Archives for category: dessert

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This winter has been rough on me, and I’m sure it’s been tough for a lot of you too.  I check the weather on my phone and see no hope for days.  Temperatures lingering well below freezing seem to be the norm now.  Of course, there are snippets of beauty amongst this snow and ice.  Scenes that would rival any tropical paradise in their splendor.

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On the positive side, I do love me some winter fashion.  I love chunky knits, boots, pom-pom hats, and huge scarves wrapped around a thousand times. I’ve gotten to wear crimson and berry-toned lip colors, which look out-of-place in the warmer months.  I have also been loving  goth-inspired nail polishes – very moody and a far cry from the fuchsias and tangerine reds I wear in the summer.

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There have also been cozy times I get to share with my husband.  Him and I exploring the city and finding a new café.  I will get a latte and he will get a hot chocolate because he has an abhorrence that stems from childhood towards coffee.  We’ll share a cookie or a croissant or both and discuss things in the world that we don’t understand or can’t wrap our heads around, future vacations we want to take, or whatever may come up.

We’ll also laze around at home more often on the weekends.  In the summer I like to be out and about.  This winter I’m enjoying staying in more. Usually I’m the type of person who gets in a very bad mood if we don’t have weekend plans.  But this winter I’ve been happy to stay-in on a Friday night and cook a nice dinner for just the two of us.  Of course friends are always welcome, but rather than going out, sometimes it’s nice to stay snug and comfortable at home.  When Sunday morning comes around I’m also skipping the usual restaurant brunches and opting for an omelet or pancakes or French toast at home.  I’m not big on sweets for breakfast, but sometimes a nice french toast satisfies like nothing else.

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When making French toast I don’t really measure anything out.  It’s an effortless dish that will come together if you have the basic ingredients.  That’s why I love making it.  I paired it here with ruby-toned fruits: blood oranges, pomegranates, and raspberries.  And I always use cinnamon and vanilla in my french toast.  You can add other spices like cardamom or ground cloves.  But the combination of cinnamon and vanilla is my favorite and will make your whole kitchen smell very welcoming.

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Cinnamon and Vanilla French Toast with Ruby Colored Fruits

I am providing a loose recipe here, because I really feel French toast is foolproof unless you burn it in the pan. 😉

Ingredients

oil or butter for frying

bread of your choice, sliced a little thicker than usual and day old is best.  I usually have whole wheat or sunflower toast, but brioche and challah are optimal.

eggs, use 1 egg for every 3 slices of toast

milk of your choice, use about 1 cup for every 3 slices of toast

sugar, to taste – I like to use raw sugar or sugar with larger crystals so that it caramelizes nicely on the toast.

vanilla extract or a vanilla bean scraped, start with 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon for 3 slices of toast, you can  adjust the amount according to your taste

a pinch of sea salt

an array of fruits or your choice, I used blood oranges, pomegranates, and raspberries. (fruit combination inspired by @thedelicious on instagram)

chopped nuts, for serving (optional)

to serve: whipped cream or sour cream or crème fraîche or yogurt, orange zest, cinnamon, and pure maple syrup

Method

Beat eggs with milk, add in sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, and a pinch of salt in a wide rectangular dish.  Soak the bread until the egg custard is absorbed on each side.

Heat a large frying pan with oil or butter on medium heat.  Add the soaked toast pieces in the pan.  Cook for about 2-3 minutes per side or until golden.  Top with the blood oranges, pomegranates, raspberries, nuts, and other topping of your choice.

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Labor day weekend has just passed and I didn’t want to go back to work!  I’m sure this is a dilemma many of you are had.  I had a four-day weekend to just chill, enjoy, and of course eat yummy food.  Autumn is approaching and as much as I love it, summer is just summer.  Lots of long weekends, beautiful weather, and beautiful food.

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I’ve been cooking lots this summer, not as many desserts or baking as much as I wanted to, but that’s ok – fall is for baking cozy and comforting desserts.  Plus, technically summer isn’t even over yet!  That is why I wanted to share this Lime Curd Tart with Mangoes with all of you.  It oozes summer and bright flavors.

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I’ve always been inspired by beautifully arranged fruit tarts.  Mine always look a little homemade and don’t have that professional touch, but that’s okay!  We will leave the immaculate and perfect tarts for the pros.  I’ve made citrus curd tarts many times, but I never put so much effort and precision into arranging the fruit as I did for this one. I wanted it to look like a blossom.  Let me tell you, it was tedious work, the fifteen minutes or so I took arranging the mangoes (never mind the thinly slicing part) seemed to take forever.  But when it was done my blossom bloomed to the best of my ability.

