oh what a week it has been…

I don’t know where to begin.  This past week has been chalk full of activity!  The market, a bonfire, a trip to Antigonish, a cocktail party … and baking for all of it!

Let’s start at the very beginning (“a very good place to start” … name that tune!), last weekend’s lime explosion  at the Halifax Seaport Farmer’s Market with little red kitsch’n.

It was ridiculously DE-LIC-IOUS (and adorable, non?)

You saw my post on the lime-blueberry cheesecake cupcakes … this is what they looked liked when all was said and done.
These were the first goodies to go.

The lemon-lime cupcakes (filled with lemon-lime curd and topped with lime cream cheese frosting) were also super popular.  A little labour intensive (piping and filling on the spot) … but oh so wonderful.

Since the entire theme was based on that bon appétit magazine (“lime juice is the new salt”) – we swapped out Jenna’s usual lemon meringue tarts for some lime raspberry meringue tarts (the bon appétit recipe used blackberries – but since they aren’t in season, we used raspberries).

And then … the pièce de résistance … cranberry-lemon-lime-white chocolate mousse squares.

Intense?

Amazing?

Yes … and … yes.

Another bon appétit recipe (from their desserts cookbook), only, we played around with it to make it work for our purposes.

We wanted squares.

We wanted a graham cracker base.

We wanted to switch the layers around.

It was a S-U-C-C-E-S-S.

Tart and fresh.  Not too heavy (the white chocolate mousse was a nice surprise), the addition of chinese five spice to the cranberry compote was pretty spot-on, and my graham cracker base was epic (Jenna’s words, not mine).

Since this is a layer dessert, you’ll probably expect me to tell you it isn’t difficult, but it does take a little bit of time.  Don’t worry – you can basically make everything in one go, and then just assemble in stages … in the end, not overly labour or time intensive, and oh so worth it.  Seriously … I can’t wait to whip these up again!

cranberry-lemon-lime-white chocolate mousse squares

(based on bon appétit’s cranberry-lime tart)

ingredients:

graham cracker base

*this is completely unmeasured … I used two sleeves of graham crackers (the large ones) and pulsed them in a food processor.  I then melted (about) 1/2 cup of butter, and slowly poured it into the food processor and blended everything together.  You want the base to hold together when you pinch it together … but not get so saturated in butter that after you bake the base it would harden because of all the excess fat.

lemon-lime curd

zest of 1 lemon and 2 limes

1/2 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1 lemon & 2 limes)

1/2 c. sugar

6 tbsp butter, cut into pieces

2 eggs

2 egg yolks

cranberry topping

1/4 c. water

1 1/2 tsp cornstartch

2/3 c. sugar

3 tbsp honey

1 1/2 tsp chinese five-spice powder

1 12-ounce bag (3 cups) fresh or partially thawed frozen cranberries

white chocolate mousse

5 ounces white chocolate, chopped

1/2 c. + 2 tbsp sour cream

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Once you get all those ingredients together … it’s time to start baking!

base:

Preheat your oven to 325 F.  Line a square baking pan with parchment paper, spray with non-stick spray.

Press the graham cracker base into your prepared pan.

Trick of the day (thank you Jenna): in order to get an even base, press the graham cracker base with the base of a measuring cup … you’ll see that by pressing the base of the cup across the top of the crust you’ll get a pretty perfect graham cracker base.

Bake for about 12 – 17 minutes.  You want the crust to be firm.  Remove from heat and allow to cool on a wire rack in the pan.

lemon-lime curd:

In a medium saucepan over low heat, combine the lemon – lime juices, lemon – lime zest, sugar and butter.

In another bowl, whisk together the eggs and egg yolks.  When the butter has melted in the saucepan, whisk some of the warm liquid into the beaten eggs, whisking constantly while you pour (this prevents the eggs from curdling).  Once done, pour the egg mixture into the saucepan (that is still over low heat).  Cook, whisking constantly, the curd will start to thicken – don’t let it start to boil.  Remove from heat.

