Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Almond Pumpkin Pie






I just came back from a long weekend at my family's cottage up on Georgian Bay where we celebrated Thanksgiving - again - because my cousin missed it the first time 'round.

So naturally, I couldn't pass up the chance to make one of my favourite desserts ever: Pumpkin pie.



I'm not sure why I love the taste of pumpkin so much or why the squash makes some of the best desserts (see: muffins, tarts, bread, cheesecake) but its combination with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and sometimes mace makes for a delicious yet not-too-sweet dessert.

I think it's precisely the not sweet part that I really enjoy. The pumpkin is more earthy compared to many other desserts and though it's creamy, it's not super rich (unless, of course, you add tons of whipped cream to it).

My aunt made an incredible pumpkin pie the previous weekend and added almonds to her recipe, so I decided to do the same.



And, just for fun, I made an apple crumble pie too, but that recipe is coming up in the next post.

So here's to the wonderful pumpkin pie! Nom noms!

Almond Pumpkin Pie (adapted from Wanda's Pie in the Sky cookbook)

For 10-inch pie pan.

Ingredients for crust pastry:

- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/3 cup cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
- 1/3 cup shortening, cut into 1/2 inch pieces and frozen for 15 minutes
- 1/4 cup cold water

Make sure all the ingredients are as cold as possible. Using a pasty cutter or food processor and a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, butter and shortening.

Process or cut in until the mixture resembles coarse meal and begins to clump together. Sprinkle with the water, let rest for 30 seconds and then either process very briefly or cut with about 15 strokes of the pasty cutter, just until the dough begins to stick together and come away from the sides of the bowl.

Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and press together to form a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Allow the dough to warm slightly at room temperature if it is too hard to roll. On a lightly floured board, roll the disk to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Cut a circle about 1 1/2 inches larger than the pie plate. Transfer the pastry to the plate by folding it in half or rolling it onto the rolling pin. Turn the pastry under, leaving an edge that hangs about 1/2 inch over the plate.



Ingredients for filling:

- 5 eggs
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 1/2 cups pumpkin puree
- 1 1/4 cups whole milk
- 1/2 cup whipping cream
- 1 medium sized pack of half almonds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs lightly. Add the remaining pie ingredients and whisk thoroughly. Pout into the prepared crust. Lightly sprinkle filling with almonds.
Bake for 55-65 minutes or until the crust is golden and the filling is just set and no longer liquid in the centre. Cool thoroughly before serving.



Ingredients for topping:

- 1/2 cup whipping cream
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tbsp granulated sugar

Using an electric mixer, beat all the ingredients until soft peaks form. Serve with the chilled pie.

Store the pie in fridge for up to three days.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Butter Tarts







It's been a pretty good month so far what with Thanksgiving and all the pumpkin pie and squash and mashed potatoes and juicy turkey and did I mention pumpkin pie?

Besides all the gluttony I got to partake in, I also got accepted into the Humber School for Writers for their correspondence program! What that means is that by the end of the program, I will have finished the first draft of the novel I've been working on for the past while. Exciting!



It's also a good month because next week I'm going up to my cottage for a long weekend and having a third Thanksgiving dinner with my cousin who couldn't make it to the family jam, which means there will be loads more turkey and pie and I'm thinking of making a pumpkin cheesecake for the occasion (look out for that blog post in the future).



I didn't make pumpkin pie for the family dinner because my aunt Ruthie is the Pie Queen and she made two delicious pumpkin pecan pies while I contributed butter tarts to the mix.

I used to be really intimidated by pie crust; so much can go wrong! But this butter tart recipe makes it really easy to put the crust together and it doesn't have to sit in the freezer for hours. (Unless I'm making a recipe from Julia Child's cookbook, I want to be finished in an hour tops.)



The first time I made them, I didn't add any nuts to the mix (and don't even talk to me about raisins, they are the devil's food) but this time, my boyfriend suggested adding walnuts and damnit he was right because they made the tarts so much better.

Mmmm buttery tart goodness.