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My in-laws came over that night after a delicious Thai meal.  I was glad they did because it would be me and a fork tackling this dessert if they hadn’t come over.  I was happy when people asked for seconds.  I think they also enjoyed this tart because it was cooling and refreshing after our spicy Thai meal.

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Take that extra effort and add a few edible flowers on top as well and this tart will bring a smile to people’s faces and on the plus side it feels so light that they will ask for seconds and maybe even thirds!

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Lime Curd Tart with Mangoes

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

1 recipe of this lime curd ( you can you key limes or regular limes and also chill it for several hours)

5-6 mangoes, sliced thinly*

1 graham cracker crust (I used my cheesecake recipe crust, but substituted graham crackers here instead of amaretti cookies and baked it for 20 minutes)

1 1/2 cup heavy cream whipped in a mixer with 1/4 cup sugar and the seeds of one vanilla bean

edible flowers, for garnish, optional

lime zest, for garnish, optional

Assembly

Allow the graham cracker crust to cool for 1 hour after it has baked and leave it in the spring-form pan.  Once cooled, spread the chilled lime curd over the crust in an even layer.  After that, use a spatula to spread the whipped cream over the lime curd in an even layer.  Top with the mango slices starting row by row from the outside of the tart, slightly overlapping each layer, as to form a blossom.  Complete each layer row by row until you reach the center.  In the center you can make a mango rosette, if you would like.  If you do not care to be finicky arrange the mangoes however you like.   Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.

When serving, top with lime zest and edible flowers.  Serve chilled.

*The slicing of the mangoes is a little tricky.  Cut the mango along the seed lengthwise on all sides.  Then take those mango slices and lay them flat on a cutting board and slice thinly.  The slices should resemble long half-moons.

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I realized I don’t bake very much anymore.  I don’t know how this happened.  Several nights a week after dinner I scour through my cookbooks and online to find something to bake.  I always feel like eating something sweet after dinner and trying to satisfy my sweet tooth with fruit is essentially fruitless (hehe).  But after dinner I want quick satisfaction, so I head over to the cupboard and snack on a few chocolate chips.

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I want to bake marvelous cakes and pastries.  I could look at baking recipes for hours, but when it comes down to the actual execution I’m always hesitant.  I think it has something to do with me the fact that me baking always yields a tornado-like scene in my kitchen.  I have enough counter space and yet without fail I manage to make a huge mess to cleanup and that leaves me feeling bitter.  But of course if my baking project comes out as planned, I guess the tornado-scene is just the collateral damage to an otherwise successful (and delicious!) feat.

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Back to my laziness, these vermicelli squares are a godsend for the ultimate lazy sweet satisfaction seeker like myself.  It’s an easy recipe with just a handful of ingredients and not too many bowls and most importantly — no flour dust storms in the kitchen.  It also looks like you spent hours making it, when in actuality these squares require no effort at all.  My sister-in-law makes these and I never saw them before she made them one day.  At first I thought they were some sort of baklava, but they’re just Pakistani vermicelli with sweetened condensed milk, cardamom, butter, and nuts.  When she told me the recipe, I was shocked that it wasn’t something more complicated.  Either way, it’s a win-win situation and those post-dinner sweet cravings will be thoroughly satisfied with these sticky and sweet squares.

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Sweet and Sticky Vermicelli Squares (or Diamonds!)

Makes an 8″x 8″ pan

Ingredients

4 tablespoons butter (unsalted or salted, doesn’t matter)

1 packet (about 200 grams) of Pakistani or Indian Vermicelli (found in Pakistani or Indian grocery stores)

1 (scant 2 cups) can of sweetened condensed milk

1 cup milk

2 cardamom pods, seeds removed and crushed slightly in a mortar and pestle

pinch of salt

1/2 cup crushed almonds and pistachios, you can add more or less

Method

Grease an 8″ x 8″ baking dish and line it with parchment paper.

Heat a large pot on medium heat and add the butter and allow it to almost get to the brown stage (about 2-3 minutes).  Watch the butter closely because you don’t want it to burn.  Add in the cardamom seeds.  Next, tear the vermicelli into the butter and cardamom and allow the vermicelli to toast a little.  Keep stirring until the vermicelli begins to soften.  Add in a 1 cup of milk and let the milk evaporate, stirring constantly.  Pour in the sweetened condensed milk and lower the heat to medium low.  Mix in the sweetened condensed mik, until combined and keep stirring occasionally until the vermicelli is soft, but still has a little bit of a bite to it, about 20-30 minutes.  Allow the vermicelli to cool for 5 minutes.

