Tag Archives: Baking

MandelBread or Mandelbrot-Delectable By Any Name: What Would Jessie Dish? Week 12

I have absolutely no recollection of this recipe from my childhood. As part of my grandmother Jessie’s recently discovered files, “mandlebread” is a fantastic recipe.   Either I had never eaten this cookie or simply cannot remember it.  For a child, perhaps it is too hard as cookies go? Mandlebrot does not go as well with milk, say, rather than with tea – ugh for most kids – or coffee – double ugh.  It is also devoid of chocolate, so I might not have cared for them, obliterating the memories of one try from my mind.

The recipe is very specific with its directions and was a breeze to follow –  with one odd exception: “nuts”. “Mandel” is “almond”, so I suspect Jessie just knew to use them – rather than other favourites of hers, such as pecans or walnuts. A mandelbrot, or, mandelbrodt, is an middle-European counterpart to biscotti, made typically with almonds (“mandel”, in both German and Yiddish, “brot” meaning “bread”).  Mandelbrot has made a bit of a comeback in cookie-dom, along with the resurgence in world-wide coffee-culture (in this iteration, think Starbucks and free WiFi as opposed to Le Procope in Paris and “philosophers cafes”).

Around age 70, Jessie enjoyed the Mayan ruins in Mexico.

What I found amusing about this recipe is that I could not find a photo which somehow would correspond. So I chose one of my grandmother at the ruins of Uxmal on a winter getaway to Mexico around 1974. Jessie visited Israel right after Egypt a few years before her trip to Mexico (and I have used the one photo I have from that tour already) but never went to middle-European destinations (e.g., Austria, Hungary, or Germany, where mandelbrot once reigned supreme), so the Mayan setting will have to do!

Mandelbrot with flowers from our gardens (courtesy of CJM Floral Engineering, Inc.)

For the cookie’s character and the recipe…

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Sweet n’ Sour Cherry Pie: Simple Sassy & Super-Fast

Where do you stand in the current pie v. cake debate?  I have been noticing that there is a raging controversy regarding the respective merits of each iconic dessert category.

Risking the accusation of being wishy-washy, I refuse to opt for one over the other. I embrace cake for its chocolate, vanilla, mocha, caramel, and similar incarnations (though citrus and other fruit work well in cakes, too).  Pie highlights fresh fruit better, one can argue, yet there are exceptions,  e.g., chocolate cream, butterscotch, chess, and custard pies.

In the summer, I  tend towards pies and their fruit-based cousins, the grunts, slumps, cobblers, crisps, crumbles, pan dowdies, betties, tartes, and gratins (the last two hailing from the French side of the family).  But I will use berries I have picked and frozen for pies and their relatives during the winter.  I have been known to bake a cake or two in the summer for a special occasion.  So a seasonal delineation does not work for the pie v. cake battle in my kitchen, either.

I have always liked the idea of cherry pie, often much more than its reality.  As a child, I ordered it for its redness (my favourite colour) but, since then, I avoid it generally.  If I think there is any chance of a gloppy, gummy, artificially coloured, pre-made red filling, I will opt for another dessert. This is the sad state of cherry pie-dom in North American restaurants and bakeries, I hate to admit.  Pie should be a revelation, not a disappointment.

Sometimes life is just a bowl of sour cherries....

At our Saturday market last, I noticed a basket of gleaming sour cherries:  they were so bright and red and perfect that, on first glance, I thought they were the season’s first cherry tomatoes.  I had not known that our island had any of the sour cherries I had been fantasizing about lately, so I could bake a classic cherry pie.

So having purchased one punnit (or, basket, but I love this technical term), I decided to make a sour cherry pie. Later, I regretted not having bought more.  I needed far more than the eight ounces I had for even the most modest of pie filling recipes – beyond individual tarts, with which I did not want to fuss:  it is summer, after all.  I augmented the sour cherries with four ounces of sweet Lapin cherries I had on hand, from the Okanagan (fruit basket of British Columbia, since you asked). Then I decided on a top-crust only British-style pie I found in A Baker’s Tour, from baking guru, Nick Malgieri.  The juicy red filling I adapted from food-blogger-celebrity-diva, Deb Perelman, of Smitten Kitchen.