Place a strainer over a medium bowl.

Pour the curd into the strainer – this will remove any little bits, and make for a silky smooth curd.  Allow to cool slightly, then pour into the pre-baked graham cracker base.

Bake in the oven (again, at 325 F) until set – about 10 to 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely (stick it in the fridge, covered in plastic wrap to speed up the process).

white chocolate mousse:
Stir chocolate on top of a double boiler over simmering water until it’s melted and smooth.  Remove from the water and heat and whisk in the sour cream and vanilla.  Cool completely (speed up the process by putting it in the fridge – remember to cover it with plastic wrap).
cranberry topping:
In a medium saucepan (and off the heat), whisk the water and the cornstarch until blended.  Add the sugar, honey, and five-spice powder.
Stir over medium-high heat until the mixture comes to a boil.
Add cranberries, cook until the mixture boils and berries just begin to pop but still retain their shape, occasionally stirring gently, about 5 minutes.  Cool completely – don’t worry if you think this topping is too thin… it thickens in the fridge.  I decided to cool it overnight … it got nice and thick.
At this point you’re ready to pull the white chocolate mousse from the fridge and gently spread it over the baked and cooled graham cracker base and lemon-lime curd filling.
Before you start cutting – you need to allow this to cool and firm up.  Again, I allowed this to cool overnight in the fridge … bon appétit recommends freezing it for 15 minutes.  You could try that as well :0)
Once set, it’s time to lift it out of the baking pan and then trim the sides … there are two reasons for this: (1) it makes for perfect squares and (2) it allows YOU (the baker) to taste-test.  Nibble on one of those cast-off trim pieces …
Once the trim is removed, you should be able to cut out 16 pieces … if you have a nice little square cookie cutter you would get perfect pieces ;0)  Top with the cranberry topping and serve immediately.  If you aren’t serving right away, don’t top the squares, return them to the fridge and finish assembling them as needed … and if you don’t need the whole lot of them at once, freeze them, uncovered by the cranberry topping in an airtight container.

triple the ginger… triple the flavour

Carrots.  Ginger.  Oranges.  All things that go together so well.  So very very well.

I have to admit – orange is not my favourite flavour (it certainly isn’t the first citrus flavour I gravitate towards) - however, sometimes it just feels right.

This cake made it feel right.  And boy am I happy I decided to trust my instincts.

The original recipe comes from (big surprise) the hummingbird bakery: cake days.  And it was built with a specific person in mind:  my beautiful and lovely step-mother, Marielle. 

I am very fortunate.  Not only do I have wonderful and loving parents – both of whom are ridiculously awesome people in their own right; but I have also ended up with another incredible person in my life in the form of Marielle.

Last Saturday was her birthday – and so, we gathered to celebrate her.  It was a beautiful evening, filled with excellent company, good food and wine… and a knock your socks off birthday cake. 

Seriously… this cake was THE BOMB (my father claims it’s the best cake I’ve ever made… Marielle loved the flavour, the two Anne’s (my sister and my step-sister) both loved the punch of the ginger and the frosting)… it was an immediate success.

I’ve come to realize that I’m not a timid baker – I like things full of flavour and that pop a real punch.  I want things to taste exactly how I imagine them – if you’re going to add ginger to something – then don’t be afraid – use that ginger!  If you’re going to use orange – then use the zest and juice… don’t wimp out.  This cake is not about wimping out.

According to the hummingbird this cake is “a zingy variation on carrot cake”.  I think it’s my new favourite twist and a new classic for my family.

