Optical illusions

August 19, 2009


Although we had the coolest, wettest July on record this summer, I’ve still managed to over-tan. Truthfully, I blame the economy for my sun-damaged forehead. Most summers I’m so busy whipping up bright ideas in the test kitchen for magazines and food companies that I find very little time to spend outdoors. But, this year has been different. Business has been down, so I’ve had time to play tennis regularly and to ride my bike to work. It seems that just these little changes in routine have helped me to get a very nice tan.

Despite the ugly age spots on my forehead, the rest of me is thankful for the pigment change. As you may know, dark things look smaller and, even though I’ve been exercising, I’ve been eating enough that I’m bursting out of my fat clothes. I can only hope the tan is creating an optical illusion that hides that fact.

The hope that dark objects look smaller is a blessing when it comes to my body but not so great when applied to brownies. If a brownie looks small, why not eat two? (Hence the problem with the fat clothes.)

After that segue you likely will think twice about making brownies but I hope you decide to go ahead. I’ve been making this recipe for years. It’s super easy and so chocolaty and satisfying that you really only need to eat one small square to get your chocolate fix:

Dana’s Saucepan Brownies

4 oz (125 g) chopped unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup (125 mL) butter
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) granulated sugar
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
3 eggs
1 cup (250 mL) all-purpose flour

Place chocolate and butter in a saucepan set over low heat. Heat, stirring often, until chocolate is almost melted. Remove from heat and stir until smooth. Cool slightly. Preheat oven to 350oF (180oC).

Stir sugar, vanilla and salt into chocolate mixture. Stir in eggs, adding one at a time. Blend in flour until well combined. Scrape mixture into a greased 9-inch (23 cm) square pan or 7 x 11-inch (1.5 L) baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes for fudgy brownies (my fav) or for 35 minutes for cakey brownies. Cool in the pan on a rack. Slice into bars. Makes 24 bars.

Topline Trends Tuesday: Foie gras in the sweet kitchen

July 14, 2009


Photo credit: Food In Houston

Although no pastry chef I know ever learned how to make profiteroles, macarons, tarte tatin, waffles, milkshakes or doughnuts with foie gras at culinary school, many of them are doing it now in high-end eateries in cities such as Montreal, Chicago, Portland and New York.

I haven’t tried a foie gras-laced dessert yet myself but I did have a foie gras and pear empanada at my husband Martin’s restaurant recently and it was pretty damn good.

Have any of you seen foie gras used as a dessert ingredient in your area? If so, did you try it? And, if you did, what did you think? Hit or miss?

Topline Trends Tuesday: The upward spiral of the butter tart

July 7, 2009

Buttertart guyRegular readers of this blog will know that since last summer, I’ve been on a quest to unlock the secrets of the perfect butter tart. It’s been a winding road.

After presenting my preferred recipe for butter tarts I heard mostly accolades but a rebuff, too. One enraged woman recently wrote me an email claiming that my butter tarts were the very worst she had ever tried. Needless to say, she and I are not destined to be friends.

While butter tarts have always been a Canadian favourite, I’ve noticed them being debated and discussed more often during the last few months. Was it the proximity of Canada Day on the calendar that led food sleuth Marion Kane and CBC personality Jian Ghomeshi to discuss butter tart origins and lore on June 29th?  Regardless, their informative chat  can be enjoyed as a podcast.

Likewise, a new Toronto-based blog called Beer & Butter Tarts recently launched. Although it’s a bit shy on butter tart news so far, I’m holding out hope for full-on butter tart coverage on their cyber pages.

Another result of devoting so much time to the discussion of butter tarts is that many people have reached out to share their butter tart love with me. One of these people is Jules Kay, a retired mathematics teacher and the owner of Aftermath Pies. He visited our test kitchen a couple of weeks ago and brought us his very delicious butter tarts. Unlike my tarts, which have a very rich, flaky, lard-based crust, Jules’ perfectly gooey tarts have a firmer, compact crust that features vegetable shortening.

Jules was kind enough to share his pastry recipe with me so you can try it if you prefer a leaner, less fragile crust.

Jules “The Pieman”‘s Original Dough Recipe

Ingredients – flour, salt, sugar, shortening, vinegar, and water.
Utensils – large mixing bowl, measuring cups for dry and liquid ingredients, measuring spoons, fork, plastic wrap, and a pastry blender (ONLY FOR THE UNADVENTUROUS).