Butter Tarts (makes 12)

Pastry:

- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, ver cold and cut into small cubes
- 3 to 5 tbsp of ice water

Filling:

- 1/3 cup butter
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup light cream
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 tsp white vinegar
- pinch salt
- two handfuls of walnuts



To make the pastry:

Place the flour, salt and sugar in a bowl and mix with a handmixer for a few seconds until combined. Add the butter and mix until the mixture resembles coarse meal or breadcrumbs. As you're mixing, pour the water in a steady stream just until the dough holds together when pinched. You may not need all the water, but if necessary, add a bit more. Don't overprocess the dough.

Turn the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and flatten it into a disk. Cover it well with the wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to four days. The dough can also be frozen at this point for future use.

When ready to use, allow the dough to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes to warm up before rolling out on a floured surface. Cut the dough into 12 4-inch rounds and gently place the rounds into a 12 cup muffin tin. Cover and place in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to firm up the dough.



To make the filling:

In a medium-sized bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Stir in the vanilla extract, salt, vinegar and cream. Beat until the mixture looks smooth and silky.

Place a spoonful of walnuts in the bottom of each tart shell and then spoon the filling on top, filling them to just under the rim - if you fill the cups too full, the mixture will bubble out and over the tops during baking.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes, until the pastry has nicely browned and the filling is set. Cool the muffin tin on a wire wrack for 10 to 15 minutes before gently removing the tarts. Serve warm.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Pumpkin muffins





I love the fall. Not just because the leaves turn colour and I have an excuse to buy new clothes (although that's a big part of it) but because I love the foods that get consumed during these months leading up to winter.



Fall means it's almost Thanksgiving which means lots of pumpkin pie and squash and turkey and ham and stuffing and mashed potatoes and bottles of red wine.

But this post is all about the famous orange gourd, which can be made into any dessert imaginable from pies and cheesecakes, cookies and brownies, puddings and fudge. And I want to make and eat them all.



I wanted to start off the beginning of October with something that's simple to make but yields a lot of flavour so I turned to my mom for her pumpkin muffins recipe which she always used when I was a kid. The best part about this recipe is that it uses a lot of spices which packs a lot of punch but complements the pumpkin. Plus, no other dessert can rival this recipe's batter. Mmmm. Batter.



Pumpkin Muffins

Yields about 28 muffins.

Ingredients:


- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup oil
- 4 eggs
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder and soda
- Cloves (I threw a bunch in)
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp mace
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp ginger
- 2 cups canned pumpkin
- Muffin pan



Directions:

Set oven to 350 degrees celsius.


Beat together sugar and oil until completely mixed.  Add eggs one at a time and mix thoroughly.  Combine dry ingredients.  Add pumpkin to moist ingredients, followed by dry mixture.
Fill greased muffin tins two-thirds of the way full and bake  for 25 min.





Sunday, September 8, 2013

The caf


I don't remember the first time I told a lie but I do remember the first time I realized I was good at it.

I was 12, an awkward time for any kid but especially for girls. Especially for me. I had a crush on a boy called Daniel Roth. Or Dan, love of my life and future husband and father to my children. 

It was lunch time and the students were in the cafeteria, gossiping. I sat alone, gnawing on a cold peanut butter and honey sandwich my mom had made me. 

"Dan, over here!"

I looked up when I heard his name. I dreamt that after we graduated, he would realize that he was in love with me and we would live happily ever after. But the sound of giggling snapped me out of this delusion.

"Look at Kay staring at Dan."
"She's so weird"
"I heard that she tried to kiss Mike by his locker and he ran away."

My cheeks grew hot, like a pig roasting on a spit. Dan sat down with his guy friends and didn't look at me. Why would he? I was the weird girl who didn't like to wear makeup but loved to play the witch in the school play.

I lowered my head and concentrated on the sandwich. The honey was hard and stuck to my teeth. I shuddered as my nails scrapped against my gums and I tasted blood. 

The girls whispered behind my back. I felt sick of this daily torture so I got up and walked towards Jean Carlaw, a mini Brigitte Bardot.

"What do you want, freak?" Jean asked.
It took me all my courage to reply.

"Mr. Graham thinks you're a bad student. He told me when he drove me home yesterday."
Jean's eyes went wide, her pretty mouth shaped into an 'O.' She snapped back.
"Why would Mr. Graham talk to a freak like you? Yeah right he drove you home. You wish."
"Fine, don't believe me. But if I were you, I would try to get on his good side."