Next, transfer the vermicelli to the 8″ x 8″ baking dish and press it down with a spoon, so that it is evenly pressed into the baking dish.  Press in the nuts over the vermicelli and leave it at room temperature for an hour or two.  Put out the parchment paper and cut the vermicelli into squares or diamonds.  Serve at room temperature.

I thought to myself that I better get this post up before cherries go totally out of season and I will look like an idiot putting this post up in the dead of winter when cherries are hard to come by.  So here I am doing you all a favor by not taunting you with a cherry post in December.  Jokes aside, I love cherries and anything cherry flavored, including those artificial candies with not a lick of real cherry in them.  I’m ashamed of this but, cherry “flavored” food  and me go back a long way.  I remember being a big lover of cherry blowpops, gummy bears, if there was a candy I had to eat it was always the red one.  To this day, I have a secret addiction to all things gummy.  My husband’s niece has a big sweet tooth and whenever I go over to her place, I ask her to share some gummy-type candy with me from her stash and she never disappoints!

I was supposed to entice you all with a cherry custard pie and here I am talking about cherry-flavored candies – some food blogger I am.  Let me sidetrack a little more and tell you all how I am always reluctant to eat fresh cherries.  You see, whenever I eat fresh cherries, the next day I wake up with a sore throat.  This also happens to my sister so I am definitely not making it up as my husband thinks I do.  But this summer I have seen so many cherries in the markets that I had to try and make something with them.  If I got a sore throat then I would be off real cherries forever.  (Never the artificially-flavored gummy candies, mind you.)

I eagerly made this cherry custard pie.  I love fruit pies and tarts.  The flaky crust with a little custard or cream and some ripe fruit is an amazing combination.  And perfect for a summer day.

This cherry custard pie was a success and I steered clear from any signs of a sore throat so this will be part of my repertoire from now on.

(PS – I have two more posts photographed, so hopefully you’ll be seeing more of me on this space! 🙂 )

Cherry Custard Pie with a Corn Meal Crust

Serves 8

for the crust:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup corn meal

1 teaspoon salt

tablespoon sugar

1 1/2 sticks of butter, chilled and cut into small cubes

2-4 tablespoons ice water

for the custard:

1 cup mascarpone cheese

2 eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

pinch of salt

10 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour.

1 cup pitted cherries

Method

To make the crust: In a food processor pulse together the flour, corn meal, salt, and sugar.  Next add in the chilled butter and pulse until combined.  Through the feed tube stream in the ice water tablespoon at a time until the dough just begins to come together.  Put the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead it until it just comes together and wrap it in plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour.  After it is chilled, roll-out the dough so that it fits into a 10-inch pie dish and then blind-bake the crust in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes.  If the dough expands and rises just use a spoon to press it down.

To make the custard:  In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the mascarpone, and eggs on medium speed for 2 minutes until fluffy.  Next add in the sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract, and the pinch of salt.  Beat together for another minute and add in the 2 tablespoons of flour.  Mix until just combined.  Take the bowl off the mixer and fold in the pitted cherries.

At this point preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Next, pour the custard mixture into the baked pie crust and place the pie pan on the cookie sheet.  Bake the pie for 45-55 minutes, or until the custard is set.  Serve at room temperature or chilled.

I often go through the dilemma as to whether I’m a city girl or a country girl.  I grew up in the country and always wanted to live in the city.  Now that I’m living in a city I love it.  I’m busy there’s way more to do and I think I see myself as someone who always needs to live near a big city.  But I do appreciate the beauty and peace the country has to offer.  Ultimately, I need to be close enough to a rural area that if I get the urge to unwind the option is there.

I had been urging my husband to go apple picking with me for years now.  I remember there was a farm very close to my house that I used to go to as a child.  We would all sit on the back of a large tractor and go off into the orchard picking apples and pumpkins and coming back to the farm to drink warm apple cider and munch on freshly baked pies.  Just thinking about it is making me all warm inside.  It was those simple things I enjoyed, I see some children now who would think such an outing would be lame.  In this day and age everything has changed and it makes me feel old.  Taking a drive 45 minutes out of the city brings back so many memories and sort of gives you a reality check.  We let go of our selfishness and just enjoy nature.

