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…
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.
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.
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.
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!
1 1/2c graham crumbs
1/4c unsalted butter
2 tbsp brown sugar
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
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.
This is liberally adapted from one of Nigella’s recipes, so I’ve kept the original weighed measures, with approximate conversions in parentheses.
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
275g (2 1/4c) light spelt or all purpose flour
40g (1/3c) cocoa powder
175g (1c) chocolate chips
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.
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
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.
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
1/2c packed brown sugar
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.
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
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
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.
I woke up this morning feeling a bit leaden.
I’ve been spoiled this past week, with generous amounts of delicious food and wine; feverless children; numerous family adventures; and time.
It often seems that there could not possibly be enough hours in the day to finish (let alone start) any one of the things on my various to-do lists. It can be difficult to live in the moment when one’s mind is constantly leaping forward to what the next moment, and the one after that, might hold.
This is, I think, a mother’s dilemma, and not an uncommon one at that.
But last week, my husband had some time off, and we slowed things right down. We did our best to accommodate the inevitable wildness that “springing forward” wrought on our kids’ sleep schedule. We put away our lists, and made no plans.
For seven whole days, and for the first time in what seemed like ages, it really felt like time was on our side, and it was nothing short of wonderful.
So I felt leaden this morning partly because our magical week had come to an end, and all of the pressing things that I had been ignoring were suddenly looming; partly because the view outside my window was an unpromising dull grey.
But I also woke up thinking about Japan, with the kind of helpless, hand-wringing horror that is the sole province of the distant bystander.
In my own life, lately, I have come to think of time as being the greatest and most elusive of luxuries, and I am grateful to have been able to revel in it last week.
But of course, as far as luxuries go, for my safe, beautiful, healthy family and me, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Devil’s Food Birthday Cake
adapted from Nigella Lawson’s “Kitchen”
I bet you think that I have been cooking my way through Nigella’s latest book, and you are right. I have been, and I had been loving every minute of it, until it came time to ice this luscious cake. The ganache-y topping that Nigella suggests took nearly four hours (and counting) to set, at the one moment all week when time was most definitely not on my side. So I’m offering up the icing that I made at the last possible minute as a replacement. The cake was perfect, and I bet the ganache-y icing would have been divine too, but I wouldn’t know.
For the cake:
50g cocoa powder
100g brown sugar
1c boiling water
125g soft unsalted butter
150g granulated (white) sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, room temperature
For the icing:
175g best quality dark chocolate
675g icing sugar
350g soft unsalted butter
1-4 tbsp milk, as needed
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. lightly butter the bottoms and sides of two 8″ layer cake pans; line bottoms of pans with parchment.
Combine cocoa powder and brown sugar in a medium, heatproof bowl. Pour boiling water over cocoa mixture and whisk to combine. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together butter and granulated sugar until fluffy. In a separate small bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and baking soda.
Beat vanilla into butter mixture, then add one egg with mixer running. Keep mixer running while adding a scoopful of flour mixture, then second egg. Continue mixing while adding the rest of the flour mixture. Finally, scrape cocoa mixture into bowl, and beat well to combine.
Divide batter evenly between the two prepared tins and bake 20-25 minutes, rotating once halfway through cooking time, until a tester inserted into the centre of a cake comes out clean.
Let cakes sit in their pans on a rack 5-10 minutes before turning out onto rack to cool completely.
While cakes are cooling, make icing:
In the top of a double boiler set over barely simmering water, gently heat chocolate until just melted, stirring frequently.
Place icing sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to remove and lumps. Add butter and process until smooth. Scrape in cooled chocolate mixture; icing should be thick and spreadable, but if it is too pasty, add milk a few drops at a time until desired consistency is reached.
Place one cooled cake, top down, on serving plate. top with a generous dollop of icing, then place second cake on top, right side up.
Used remaining icing to frost the top and the sides of the cake.
Decorate, as my daughter did here, with coloured sugar, and serve with large glasses of milk.
It’s been a pretty austere winter around here, from every perspective but the foodie one.
We’ve been besieged by just about every flu bug and head cold and general bad feeling that has come our way, and we’ve not left our nest nearly enough.
The result, a lack of sleep and fresh air and an excess of time spent contemplating these four walls, has done nothing to propel me forward into my usual post-new-year’s effort to change my life via diet and exercise.
Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Instead of even considering a routine any more punishing than my current one (the sleepless, scratchy-throated haze that all of you who have had sick small children will recognize), I have been luxuriating in my cookbooks and old issues of Gourmet, baking my (sweat)pants off, and throwing myself with abandon on any dish that involves starch and cheese and the oven.
Like this one, which has become the new lunch-time staple at our house. It’s from Nigella Lawson’s new book, Kitchen: Recipes From the Heart of the Home, and it is so simple and quick and basic that you can do almost anything with it. The recipe that follows is my slightly-tweaked version.
Goat Cheese Pizza (adapted from Nigella Lawson)
100g spelt flour
75g grated cheddar
50g crumbled goat cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Liberally grease an 8″ round cake tin or pie plate.
Whisk together flour, milk and egg until smooth. Stir in two-thirds of the grated cheddar, and turn batter out into prepared pan. Bake 30-35 minutes, until golden and bubbly. Remove from oven and sprinkle with remaining cheddar and goat cheese.
Return to oven for a further 5-10 minutes, until cheese is melted. Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes or so before cutting into wedges.
This has never served more than the four of us, keeping in mind that two of us eat very little.
I can scarcely believe that, in effect, an entire season has just passed without my contributing a thing around here.
I have been trying to figure out how to address this last epic silence from my end; as these things go, the longer I thought about it, the more ambivalent I was about addressing it at all, and then the silence itself started to feel so insurmountable that I nearly gave up on the idea of blogging altogether.
But then, December arrived, and my husband returned home after months of (more and less) lengthy absences.
And, just like that, the festive season began around here.
My children woke up this morning to the first real snow of the season, and I woke up to the promise of a long bath, a new magazine, and coffee drunk while it is still hot.
Friends, we have so much to catch up on!
Even while single-parenting, I can’t resist the outlook-changing lure of a fresh-baked breakfast. I have been using spelt or light spelt flour of late, but for these I tried a combination of light spelt, coconut, and whole wheat flours, because that is all I had on hand!
1c large flake oats
1 1/2c flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 stick (1/2c) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1/4c brown sugar
1 large ripe banana, mashed
1/4c chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
Combine oats and buttermilk in a glass measuring cup, stir well, and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and a pinch of salt, if desired. Cut in butter and brown sugar until mixture is fairly uniform and resembles small peas.
Add oat mixture, banana, chocolate chips and craisins to bowl and stir just to combine into a sloppy dough. Turn out onto a well-floured piece of parchment and knead 3-4 times to help the dough come together a bit.
Roll (using a well-floured rolling pin) or pat dough into a round about an inch thick. Cut out shapes using an approximately 3″ cookie or biscuit cutter. Place biscuits on prepared baking sheet; re-roll or pat the dough and cut out more shapes, until you’ve filled the baking sheet – I usually get somewhere in the neighbourhood of 16-18 biscuits.
Bake 18-20 minutes, rotating pan halfway through. Cool a few minutes on pan, then transfer to a rack and serve very warm, while the chocolate is still gooey.