As soon as I saw the fear in Jean's eyes, I knew I could get away with anything.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

No-bake chocolate cheesecake pie






Last weekend it was my intention to bake Julia Child's brioche. That is until I came upon this.

Not only does it contain one of my favourite ingredients, cheesecake, but you don't even have to use the oven! Simple, right? Well, mostly, but I will get to that.



Do you ever read the "estimated time to make" blurb at the beginning of every recipe? I used to because I thought it would help me plan better but I realized that this so-called "estimated time" is total bullshit. Not only does it usually grossly underestimate how much time it will take you to make the food (especially for a first-timer) but it sets the expectation that if you don't make it within that time than you're a total failure IN LIFE. Okay, I exaggerate a bit but seriously, this recipe says it only takes TEN MINUTES to make the whole thing. As my friend, Buddy the Elf says: "You sit on a throne of lies!"
Confession: It took me an hour to make this.



I have one more mini-rant to make about cookbooks and food blogs in general: The pictures are not reality. Get this in your head, people. Those red velvet cupcakes you want to make to impress your friends/significant other/parents/cat will not look like Martha Stewart took over your kitchen and made them herself. And speaking of Martha, she has amazing how-to videos like this one on cake-decorating which will change your life but it still won't change the fact that you never will be Martha fucking Stewart.



Maybe I'm still a bit upset that while the pie tasted delicious, when I cut a piece, it collapsed into a messy heap on the plate. A yummy heap, but a heap nonetheless. It certainly did not look like this.

But hey, it was my first time making it so maybe next time it will be better. These are the things I say to myself as I cry over my messy pie.



No-bake chocolate cheesecake pie (adapted from A Family Feast)

Crust:

- 3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
- 4 tbpsp granulated sugar
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 4 tbsp melted butter

Filling:

- 1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 11 ounces (about 2 packs) of cream cheese, softened
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 butter, softened
- 2 cups of refrigerated whipped topping (I used nutriwhip)



To prepare the crust:



1. Combine graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, sugar and brown sugar in a bowl. Mix until completely combined.
2. Pour the mixture into a 9-inch pie plate and spread, pressing down firmly, so that you have an even layer in the bottom of the plate and about ½ an inch up the sides. Freeze the crust while you are preparing the pie filling.




To prepare the pie filling:

4. Pour chocolate chips into a small stovetop saucepan and heat on medium until completely melt. Stir while melting. Set aside to cool.
5. In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment and at medium speed, beat together the softened cream cheese, sugar and butter until light and creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and with the mixer at low speed, slowly drizzle in the melted chocolate. Mix until completely blended together.
6. Replace the paddle attachment of your stand mixer with the whisk attachment, and at low speed, fold in the softened whipped topped until well blended. Spoon the mixture into the pie crust.
7. Refrigerate until firm – about 2 hours. When ready to serve, cut into slices and serve with additional whipped topping.




THE END.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Julia Child's croissants






I hate to admit this, but I had never heard of Julia Child until the 2009 movie "Julie & Julia" starring Meryl Streep as the 6'2 former OSS employee-turned-baker extraordinaire. Because I love Meryl movies, I became obsessed with this film, particularly since it involves cooking and, more importantly, baking.

I started reading up on Julia Child and her famous cookbook "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" which was first published in 1961 (Vol. 2 was published in 1970) and, in all honesty, I was really intimidated by the complex, 10-page long, 12-hour minimum recipes.



If you know me well, you would know that I'm the kind of girl who eats yogurt and/or toast for dinner so the thought of spending all night slaving in my condo-sized kitchen, when there was a particularly yummy coffee yogurt sitting in my fridge, did not make me want to go and spend $30 for what would end up being a coffee table book to impress my friends.

But last October, I had the chance to go to Paris again (my third time) with my boyfriend Mike and I dragged him to the famed English bookstore "Shakespeare & Co." which appeared not only in "Julie & Julia" but in my other favourite Parisian movie, Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris." God, if only I could live in that bookstore for the rest of my life.



After dragging Mike there on multiple trips (and asking him if it was an investment to buy a $1,500 first edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby"), I settled on (the cheaper, modern-day copies of) Fitzgerald's "Tender is the Night", Irene Nemirovsky's "The Misunderstanding" and lastly, Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. 2."