My husband eats up country living, he would have been content to stay in the country-ish city we were in before.  He says it’s because he grew up in the desert (the Middle East) so everything there was man-made and new.  No greenery, no trees, just sand and more sand.  We’ve come to the compromise that once we settle wherever we will end up permanently has to be within 45 minutes of the countryside.  I think I can handle that.  After all, I am a country girl at heart.

Back to the apple picking, I have with so many apples I don’t know what to do with them.  We got a little over zealous and picked way too many.  I started off by making this caramel apple cake.  Though it was delicious it only used up about 5 apples.  If I make about 10 more, I might be able to use up all the apples.  This cake is actually worth making 10 more times.  It’s easy and the apple flavor really shines through.  I added crushed nuts on top, which not only added extra flavor, but also made the cake look even prettier.  It’s a rustic cake, it sort of reminds me of a clafoutis – very light and airy.  Give it a go and make it with apples you’ve picked yourself.

Salted Caramel Apple Cake

*The consistency of reminds me of Dorie Greenspan’s Apple Cake.

Ingredients

1 cup Salted Caramel*

3 cups chopped apples, preferably baking apples, I used Spartan and Cortland

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

squeeze of lemon juice

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

2 eggs

2 tablespoons sour cream or yogurt

1/2 cup milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

crushed nuts (any that you like – pistachios, almonds, walnuts, pecans), for garnish

confectioners’ sugar, for garnish

Method

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and butter and flour the bottom of a 9 inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, set aside.

Mix together chopped apples, cinnamon, and lemon in a bowl.  Next, combine with the caramel and set aside.

In a bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment on, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed for 3-4 minutes or until light an airy.  At this point, add in the eggs, one at a time and beat until combined.  Add in the sour cream, milk, and vanilla.

Next, with the mixer on low-speed, slowly incorporate the flour mixture into the batter and beat until just combined.

Lay the apple and caramel mixture on the bottom of the springform pan and then lay the batter on top of the apples.  Spread the batter evenly on top.  Place the springform pan on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven for 40-50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  When done, remove the cake from the oven and let it sit at for 30 minutes before removing the springform pan.  Invert the cake on the serving dish so that the apples are on top and then garnish with the chopped nuts and confectioners’ sugar.

*for the caramel I use this recipe and replaced the kosher salt with fleur de sel.


I’m trying to get my groove back in the kitchen.  Once you’ve lived in one place for a few years, you have your own routine however mundane it is.  You know where you like to buy your tomatoes from, where the best bread is, and that Reinick Farms has the most delicious eggs.  Now that I’m in a big city, I have a lot more to choose from.  Despite this advantage, I’m stumped as to where to get my groceries, which farmers’ markets are the best…I’m giving them all a trial run.  I will soon learn which places fit me.

It’s funny how these things enter some peoples’ minds.  I’m picky about these matters, going into X supermarket isn’t going to cut it for me.  It does make things a little more difficult, but way more fun.  Who doesn’t like to explore a city looking around for the best food it has to offer?  So I’m enjoying myself right now-getting a feel for the city until I find a job.

I picked up strawberries at a farmers’ market.  A fresh strawberry is a thing of beauty.  They bring back many childhood memories for me.  I remember sitting in our garden where wild strawberries would grow, basking in the sun and feasting away on those tiny gems.  Finding local strawberries always excites me, the taste is completely different and on top of the great taste, the little green stems are ever so cute.

I decided to make strawberry crumble bars inspired by a grocery store near my parents’ house in Rhode Island.  Layered bars are a favorite of mine- the different layers, textures, and crunch are quite appealing to me.  These bars are so very delicious, especially with that heavenly dollop of melting whipped cream on top.

Strawberry Vanilla Bean Crumble Bars

Makes 9 large bars

Ingredients

for the crust: (adapted from Ina Garten’s lemon bar crust)

1 cup flour

1/4 cup  cold unsalted butter

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 vanilla bean, scraped

pinch of salt

for the strawberries:

1 1/2 pints strawberries, hulled and quartered

sugar, to taste (about 1/4 cup)

1/4 cup crème fraîche

1/2 vanilla bean, scraped

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

for the crumble topping:

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup oats (not instant)

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

4 tablespoons butter

pinch of salt

Method

Prepare the crust by combining the brown sugar and flour in an electric mixer on low-speed for a minute.  You should use the paddle attachment.  This can also be done in a bowl if the don’t have an electric mixer.  Add in the seeds from the scraped vanilla bean and then the flour and mix until just combined.  Press the dough into an 8″ by 8″ baking dish and chill for at least one hour.  After it has chilled, bake it in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes, or until it just starts to turn light brown.