Flour – white, all purpose – 5 1/2 cups
Salt – 1 teaspoon
White Sugar – 1 tablespoon
Shortening – 1 package (454 grams)
Vinegar (plus water) – 1 tablespoon
Cold Tap Water 1 1/3 cups when added to vinegar

• In a large mixing bowl, blend flour, salt, and sugar.
• In a measuring cup, add the vinegar and enough water to make 1 1/3 cups of liquid.
Cut the shortening into the flour mixture with your fingertips until it resembles small peas. For those afraid to get dirty hands, use a pastry blender.
Make a well in the centre of the flour/shortening and add all the water.
Stir (DO NOT MASH) with a fork until the flour has absorbed all the water and the ball of dough sticks together.
• If the dough is still crumbly, keep stirring with the fork.
Gather up the dough in a ball and cover it with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes. If the dough is too sticky, do not add more flour. Let it rest in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours or overnight. You will discover that the amount of water needed varies depending on the temperature and the humidity.
• Your dough is now ready for great tasting pies and tarts. If you intend to use the large (3-pound) tub then multiply the above quantities by 3. You might need a larger bowl.

Hamburger buns

June 5, 2009


Since we made perfect patties yesterday, why not make buns to go with them today? It may seem like a lot of fuss but it’s not difficult to make hamburger buns. Plus, the homemade version is so much yummier than the bagged buns sold at the grocery store.

When I made the buns pictured above, I used this Epicurious recipe. Although it’s a very good recipe that made delicious, light hamburger buns, I did learn a few things that might help you avoid the few, small problems I encountered:

1. This dough is very soft, so lightly flour your hands when handling it to avoid sticking.
2. To avoid messing up a saucepan, heat the milk in the microwave in the cup you used to measure it.
3. Although the recipe says to roll the buns out to 1/4-inch (.5 cm), I found that the buns I baked when I rolled the dough a little thicker were better.
4. When cutting out the dough, use a 4-inch (10 cm) metal cutter (the same one you used to make your perfect patties!) but don’t turn it in the dough. Simply press down to cut the dough and then pull the cutter up to remove (when I twisted the cutter, the dough stretched and the buns baked in a football shape).
5. Before you cut the circles, let the rolled dough sit for a minute or two so that the gluten relaxes into the shape you’ve just rolled. Otherwise, the dough tends to shrink as soon as you cut out your rolls and you end up with undersized holders for your burgers.

Have you ever made hamburger buns? If so, did you leave them plain on top or dress them with sesame or poppy seeds?

Get ready for doughnut day: June 1

May 29, 2009

donutsI love any excuse to eat something delicious so I was very happy to discover that next Monday, June 1st will be doughnut day!

Although this calendar observance is an American tradition that dates back to World War One when Salvation Army volunteers cooked up doughnuts in foxholes to cheer American army troops, I’m embracing this sticky tradition in the name of Canada. After all, we have a long tradition of being not only excellent doughnut makers, but also voracious consumers of classic Tim Horton’s Donuts, Ottawa Beaver Tails and Canada’s Wonderland Funnel Cakes. In fact, according to Wikipedia, Canadians are the highest per capita doughnut consumers in the world. And, not surprisingly, we’re also the country with the most doughnut shops per capita, too.

Although this easy access to doughnuts is a comfort to me and many other Canadians, I have to say that the ultimate doughnut experience is not found in a doughnut shop but at home where you can fry up the dough, glaze the golden little ‘O’s a few minutes later and then gobble up the doughnuts while they’re still warm. In my opinion, that’s what it means to be a happy Canuck!

How often do you eat a doughnut? I eat them only once or twice a year but when I do, it’s always a happy day!

If you’d like to try your hand at making doughnuts in honour of Doughnut Day, here’s a recipe I developed for last year’s Bakefest Recipe Booklet. I hate to brag, but I think it’s one of the best classic doughnut recipes you’ll find!

Classic Glazed Donuts

1 pkg (8 g) Fleishmann’s Traditional Yeast
1/4 cup (60 mL) warm water, about 115ºF (47ºC)
1 tsp (5 mL) Bee Hive Golden Corn Syrup
1/2 cup (125 mL) milk
1 Naturegg Omega 3 Shell Egg, beaten
1/4 cup (60 mL) Lactantia Unsalted Butter, melted
3 cups (750 mL) all-purpose flour (approx.)
1 tsp (5 mL) salt
1/4 cup (60mL) granulated sugar
6 cups (1.5 L) Mazola 100 % Pure Canola or Corn Oil

1/4 cup (60 mL) Bee Hive Golden Corn Syrup
1/4 cup (60 mL) warm water
1 1/3 cups (325 mL) icing sugar
1 tbsp (15 mL) Lactantia Unsalted Butter, melted
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla

1. Dough: Blend the yeast with the warm water and syrup; let stand for 2 minutes. Whisk the milk with the egg and melted butter. Reserve. Meanwhile, place the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor. With the motor running, blend in the yeast and milk mixtures just until the dough begins to form a ball.

2. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 2 to 3 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Sprinkle with additional flour, if necessary, to prevent sticking. Cover and let rise for 1 1/2 hours. Punch down the dough; cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.

3. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until 1/2–inch (1 cm) thick. Cut donut shapes using a 3 1/2-inch (8 cm) donut cutter (or a large and a small round cookie cutter). Re-roll the scraps once to make additional donuts (cut any remaining dough into donut holes). Cover donuts with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.

4. Glaze: Blend the corn syrup, water, butter, icing sugar and vanilla until smooth. Reserve.

5. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a wok or Dutch oven until it reaches at least 325ºF (160ºC) but doesn’t exceed 350ºF (180ºC). Gently lower 3 donuts at a time into the oil; fry for 3 to 4 minutes per side or until golden. Lift from hot oil and dip into glaze. Coat all over and transfer to a rack set over a baking tray to cool. Makes 8 donuts, plus donut holes.

Super crisp ginger cookies

March 20, 2009


Look! I’ve found another way to use the new rolling pin you bought to make a pie for 3:14 day last week!

This recipe is adapted from Simply Recipes; it makes a super crisp, wafer style cookie that is perfect for dipping into coffee or milky tea.

Gingersnap Cookies

1 cup (250 mL) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp (330 mL) granulated sugar
1/2 tsp (2 mL) vanilla extract
2 small eggs or 1 1/2 large eggs
1/3 cup (75 mL) molasses
1 tsp (5 mL) minced fresh ginger
3 cups (750 mL) all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp (12 mL) baking soda
2 1/2 tsp (12 mL) cinnamon
2 1/2 tsp (12 mL) ground ginger
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
1/4 tsp (1 mL) ground black pepper

Cream butter until soft; add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and eggs, and beat until fluffy. Add molasses then minced ginger and beat until well mixed.

Stir the dry ingredients together; add to the butter mixture, 1/3 at a time. Mix only until the dry ingredients become incorporated.

Line a 9” x 5” loaf pan with plastic wrap, so that some hangs over the sides. Press the dough into the bottom of the pan. Pack it tightly, and try to make the top as level as possible. Cover the dough with the overhanging plastic. Freeze until very firm, preferably overnight.

Unwrap and remove dough from the pan. Slice the brick into thin slices, no more than 1/8” thick. Arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet spaced at least an inch apart. Bake, one pan at a time, in a preheated 350°F (180°C) oven until the edges turn dark brown, from 8 to 10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the dough. Makes 6 to 8 dozen cookies.

• Trim the sides of the dough to make straight edges before slicing cookies.
• Check the cookies for doneness starting at 7 min

Choosing a rolling pin

March 13, 2009

rollingpinsSince so many bloggers are taking advantage of the numeric poetry of tomorrow’s date (3.14= ∏) by making pies, I thought that today we should discuss an essential pie making tool: the rolling pin.

Rolling pins are an iconic kitchen tool and almost everyone — even infrequent bakers — have one stashed in a drawer or at the back of a cupboard. Some people love their rolling pins because they help them to create flaky pastry and others find them a reassuring part of their home security kit. While any kind of pin will work as a weapon, choosing the right pin is more important when making pastry.

Although rolling pins can be made from wood, stone, plastic, stainless steel or even glass, in my opinion, wood is the way to go. I have a fancy marble pin but I find it too heavy for making laminated doughs such as puff pastry and Danish pastry; it literally shoves out the butter on the first and second turns of the dough.

In terms of shape, there are two kinds of pins to choose from:

Rods: Also called French rolling pins, these tools are rolled across dough using one’s palms (see above). This style of pin is my preference since it’s easier on your hands and wrists and it exerts fairly even pressure on the dough, so that each sheet is evenly thick after just a few passes.

Rollers: These pins have a thick centre cylinder and two thinner cylindrical handles on each end that are attached to an inner rod that allows the larger cylinder to roll freely. Roller-style pins are used by grasping the handles and pushing the pin across the dough.

Although rollers are likely the most common rolling pin for sale here in North America, they require the exertion of a lot more force than a rod since your energy isn’t distributed evenly along the pin. As a result, dough is often stretched less evenly when you use a roller-style pin since more force is exerted closest to the ends. And for me, grasping the pin at either end leads to hand and wrist fatigue, especially when you’re baking a batch of pies or doing big batch holiday sugar cookie baking.

What about you?  Do you have a preference for one kind of pin over another?