Why did I pick Julia's Vol. 2 over the more popular Vol. 1? Simple. It had recipes for brioche and croissants, two of my favourite foods to eat, anywhere (besides coffee yogurt).

The recipe for croissants is eight pages long and takes, according to Julia's instructions, a minimum of 11 to 12 hours. Had I not frozen my croissants over night, it probably would have taken me about 13 or so hours. But because I really wanted to go to bed, I froze them before the last pre-bake rise, and finished them in the morning.



This was my first time baking croissants so they were by no means perfect and I know what I will do differently next time I make them.

For one, I will let them rise for their last one-hour pre-bake rise if I decide I want to freeze them before baking them, rather than trying to make them rise after being frozen. Tip: If you want to freeze them overnight to bake them in the morning, let them rise for one hour before you freeze them. If you don't, they won't really rise when you take them out of the freezer. If they don't rise, the croissants will end up being a little bit on the harder side, and won't be as fluffy and light.

I will also be more patient when it comes to forming their crescent shape. Some of them ended up looking like dragon tails.



Lastly, I will recognize that they don't have to be perfect, especially since I am a novice at baking croissants. It's okay to mess up. That's what learning is for.

Was it worth all the waiting and cursing? Yes. They were delicious. They could have been more soft, but they were mostly tender and great with jam. It's also fun to brag about.

On to the super-long instructions!





Croissants (adapted from Julia Child and Simone Beck's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. 2)

Makes 12 croissants

Part 1.

Ingredients:

-1 1/4 tsp dry-active yeast
- 3 tbsp warm water
- 1 tsp sugar

Mix the yeast in the warm water with the sugar and let liquefy completely.

Part 2.

Ingredients:

- 1/2 lb. all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 pt milk warmed to tepid in a small saucepan
- 2 tbsp of canola oil

Measure the flour into mixing bowl. Dissolve the sugar and the salt in the tepid milk. When yeast has liquified, pour it along with the milk mixture and oil into the flour. Blend the elements into a dough by cutting and pressing with a rubber spatula, being sure all the bits of flour are gathered in. Turn dough out on to the kneading surface, scraping bowl clean. The short rest allows flour to absorb liquid; dough will be soft and sticky.

Start kneading by lifting near edge, using a scraper or spatula to help you, and flipping if over on to the other side. Rapidly repeat the movement from one side to the other and end over end eight to 10 times until dough feels smooth and begins to draw back into shape when pushed out. This is all the kneading it should have.



Part 3.

The dough is set to rise 3 1/2 times its original volume. Put it in a large mixing bowl. Cover with a plastic sheet and a bath towel and place at room temperature. In three or four hours the dough should have risen sufficiently and should be light and springy to touch.

After three or four hours, deflate the dough by loosening it from the edges of the bowl with a rubber spatula and turn it out on a lightly floured surface. With the lightly floured palms of your hands, pat and push the dough out into a rectangle about 8 x 12 inches. Fold in three as though folding a business letter. Return dough to bowl; cover again with plastic and bath towel.

Let rise a second time, about 1 1/2 hours, to double the original volume. Then loosen dough from edges of bowl and turn out on a lightly floured plate. Cover airtight and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

*At this point, if you don't have the time to finish, you can set the dough in a colder place to rise, or let it rise the second time overnight in the fridge.



Part 4.

Ingredients:

- 1/4 lb (about 1/2 cup) of chilled unsalted butter
- Rolling pin
- Flour as needed

Butter must now be worked into a smooth but still cold paste that can be spread evenly on the dough and then rolled with it. Beat the butter with a rolling pin to soften it. Then smear it out with the heel of your hand or a scraper or spatula until it is of very easy spreading consistency but still cold; it must not become soft and oily- refrigerate if necessary.

Place chilled dough on a lightly floured pastry marble or board (I just used my counter cause I don't have marble and my board isn't big enough). With the lightly floured palms of your hands, push and pat it out into a rectangle about 14 x 8 inches. Spread butter as evenly as possible over the upper two thirds of the dough rectangle, leaving a 1/4-inch unbuttered border all around. Dough is now to be folded into three layers, just as though you were folding a business letter. Fold the bottom (unbuttered) third up to the middle. Fold the top (buttered) third down to cover it, making three even layers of dough separated by two layers of butter. This is called "turn number 1."