While the crust is chilling, prepare the strawberries by heating them in a saucepan over medium heat with the sugar and remaining vanilla bean seeds.  Add in the vanilla extract and allow the strawberries to wilt slightly.  Cook for 5-7 minutes.  Let the strawberries to cool and once cool mix in the crème fraîche.  Set aside in refrigerator until assembly.

Before the final assembly; mix the flour, oats, brown sugar, salt, and walnuts together.  Using your fingers knead in the butter until the mixture is a crumbly texture.  Set aside.

Before baking the crumble bars preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Next, Take the prebaked crust and layer the strawberries on top, followed by the crumble topping.  Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes or until the crust turns golden.  Allow the bars to cool for 15 minutes.  Serve warm with whipped cream.  They’re also good at room temperature or chilled.

As I mentioned in my last post, we were at my parents’ house in Rhode Island enjoying the New England summer.  During our time there we also celebrated my husband’s “real”  birthday.  I call it his real birthday because on his birth certificate his birthday is listed a week later.  According to his mother, his birth wasn’t registered until a week later (he was born at home in Pakistan).  By the time it was registered they couldn’t use the actual birthday.  Long story.

He gets annoyed at me calling official birthday his “fake” one.  I don’t really see why he’s complaining, this year he got four birthday celebrations and I finally made him rack of lamb on his “fake” birthday after five years of him nagging me to make him some (post coming soon). We had a small party for him with some of my parents’ friends and made a nice spread of some of his favorite foods, excluding the rack of lamb, which was to come a week later.

I ordered him a Passion fruit and Coconut cake from our favorite bakery in Rhode Island, Pastiche.  Ordering a cake from Pastiche and then making your own dessert on the side is a self-inflicted set up for failure.  If any of you know about Pastiche, their cakes, tarts, and all their desserts are gorgeous and the taste cannot be beat.

Regardless of the odds racked up against my dessert, I proceeded to make something pink, tied with a ribbon and bow for my husband’s birthday.  I think he’s confident enough in his masculinity to have such a frilly cake on his birthday. Last year, I made him a cheesecake inspired by Pastiche’s vanilla bean cheesecake and it was slightly on the girly side too.

When the desserts were served, people obviously adored the Pastiche cake, but they also loved my homemade dessert as well.  I was pleased to hear people saying it looked so professional.  I totally faked it and this dessert looks way more difficult to make than it actually is.  Ladyfingers filled with whipped mascarpone and topped with berries looks like you went all out, but it really was not all that hard.  Do try it, it’s a lovely summer dessert that feels light when it really is not.  A complete fake out!

Raspberry and Whipped Mascarpone Cream Charlotte

inspired and adapted heavily from Sarabeth’s Bakery: From My Hands to Yours (Rasberry and Cream Charlotte) This one uses a custard, which I did not make.

serves 8-10

Ingredients

28-30 ladyfinger cookies, available in Italian shops or bakeries (or make your own)

2-3 pints fresh raspberries

juice and zest of 2 limes

16 ounces mascarpone cheese, softened

1 pint heavy cream or whipping cream

up to 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons superfine sugar

2 teapoons pure vanilla extract

confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Method

First prepare the mascarpone cream.  In a blender, purée the raspberries with the lime juice and 2 tablespoons of superfine sugar.  Once puréed, strain the seeds out through a wire wesh strainer and set aside.

In a large bowl using a whisk or electric mixer whip the cream with 1/4 cup  superfine sugar and vanilla extract until it forms whipped cream, it should be fluffy and light. Refrigerate until ready to assemble the charlotte.

Next, with a rubber spatula, fold in the softened mascarpone cheese.  Make sure you are gentle as to not deflate the whipped cream.  Once combined, fold in the raspberry purée gently and toss in the lime zest.  Taste the mascarpone cream and add additional sugar, if necessary.

The somewhat tricky part is next.  Take a 9 inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.  Line the ladyfingers up around the perimeter of your pan, to see how many you need to line the outside of the pan, I needed 24.  Next, using a sharp serated knife, cut each ladyfinger to 3 inches in length.  Reserve the end pieces as support for the ladyfingers.