(I hope my blog buddy, Jackie, of the hilarious, creative, and informative site,  I Am A Feeder, will comment on this alleged British-top-crust-only pie habit.  This makes me recall the 1970s farce, No Sex Please: We’re British.  Maybe it should have a sequel, No Bottom Crust Please: We’re British.)

For the pie crust and filling recipe… Continue reading

What Would Jessie Dish? Wednesdays – Week 3: Banana Muffins

Of the Jessie recipe file, this week’s banana muffin recipe was fascinating – well, to me – for three reasons:

1.  The “recipe” just listed the ingredients, baking time, and oven temperature, so I had to create the steps, from my knowledge of baking techniques – especially muffins and quick breads.

2.   I do not remember my grandmother Jessie ever having made these, so I could not compare my version to my memory – unlike last week’s brownies.

3.  The recipe was hand-written on the reverse of a sympathy-note form card.

The last item makes me wonder if Jessie wrote this recipe down some time after the late 1960s, when my grandfather died (in his late sixties himself).  He was a very well-known sports writer – he never would have called himself a “sports journalist” in the style today – and publicity man.  Grandpa Lou (or “Gooey”, as we called him, as a childish contraction of “Grandpa Louie”, I think) was a quirky self-educated newspaperman and sports promoter In fact, a character in the play (made into a movie four times!) by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur,  The Front Page was based on him, I learned just a few years ago from my mother.

My grandfather "Gooey" is just 17 years old here.

My grandfather worked closely with Joe Louis, Jack Dempsey (I have a pocket watch from Mr. Dempsey engraved with an inscription to my grandfather on Xmas Day 1929, the day of the gift), and other high-profile boxers as well as horse-racers and many other sports figures and teams.

For instance, Joe Louis, who was one of the greatest boxers in history, received considerable yet discrete financial help from my grandfather, after Mr. Louis’s agent misappropriated or mismanaged his money.

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A Toothsome, Wholesome, and Whole-Grain Loaf: Peter Reinhart’s Multigrain Bread

Multi-grain bread with rasberry-tayberry jam and peanut butter

I was a strange child. When I was 12, I decided to become a vegetarian. I read Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation. I did not like the idea of eating animals, nor did I particularly enjoy meat, other than the occasional hamburger. So it was not much of a culinary sacrifice for me for the next ten years of vegetarianism.

Just sliced multi-grain bread

As I mentioned in earlier posts, we ate out often as a family. Back in the early 1970s, this presented challenges, with my self-imposed dietary restrictions. If my grandmother were along, she immediately – and loudly – would ask the wait person, “Young man {or “young lady”}, my grandson won’t eat meat. What do you have for him on your menu?” She made this declaration, as if I were unable to read the menu or ask myself about what I could eat. Often the response was “the house salad”.

The “house salad” was indeed a vegetarian option. However, it was never the sort of colourful, nutritious, and satisfying salad one can find at many restaurants today. The salad consisted of a wedge of the definitely not trendy iceberg lettuce, with a few slices of anemic-looking “cello” tomatoes. (The “cello” referred to the cellophane, which encased a trio of perfectly shaped medium-sized tomatoes sitting in a open-weave plastic basket, similar to the baskets for cherry tomatoes or berries today; this terminology always confused me in supermarkets, as my brother took cello lessons back then, but this “cello” was pronounced differently and had nothing to do with music.)

On such house salads, there might have been a slice or two of soggy cucumber or even a few rounds of carrot. If it were a better restaurant, sometimes a handful of very salty croutons decorated the dish. Often the salad had a thick layer of gloppy Green Goddess dressing, poured liberally from an industrial-sized jug of commercial dressing, no doubt.

Learning to bake bread and Peter Reinhart’s whole-grain bread recipe Continue reading

A Sweet-Sassy Finish to the 2010 Olympics: Cayenne-Cocoa Cupcakes with Citrus-Cream Cheese Icing

Cayenne-Cocoa Cupcakes with Citrus Cream-Cheese Frosting

Just before the Olympics started, I baked cupcakes for my friend K’s birthday. The one I chose was a variant of Martha Stewart’s one-bowl cocoa cupcake recipe and La Martha’s cream-cheese frosting.