For "turn number 2," lightly flour the top of the dough and your rolling surface, turn the dough so the edge of the top flap is to your right, as though it were a book you were going to open. Roll the dough into a rectangle about 14 x 6 inches. Roll rapidly, starting an inch from the near end and going within an inch of the far end. Fold again in three. You now have seven layers of dough separated by six layers of butter.

Sprinkle dough lightly with flour, wrap in waxed paper or plastic, place in a plastic bag and put in fridge. Dough must now ret for 1 to 1 1/2 hours to deactivate the gluten so that you can make the two final rolls without difficulty.

Part 5.

After the rest in the fridge, unwrap the dough, sprinkle lightly with flour and deflate by tapping lightly several times with rolling pin. Cover and let rest for eight to 10 minutes, again to relax the gluten. Being sure that the top and bottom of the dough is always floured, start rolling dough into a rectangle of 14 x 6 inches. Fold the rectangle in three, roll again into a rectangle and fold in three to complete the final turn. Wrap and chill for two hours before forming dough into croissants, or leave overnight covered with a board and a five-pound weight.



Part 6.

After resting for two hours, the dough is now ready to be rolled out into crescent shapes. You can either use a rolling cutter or cut by knife. (I used a knife.) To make everything easier for yourself, refrigerate all the pieces of dough you are not currently working on.

Unwrap chilled dough, place on a lightly floured surface, and deflate by tapping several times gently with rolling pin. Cover with plastic and let rest 10 minutes to relax gluten.

Roll dough into a rectangle 20 x 5 inches; cut in half crosswise and chill the first half.

Roll your one half of the dough into a rectangle 15 x 5 inches; cut into three crosswise and chill two of the three pieces.

Roll the one piece of dough into a 5 1/2 inch square and cut into two triangles.

Holding one of the triangles of dough by its large end, roll it out towards the point to make the triangle about seven inches long. Then, to extend the large end slightly, stretch the two top angles of the triangle lightly between your thumbs and forefingers, enlarging the end about an inch in all. Start rolling up the croissant first by folding the large end forwards onto itself. Then, holding the point with the fingers of your left hand, finish the roll under the fingers and palm of your right hand. Bend the two ends down to form a crescent shape and place on a lightly buttered baking sheet, with the point resting inside curve and against the surface of the baking sheet.

Repeat for the rest of your dough that is in the fridge and remember to keep the pieces of dough that you are not working on in the fridge.

part 7.

Ingredients:

- pastry brush
- 1 egg beaten with 1 tsp water in small bowl


Cover the croissants loosely with a large sheet of plastic at room temperature for their final pre-baking rise for about an hour. Dough should almost double in size and feel light and springy when touched. If it doesn't rise, the baked croissants will be heavy.

*At this point, you can freeze the croissants over night if you wish to bake them the next day.

Preheat oven at 475 F.

Just before baking, paint the croissants with egg glaze then set in middle level of preheated oven for 12-15 minutes, until croissants are nicely puffed and brown. Cool on a rack for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Bon appétit!

Watch Julia baker croissants:

Part 1:




 Part 2:



Part 3:






Thursday, August 15, 2013

September 6, 1929

Margot-

Sometimes I don't know what I'm doing with my life. Every morning I wake up and I don't want to get out of bed, I don't want to go to work. Hoffman promised me that I would soon be taking photographs but all I've been doing for the past couple months is stand behind the register, smile politely, nod and say thank you.

I swear sometimes these NSDAP guys want me to bow down to them after I hand them their receipt. They stand there with their perfectly combed, slicked back hair which has so much paste in it that they look as if their heads could be the perfect home for a spider, waiting for her prey to land.

Unfortunately they have to wait for their turn to have their picture taken out front near me, and I have to pretend to find them the most fascinating men since Oscar Wilde. As if some middle-aged fuddy duddy with mommy issues, a paunch that dangles over pants which belong on a 15-year-old boy, who doesn't even know his Duke Ellington from his Paul Whiteman would stand a chance next to Oscar.