Once all the ladyfiners are cut, line them up so the rounded edge is on top and the sugared side is facing out.  Take the little pieces that you cut off from the lady fingers and prop them against the bottom of the ladyfingers all the way around the inside of the pan, as to provide support.  With the remaining whole ladyfingers, lay them on the bottom of the pan so the bottom area is fully covered.*

Next, fill the cream in the pan and smooth over the top.  Arrange the remaining pint or 2 of raspberries depending on how “full” you want the fruit portion to be, in any pattern you wish.  But make sure the bottoms of the raspberries are pointed upwards for a more polished look.  You may garnish with any other berries you like.   Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.  Remove the springform portion of the pan carefully and tie the ladyfingers with a ribbon for aesthetic reasons as well as for support.   When serving, dust with confectioners’ sugar for garnish.

*Feel free to email me with any questions regarding the set-up of the lady fingers.

I haven’t baked in ages.  I can also say it’s been a long time since I’ve cooked anything special.  As I mentioned before, we’re moving, things are starting to be packed up and the kitchen is about to be boxed up.  I want to post more frequently on my blog. After all, I squealed and acted like an annoying brat until I got my new dSLR back in November for my birthday.  I haven’t used it as much as I would have liked.  Hopefully, with the warmer weather coming up, I will spend more time with the camera.  I’m looking forward to the summer months where produce will be abundant and I will have forgotten how long this year’s winter was.  In all honesty, it’s still winter here.  It’s only a few degrees above freezing today, not exactly what you expect on April 18th!

Where are the tulips and daffodils?  My husband and I drove back from Toronto to Kingston last Friday, all the trees were barren-gray and more gray.  The buds were not even visible yet.  Is it December or April?  To make myself feel better, I baked.  Baking is a therapeutic process for me.  My usual neat freak self takes a little break and I make a mess in the kitchen (only with baking).  I did my thing, and in the process took pictures.  I felt like I was back into the swing of things.

The cake tastes bright and fresh.  It’s all lemony and cheery.  I wanted it to be a swirl cake, but I learned that brown sugar just blends in.  No swirls.  That’s alright though, it tasted good.  Super moist and not too sweet.  Perfect with a cup of tea or coffee, but the child in me loves milk with cake.  I also made a lemon zest sugar that I incorporated into the cake with cream cheese. It was divine.  I had to stop myself from eating it as is.  In the process, I also learned it could work as a great skin scrub (before the addition of cream cheese), food and beauty all in one. Yay.

In these 2 weeks before we move out, I hope I’ll manage to do some more cooking and photographing.  Until then, this cake serves as a good start.

Lemon Brown Sugar Cake

Makes 1 loaf

Ingredients

1/2 cup sugar+ 2 tablespoons

1/2 cup brown sugar

zest of 2 lemons

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

4 tablespoons butter, softened

1/4 cup canola oil

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1/4 cup greek yogurt

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/2 cup cake and pastry flour, sifted

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

Method

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Grease a 9″ by 5″ by 3″ loaf pan and line it with parchment paper.

In a food processor, add the lemon zest, 1/4 cup of brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons of the regular sugar and pulse until combined.  Once combined, add in the cream cheese and vanilla extract and run the food processor until the mixture is smooth, set aside.

Using a stand mixer or hand mixer (and bowl) cream together the butter, oil, and sugar and 1/4 cup of  the brown sugar, until light and fluffy.  Next, beat in the eggs until combined, and then, add in the greek yogurt.  Beat for a minute and then pour in the lemon juice and the remaining 1 teaspoon of  vanilla extract.

Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder in another bowl and gradually beat it into the egg and butter mixture.  Once the flour is incorporated, swirl in tablespoonfuls of the cream cheese, lemon zest mixture into the batter.  Once the cream cheese mixture is incorporated pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 1 hour.  Once cooked, allow to cool for 30 minutes and serve with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar.

Any weekend my husband and I are free, I always suggest we head over to Montreal because it’s only a two and a half hour drive from us. This is funny because I went to McGill University for my Master’s and while I was studying there I wasn’t much of a fan of the city.  I guess you can say it was another point in my life-life as a student with deadlines and endlessly writing papers and stressing out about my thesis.  My friends and I would stick together in a corner of the Institute of Islamic Studies library typing frantically away about political and religious movements in British India.

We rarely ate out at “nice” places.  We stuck to student joints and areas in and around our student ghetto.  I wish we had done some further exploring.  Montreal is a gem of a city and the food is no less than spectacular.  I’m glad we were smart enough to try many of Montreal’s ethnic selections-Pakistani, Lebanese, Syrian, Turkish, Greek, Persian, Thai.

