for New Beginnings
adapted from Gourmet magazine

Thank heavens for my back-issues of Gourmet, which are endlessly inspiring. Although I should warn you, this came from the “Quick Kitchen” section, and grating enough fresh ginger to get a quarter of a cup is anything but quick. I’m just saying.

1 1/2c whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
dash of ground nutmeg
1/2c unsalted butter
1/4c water
1/2c packed brown sugar
1/2c molasses
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/4c grated peeled ginger root
2 medium pears

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour an 8-inch square baking pan.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg. Melt butter and water together over low heat.

Using an electric mixer, beat together brown sugar and molasses. Add eggs one at a time, beating well between additions. Beat in flour mixture at low speed until just combined. Stir in vanilla and ginger.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Peel pears if desired (I didn’t) and cut into small pieces. Scatter over batter.

Bake in centre of the oven until a tester inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean, about 40-45 minutes.

Cool slightly before turning out onto a rack to cool some more.

May be served warm, with whipped cream, or cold, in the early morning, with a hot cup of coffee.


go for it.

These are the last two slices of the most greedy-making cake I have ever known.

It was my son’s birthday cake, and I am quite serious about the greed: I am not a little ashamed to admit that when I was cutting a portion of this cake to send home with a friend, I actually short-changed her a little bit. And that the two pieces you see here are on the small side because I ate a very large serving all by myself after everyone had gone to bed the night before.

I am not actually a rabid eater of sugary things. I know that there is a certain comedic currency to be had in the “woman eating a whole cake while standing alone in a darkened kitchen in her nightgown” thing, but I would normally want to distance myself from that as much as possible.

In this case, when I realized this morning that the cake was all gone, I very nearly made another one immediately – this despite the humidity and the solo-parenting chaos in my house and the fact that there is not a legitimately cake-worthy occasion in sight on our calendar for the first time in several months.

I somewhat reluctantly fed it to my kids for breakfast the day after my son’s birthday, working under the shady logic that it contains bananas and is therefore a healthy choice (do I need to tell you the reason for my reluctance? Could there be any doubt? It was not motherly concern for my kids’ health and well-being. It was greed).

They loved it. Even my daughter, who is not much for cake, licked her own plate before reaching for her brother’s.

The recipe has been in my family for at least 40 years, its taste attached to more sensory memories than I have the means to articulate; so it felt especially appropriate to make it this week, when my mom has, incredibly, come to town.

I am revelling in every minute of her visit, and I know exactly what she will say when I tell her I am thinking of making this cake again (possibly even today) before she leaves:

“Go for it!”

Banana Cake with Peanut Butter Icing

For cake:
1 1/2 c flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 c sugar
1/3 c soft unsalted butter
1 c mashed banana (from 3 average bananas)
2 tbsp milk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two 8″ round cake pans.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, stir together flour, baking, powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and sugar.

Add butter, banana, and milk, and beat for one minute.

Add eggs and vanilla and beat for another minute.

Divide batter evenly between prepared pans and bake 20-25 minutes, until cakes are light golden and spring back when touched. Cool five minutes in pans, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

When cakes are cool, make the icing:

1/2 c soft unsalted butter
2/3 c smooth peanut butter
4 c sifted icing sugar
2 tsp vanilla
4-6 tbsp milk

Using an electric mixer, beat together butter and peanut butter until smooth. Beat in icing sugar on low speed, then vanilla. Add milk a tablespoon at a time, until icing reaches a thick and spreadable consistency.

To assemble the cake:

Using a serrated knife, gently cut off the domed tops of both cake layers so that the tops are even. Place one cake on a cake stand and top with just over a third of the icing. Top with second layer, and cover top and sides of cake with remaining icing.

Serve generously, devour, and repeat.