All they want to know is whether I have a boyfriend, if I prefer to cook or bake (trick question: I'm supposed to be an artiste at both) and whether I'm a good German.

Sometimes I just wish I could tell them that Germany could go to Hell, what has this boring, uptight country ever done for me? But I see it in their eyes. They all have that same look: like a wild dog just itching to jump on some unsuspecting creature. I suspect they would take a lot of pleasure in watching their victim squirm and squeal.

Margot, how I envy you and your family in Paris. Coco Chanel, Ernest Hemingway, Scott and Zelda, Josephine Baker! You have no idea how lucky you are and how much I wish I could come visit you.
All Munich has these days is Otto Gebühr and he's starting to look like those NSDAP louts.

I'm trying to keep my spirits up but it's hard. I wish I could just run away. Maybe I'll save my money to buy a train ticket and come see you. Would you like that?

I hope you're doing well. Oh, and please send me some of your Paris fashion magazines!

Yours always,

Eva


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Letters From Germany

I've been reading a lot lately, it being summer and all, mostly biographies and fiction about strong women ("Cleopatra: A Life" by Stacy Schiff is a must-read) but the two books that have stood out for me this year is Kate Atkinson's "Life After Life" and Anton Piatigorsky's "The Iron Bridge."

"Life After Life" is about a woman/girl who keeps dying and is born over and over again. Part of the story arc takes place in Berlin, where the protagonist befriends Eva Braun, Adolf Hitler's lover and, for 40 hours, his wife.

"The Iron Bridge" is composed of short stories which capture a moment in time of the childhoods of dictators, including Hitler's.

The theme of "good vs. evil"has been on my mind a lot lately. It may have to do with the fact that I'm re-watching "The Lord of the Rings" which presents "good" and "bad" people in a very limited black and white scope.

Can a person really be completely evil? History has portrayed people like Hitler, Paul Bernardo, Osama Bin Laden and Josef Stalin to be thus. And of course, one can't forget the fictional world where there are many red-eyed Sauron clones hiding in their towers and sending out their dirty, sneering minions to kill their white knight, the hobbits and elves and Aragorns of the world.

I'm more interested in the shades of grey of a person. I don't believe a person is wholly evil, whatever that term means. Even Hitler was a child who was unsullied by the world. So what happened to that person? How was he corrupted? Can we see more than the man who killed millions of Jews, homosexuals and gypsies in concentration camps? Can we also see him as the man who loved to paint, who cherished his dogs and who was loved by Eva Braun? How do you reconcile the very different sides to him? Should you?

There have been many books, historical and fictional, dedicated to Adolf Hitler. While I find them fascinating, I am more interested in the woman's point of view, in this case Eva Braun's.

I've decided to write short fiction stories as a series of letters written by Eva which will depict her relationship with Hitler through her eyes. While I am definitely not an expert in her or Hitler's life, or even in the politics that was going on before and during the Second World War, I will try my best to keep the stories historically accurate, although I'm sure I will get a lot of information and nuances wrong or I may just make stuff up. That's why it's fiction, not a history book.

First letter coming soon.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Dulce de leche cheesecake squares





A few weeks ago, my dear friend Michelle celebrated her birthday and when she asked me to bake a dessert for her celebration, I knew exactly what I had to make.

My dad used to treat my sister and me to dulce de leche when we were children because it was very popular where he was from (Argentina.) So when I found a recipe for dulce de leche cheesecake squares on the mother of all cooking blogs, Smitten Kitchen, I had to try it right away.



For those of you who have never had it, dulce de leche is basically caramelized, sweetened milk and has a gooey texture which is perfect for spreading it on basically anything like toast, scones, muffins, wherever you want it. Think of it as a sweeter caramel.

I first made them for a wedding shower I threw for my cousin and his then-fiance (now wife) last year and the whole family gobbled them up. (Which isn't surprising since my family is obsessed with food.)

I've made them several times since and every time I state again that it's probably one of the best desserts ever invented.


The only problem is, it's hard to find dulce de leche in my neighbourhood. Out of the four grocery stores near me, only one, a Metro, carries it. And when I popped by there to pick up a can for this new batch, they were out of my favourite brand and only carried Eagle brand, which to my dismay didn't taste as good as I had hoped. 