Some of the best Pakistani food is found in Montreal’s Parc Extension. The places are not exactly what we can call glamorous, but the food is superb. Whenever my parents would visit, my dad was eager to only eat Pakistani food–Lahori charga (steamed then fried chicken with spices), spicy fried fish, sarson ka saag (mustard greens/broccoli rabe), nihari (spicy slow-cooked beef stew), haleem (beef and lentil stew)…My mom and I would roll our eyes, as delicious as the Pakistani food was, we wanted “bistro” food.  Usually, we would just appease my dad because we are more easygoing when it comes to food. *hehe*

Now, when my husband and I make our weekend trips, we don’t know where to start.  It’s pure overload.  L’express or Lemeac…Alep or Daou, Le Local or Toque´, Au Cinquième Péché…Croissants, Poutine, Duck Confit, Montreal Smoked Meat, St. Viateur Bagels, Marche´ Jean Talon, Atwater market, chocolate, baguettes, and brioche.  See, it’s overload.  I could go on and on about Montreal’s food scene.  I don’t think I need to mention that Montreal is my favorite place in Canada.

Despite everything we’ve tried, we never made it to Au Pied de Cochon. After all, it is a Montreal landmark.  Anthony Bourdain loves it and even featured it on “No Reservations.”  I saw the episode where he took part in the APdC gluttony–tray after tray of foie gras and pork this and that.  We don’t eat pork, so that is why we never tried it out.  The menu is very pork heavy.  However, there are options for people who don’t eat pork.  We figured we had to try it once.

We indulged in foie gras and black truffle terrine, magret of duck, and instead of pork gluttony, we engaged in duck gluttony. Everything was good, but what was absolutely divine was the pouding chômeur. After a $50 slice of foie gras and black truffle terrine, we were wowed by the unassuming maple syrup, flour, and butter dessert.  You know something is good when my husband even utters that he might enjoy it as much as my vanilla bean cheesecake.  That is his dessert and to him nothing ever compares to it.  He absolutely loved the pouding chômeur, as did I.

If you are not a fan of maple syrup, don’t fret.  The maple syrup transforms into a nutty and delicious caramel, which soaks the cake. It’s spongey, warm, and gooey, the perfect winter dessert.  I never thought I would be saying this, but I am not heralding the coming of spring quite as much as I was before because I want to savour this dessert in the cold weather.  I wish I discovered it before.  Now, there are all the more reasons for us to visit Montreal.

Pouding Chômeur

makes 4-4 1/2″ ramekins (each ramekin will serve two, if you don’t mind sharing) or an 8″ by 8″ glass dish

recipe very slightly adapted from Gourmet Magazine

Ingredients

1 1/2 cup pure maple syrup, I use this one

1 1/4 cup heavy cream

2 teaspoons cider vinegar

pinch of kosher salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1/4 cup cane sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup cake flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

crème fraîche, for serving

confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Method

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and make sure the rack is at the placed at the upper third of the oven.

In a small saucepan on medium heat, bring the maple syrup, heavy cream, and the pinch of salt to the boil, stirring the mixture until it boils. Once it begins to boil turn the heat off and set it aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat together the sugar and butter until creamy. Gently beat in the egg and add in the vanilla extract.

In another bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Fold the flour into the egg/butter mixture until just combined. The dough will be of the consistency of crumbly biscuit dough.

If you are using ramekins, pour in about 1 inch of the maple syrup mixture into each ramekin and then press in 1/4 of the dough and top with the remaining maple syrup mixture.  If you are using 1 baking dish then pour 1/3 of the maple syrup mixture into the bottom of the dish and divide the dough into  6 balls and place them into the dish and top with the rest of the maple syrup mixture.

It will be all soupy and won’t look right.  Don’t worry, it will come together in the oven. Place in the oven and bake the ramekins for 20-22 minutes, or until just set.  If you are using the 8″ by 8″ dish bake for 25-30 minutes.  Serve warm with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar and a dollop of crème fraîche.

Other blogs/sites featuring Pouding Chômeur:

Let Her Bake Cake

Lottie and Doof

Feisty Chef

food 52

Everyone needs their share of chocolate-y goodness.  We all crave that pick me up that only chocolate can give us.  I’ve had a hacking cough for the past week.  When I say hacking, I feel like a barking dog or howling wolf as I try to clear the congestion in my throat.  The cold weather up here in Canada can be brutal.  Earlier this week it was -17 F, arctic tundra temperatures in my books.