Citrus olympic rings

Citrus rings bid adieu to the 2010 Olympics

I decided to adapt this never-fail one-bowl very-hypenated recipe to make it spicier (cayenne) and create more depth in the cake (my favourite addition of espresso powder). As I had made Martha’s recipe before in addition to a Mexican hot chocolate cupcake, I decided to synthesize the two for this sassy-zesty variant. To top it off – literally and figuratively – I adapted a classic cream-cheese frosting by adding both lime zest and juice.

With all those words beginning with “C”, the math geek in me decided to rename this combo as “2x C3″: Cayenne-Cocoa Cupcakes with Citrus-Cream-Cheese Frosting. If you are seeking an unexpected yet perfect end to a Mexican/Latin American or spicy Asian meal with chili and lime, look no further.

Baked cupcakes cool

This easy-to-make batter bakes up light and moist

Cupcake gender issues – and the recipe Continue reading

Outrageous Brownies: The Only Brownie Recipe You Need

Outrageous brownies trio

Outrageous brownies

Brownies are very controversial by nature. The nut-versus-nut-free debate is remarkable in its outrageousness. I do not get caught up in these arguments. Personally, I appreciate good quality pecans, walnuts, or hazelnuts in most recipes. However, I do understand how important it is to respect people who have allergies or aversions to nuts. So I often oblige such nuttiness (or lack thereof).

My opinions are stricter on the textural matters of cakey v. fudgy v. chewy. Cakey-ness should be reserved for cakes. This is not so outrageous as a judgment. Case closed. Fudginess can be desirable, given the right recipe and baked to the right consistency. A truly chewy brownie is a rarity. I have tried many recipes for this elusive brownie texture with limited success.

As a low-brown counterpart to Proust’s madeleines, I fondly remember chewy brownies from my childhood. I must admit that my brownie palate was greatly influenced by the store-bought, refrigerated, ready-mixed brownie batter. The plastic-sheathed tube of batter was probably better eaten raw than baked. This product did result in a supremely chewy, though bland, brownie. Blandness, of course, is a matter of justifiable outrage in the brownie world.

A fudgy brownie with nuts and chocolate chips for contrast

For special occasions, I have one great, singular, show-stopper of a brownie recipe. It is undeniably fudgy. I have adapted it from The Barefoot Contessa cookbook. Ina Garten called them appropriately, “Outrageous Brownies”. The espresso powder is key to creating a dark, rich depth. Although one could use more prosaic instant coffee (as Ms. Garten indicates), I do not; espresso imparts a decidedly better flavour. Chocolate chips and nuts provide a chunky counterpoint to the intense fudginess of the brownie, topped off by the classic flaky, paper-thin pale-cocoa-coloured layer (the brownie epidermis?).

More on Ina Garten and the recipe for Outrageous Brownies Continue reading

National Pie (Disaster) Day

Ready to roll on National Pie Day

January 23 marks National Pie Day. I have no idea who chose this particular date, why this day in late January should mark such an auspicious occasion, or how it received this designation. I guess it is another of life’s mysteries. However, I am all for celebrating a holiday honouring one of the most important dessert genres.

National Pie Day also is close to the birthday of our friend and neighbour, P. P,’s spouse, L, is a gifted chef/food writer, who has a wonderful secret blog (or, “‘the blog that dare not speak its name,” or, TBTDNSIN). L asked me to bake a pie in honour of P’s birthday. I was happy to do so.

I chose to bake a blackberry pie for three reasons:

1. It was National Pie Day, of course; this trumped my customary baking a birthday cake.

2. There was a recipe I wanted to try from Pascale Le Draoulec’s charming book, American Pie. This is an excellent, memorable social history of small town America and an account of her road trip, with the culinary twist of seeking the best local pie, as she initially headed from San Francisco to New York. I had picked it up from a bookstore on Vashon Island, WA, last year, and devoured it very quickly (reading, rather than eating the book itself). There are some promising recipes thrown in, including “Tootie Guirard’s Good Friday Blackberry Pie”, which accompanied an amusing anecdote about the pie tradition in Lafayette, Louisiana – a state which suffered tremendous disasters from Hurricane Katrina.

3. Some of the island blackberries, which I had picked and frozen last summer, thawed partially, after a three-day power outage last week. We had terrifying windstorms on January 17, which battered the Gulf Islands (at speeds up to 120 km/hour!). There were trees and branches down all over the islands, sort of a minor disaster here.