So I am now on a mission to find better dulce de leche in Toronto.


Dulce de leche cheesecake squares (Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Makes 64 (1-inch) cheesecake squares

Crust


- 1 cup graham crackers, crumbled

- 2 tablespoons sugar

- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Filling


- 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin 
- 1/4 cup whole milk

- 8 ounces (225 grams) cream cheese, softened

- 2 large eggs

- 3/8 teaspoon salt
- 
1 cup dulce de leche 

Glaze


- 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), coarsely chopped
- 
1/2 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces

- 2 teaspoons light corn syrup


Make crust: 

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325°F. Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with 2 sheets of foil (crisscrossed), leaving a 2-inch overhang on all sides.
Finely grind crackers with sugar and a pinch of salt in a food processor. With motor running, add butter, blending until combined. Press mixture evenly onto bottom of baking pan. Bake 10 minutes, then cool in pan on a rack 5 minutes.

Make filling: 

Sprinkle gelatin over milk in a small bowl and let stand 2 minutes to soften. Beat together cream cheese, eggs, salt, and gelatin mixture in a bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until well combined, about 2 minutes, then stir in dulce de leche gently but thoroughly. Pour filling over crust, smoothing top, then bake in a hot water bath in oven until center is just set, about 45 minutes. Cool cheesecake completely in pan on rack, about 2 hours. Chill, covered, at least 6 hours.

Glaze cake within 2 hours of serving: Heat all glaze ingredients in a double boiler or a small metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth, then pour over cheesecake, tilting baking pan to coat top evenly. Chill, uncovered, 30 minutes.

Lift cheesecake from pan using foil overhang and cut into 1-inch squares with a thin knife, wiping off knife after each cut.




Saturday, July 6, 2013

Better than restaurant creme brulee





I got my boyfriend a kitchen torch for his birthday because he mentioned he wanted to make creme brulee, a dessert we devoured almost nightly when we went to Paris last fall. Mostly I think he just wanted an excuse to torch shit. (It was my favourite part of making it.)



The first time we made it I was blown away by how delicious it was (I also couldn't believe that my boyfriend, the self-described worst baker ever, made a French staple that was better than what's made in many restaurants.)

The only tiny critique we both had was that the sugar top wasn't hard or thick enough. So we decided to try it again, natch.



This time we experimented and used dark brown sugar for one top and white granular sugar for the second top to see if there was a difference in taste and texture. I came out loving the white sugar while Mike had a thing for the brown sugar, which was perfect because I didn't want to share!



I've loved creme brulee ever since I first went to Paris when I was 21 where I not only discovered an ever-lasting love with fashion (and designer bags) but also French cuisine. Whenever I try a new restaurant, I always ask for creme brulee for dessert if they have it on the menu which has resulted in some truly horrible creme brulees and some mind-blowing creme brulees. (Le Papillion on Front has an excellent version.)



Creme Brulee

- 4 cups heavy cream
- 1 vanilla bean split and scraped
- 1 pinch of salt
- 8 egg yolks
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tsp granulated sugar
- 16 tsp sugar for glazing (can be white or brown)

Serves eight.



Preheat oven to 300 degrees Farenheit. In a medium saucepan, scald cream with vanilla bean and stalk until surface begins to shimmer. Remove stalk and discard.

In a large heatproof bowl, whip egg yolks to combine (don't overwhip!) with granulated sugar and salt. Temper the egg mixture with hot milk, stirring gently. Strain custard mix into large measuring cup. Skim off any bubbles.



Arrange eight shallow 4 1/2 inch ramekins in a roasting pan. Slowly pour custard evenly in ramekins filling them almost to the top. Set in centre of oven rack. Pour enough boiling water into pan to reach half way up to the ramekins. Loosely cover the pan with tin foil and bake for one hour or until the edges of the custards are firm and the middle still jiggles a little in the centre.

Transfer ramekins to a wire rack to cool completely. Cover and refrigerate until cold, at least three hours or up to two days.

Set custards on rack and sprinkle sugar evenly over top until there's a nice, thick layer. Torch the sugar evenly, starting from the outside in a circle and work your way in until the sugar has caramelized. Let cool slightly and serve immediately.