Now, I am getting back to my normal routine after being sick and the first real thing I wanted to make is a chocolate tart of some sort.  Getting over a cold is something to celebrate, right?  And celebrate I did…with chocolate.  I dug into my “good” chocolate stash that I pick up every time I go back to the States because it is hard for me to find it in Kingston, and if I do it’s more expensive.  So, I am guilty of some cross-border chocolate smuggling.  If the Immigration Officer asks about food, I do say, chocolate and I usually get a smirk.  Let me tell you, I have seen some strange foodstuffs being examined at the Immigration-Customs area, but I don’t want any of you to lose your appetites.

This chocolate tart won’t make you lose your appetite, it is layered with a nutty caramel.  I used flaky puff pastry as a base.  I love the combination of chocolate, caramel, and nuts.  Therefore, I did some experimenting and came up with this recipe.  It is relatively easy, so if you are pressed for time, it might serve as a good option.  Translation: if you need chocolate within 1 hour, this will work for you.

I also wanted to mention that I am a finalist for the food52 contest, “Your Best Salad with Apples.”  I am extremely flattered and honored to be chosen as a finalist and recommend any of you who like to challenge yourself and meet a very supportive community to join.  It’s great fun to come up with a recipe suited to each week’s contest.  I made a “Shades of Green Chopped Salad.”  Feel free to check it out and check out the other finalist, whose salad looks fabulous.  Voting ends next week, so I will let you know if I win.  Either way, I’m thrilled to be a finalist.

Chocolate Caramel Triple Nut Tart

(I made something similar before, pictured here)

Serves 6

Ingredients

for the nutty caramel:

1 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon water

6 tablespoons butter, softened

1 tablespoon heavy cream

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup of chopped mixed nuts, I used almonds, pecans, and walnuts

pinch of kosher salt

for the chocolate:

6 ounces good-quality 70% dark chocolate, chopped

2 ounces good-quality semi-sweet chocolate chips

2 tablespoons butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 eggs, at room temperature

crust:

7 ounce piece of puff pastry, thawed in the refrigerator overnight, if frozen

garnish:

fleur de sel, I love it, my husband hates salt in his desserts, but I usually win.

extra chopped nuts, optional

whipped cream or ice cream, optional

Method

Make the caramel first by heating a small saucepan on medium heat.  Add in the brown sugar and water and mix with a rubber spatula.  Keep stirring the sugar until it starts to melt and, about 5 minutes.  Once melted, mix in the butter and allow it to form a caramel.  Make sure the sugar is dissolved.  Turn the heat up slightly and let the caramel bubble.  Be very careful as to not let the caramel splatter or burn you.  After about 2 minutes, turn down the heat to low and add in the heavy cream and vanilla extract.  Mix in the nuts and turn the heat off and sprinkle the caramel with a tiny pinch of salt.  Allow the caramel to cool while you melt the chocolate.

Over a double-boiler (use a heat-safe bowl) on medium heat, melt the chocolate (both kinds) together.  Once melted fold in the butter so that the chocolate becomes glossy.  Take the bowl off the heat and mix in the vanilla extract.  Beat the 2 eggs in another bowl and whisk in a little of the warm chocolate into the eggs so that they won’t scramble when you add them to the larger bowl of chocolate, i.e. temper the eggs.  Once you have tempered the eggs, fold them into the chocolate so that they are well mixed in.  Set aside.

Roll out the puff pastry so that it will fit a 9 inch tart pan with a removable bottom.  I rolled it about 1 inch bigger than the pan so I could create a sort of rustic, messy look for the crust.  If you prefer a neater look, that’s fine as well.

Once the puff pastry is properly in the tart pan, layer the nutty caramel on the bottom in an even layer.  Then smooth the chocolate over the caramel.  If you rolled out the puff pastry larger than the pan, then fold over the edges, sort of like a galette.  Brush the exposed pastry with some milk.  Put the tart in the fridge for 10-15 minutes so that it sets.

At this point, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

After 15 minutes, bake the tart in the oven for 30 minutes or until the puff pastry turns light golden brown.  When you remove the tart from the oven, let it sit for 15 minutes because the caramel will be a little gooey.  If you prefer it to be gooey, eat it straight from the oven!  Sprinkle a little fleur de sel over the top, if you wish.  Serve with any of the above mentioned garnishes, if desired.

*After baking, you can put the tart in the fridge for 15 minutes as well.