Now, I am not the most experienced of pie bakers, especially when it comes to crust. I have done many cookie crumb/graham cracker crusts in my time; they are so easy, so non-threatening. Yet I discovered a great crust recipe last summer (you will see it at the end of this post – along with the three-berry filling, which worked perfectly, I might add, defensively…). I figured I would combine that crust with Tootie Guirard’s recipe. This was to be my first lattice-crusted pie, a nod to National Pie Day.

Blackberry pie, fresh from the oven

More on the disaster and good recipes, which will work Continue reading

Cornsticks!

Cornsticks with home-made jams

Cornsticks with home-made jams

One of my favourite childhood memories was visiting an old corn mill, called the “Olde Graue Mill”, way down South in the “Land of Cotton” in a western suburb of Chicago.

We would watch the corn kernels being ground by the huge wooden, water-driven mill, over the Des Plaines River (pronounced, “Dess-plains”, with a nasal Chicago twang – none of that Frenchified pronunciation for people in the “Greater Metropolitan Chicagoland Area”, as it is still known). We purchased freshly ground cornmeal, packaged in cute burlap bags, sporting the image of the old mill. At home, we made cornbread from the mill’s recipe, in a special pan: the cast-iron cornstick pan.

Are you thinking, “What, pray tell, is a cornstick pan?” No? Are you thinking the answer is, “Something that makes cornsticks, obviously.” What? Are you a smart-aleck? But it is actually a vintage cast-iron pan, created long ago, probably somewhere deep in the US South. The pans typically feature seven corn-cob-shaped indentations:

Cornstick mold

Empty cornstick pan ready for baking

More on cornsticks, the pan, and the recipe Continue reading

Peppermint candy cane cheesecake 2009

Xmas cheesecake 09

The peppermint cheesecake, just decorated.

For a small island dinner hosted by our friends Jim and Kip (including Kip’s sister as well as her niece visiting from Vancouver), I created the holiday-suitable Peppermint Candy Cane Cheesecake. I adapted it from two reliable trustworthy sources, Dorie Greenspan for the cake, and Nick Malgieri for the chocolate-wafer-cookie-almond crust. The mint extract/lemon in the cake in addition to the topping were adapted from a cheesecake recipe on the Canadian Living website (http://www.canadianliving.com/food/).

My thinking was that the minty aspect of the cake would be refreshing – even though it is a cheesecake – after a holiday meal. The crumbled candy cane circle complemented the minty cake and looked seasonably appropriate in the photos I saw online.

The cake could not have been more creamy and smooth – maybe not quite the texture for those of the more-substantial-granular-cheesecake school (or alumni of MSGCS??) – but rich, luxurious, and classic. The tangy sassiness – or should that be sassy tanginess? – of the lemon and peppermint in the cake was a welcome counterpoint to the silky texture. Another textural highlight was the wonderfully crunchy crust, which was neither mushy nor too-tough-to-cut, as has been the case with some other cheese cakes I unfortunately have met in my past.

Cheesecake interior indicates great height

The peppermint candy cane cheesecake recipe Continue reading

Memories of holiday cakes past

Chocolate Birthday Cake with Billowy Marshmallow Frosting

In preparing for this year’s holiday season, I have been reflecting on cakes I made in the recent past.  I thought of calling my debut post, “A la recherche des gateaux perdus”, but figured that might be too Proustianly pretentious (or pretentiously Proustian?) or just plain ‘ole silly .  Besides, David Lebovitz has the whole madeleine thing well covered already.

We all know that dessert is the most important course in any meal. OK, maybe it is not after breakfast…usually.  For any holiday, a noteworthy cake makes a memorable end to a memorable meal.  There really is a reason for lyrics such as “visions of sugar plums danced in their heads”.

For last year’s new year’s eve potluck, as I am wont to do, I went through piles of my cookbooks seeking inspiration for a suitable cake.  The inspiration was the enticing “Dark Chocolate Peppermint Pattie Cake” (from Sweet Stuff: Karen Barker’s American Desserts).  Here is the photo I took quickly, before heading over to the party, at our friends’ house three doors away, on new year’s eve:

Chocolate Peppermint Pattie Cake

Dark Chocolate Peppermint Pattie Cake

More on holidays cakes of yore Continue reading