The recipe will either make a 4 layer 8-inch round or a 3 layer 9-inch round.  Either way… you’re goona get lots of cake.  Which is a good thing… that means you’ll get a second piece – and if you’re too stuffed to enjoy it right away… this cake makes an excellent breakfast!

triple ginger carrot cake with orange cream cheese frosting

ingredients:

triple ginger carrot cake

1 lb carrots, peeled and grated

2 tbsp (a good knob) of fresh ginger, grated

2 tbsp (or more), crystalized ginger, finely chopped

80 mL buttermilk

3 eggs

1 tsp vanilla (or orange extract)

350 mL vegetable oil

420 g brown sugar

500 g flour, sifted

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

80 g pecans, toasted and roughly chopped (you could also toast the pecans in maple syrup for an added touch)

Preheat your oven to 325 F.  Spray your round baking pans with non stick spray and set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer (using your paddle attachment), mix together the carrots, fresh ginger, crystalized ginger, buttermilk, eggs, vanilla, vegetable oil and sugar.  Beat all the ingredients at medium speed until everything is combined (it will be VERY loose at this point).

While your wet ingredients are being mixed, combine your flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and ground spices together. 

You’ll want to slowly beat the dry ingredients into the batter – decrease the mixer speed to “stir” and, in three batches, add your flour mix.  Remember to scrape down the sides of the bowl with each addition  – it’s best to turn the stand mixer off when doing that :0)

Once the batter is nice and thick and well mixed, toss in your roughly chopped pecans.  Incorporate them well into the batter.  Divide the batter evenly between your cake pans (either for 3 layers or 4).  Bake for about 25 – 32 minutes – this always depends on your oven.  You want your toothpick to come out clean and the top of each cake to spring back when you gently press the top.

Allow to cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 15 – 20 minutes.  Then remove from the pans and cool completely on the wire rack.  This cake can be made the day ahead and wrapped tightly in plastic wrap (it’s a super moist cake).

When you are ready to frost the cake – make the buttercream. 

orange cream cheese frosting

ingredients:

1/2 c. butter, room temperature

5 c. powdered sugar, sifted (or a little more if you want a thicker frosting)

zest of 1 orange

juice of 1/2 an orange (or the entire orange, depending on need)

1 package cream cheese, room temperature

In the bowl of your stand mixer, using your paddle attachment, beat together your powdered sugar, butter and orange zest.  You want it to just combine, but it’ll still look more sugary than anything else.  Add your entire cream cheese.  Yep.  All at once.

Increase the speed to medium and keep beating everything together.  This is when you start to slowly add orange juice – a little at a time… it’ll loosen up your frosting and also add more flavour (less of that powdered sugar flavour).  Keep beating until it’s nice and fluffy – it should be super smooth since you sifted the powdered first – about 7 minutes.

Then it’s time to frost your cake.

Since it’s a layer cake – obviously you need to use some frosting between the layers – I don’t recommend using too much frosting… you want the frosting to bind the layers not cause them to slip off one another.  Once the cake is assembled, pile a bunch of your frosting on your top layer and push it flat and down the sides – gently smoothing the icing all around the outside and top of the cake (it’s easiest to spin the cake… this is why I heart the lazy susan from IKEA – it makes cake decorating way easier). 

Now… grab your bag of flaked coconut and put small amounts in your hand and gently press it all over the sides of the cake.  It’s messy.  But so worth it.  The coconut is DELISH (oh heck… next time I’m gonna toast the coconut before frosting my cake!) … and it makes the cake look extra pretty. 

Don’t ya think?

pear tart

I baked up a Roasted Pear Clafoutis.  Actually that’s incorrect.  I actually baked a roasted pear flaugnarde.  Yes that’s right.  My recipe book led me astray! :0)

I spend quite a bit of time flipping through my recipe books … I can read my cookbooks like I read memoirs - eagerly anticipating the next page, devouring the recipes and ogling the pictures.  I’m totally and completely engaged and entranced.  Then I get to roll up my sleeves and actually make something … awesome.

That is how I ended up with this recipe.

I pulled out my copy of Baking by James Peterson (I heart this book … it’s a brilliant visual aide – highly recommended) and stopped short when I saw this.  It looked stunning.  A roasted pear clafoutis.  The pear halves sticking out of a flan-like base.  It was a thing of beauty.  And I wanted to make it.

I can not tell you how ridiculously easy this recipe is.  It is! It’s simple. It’s beautiful.  And it’s so worth turning on your oven, grabbing your whisk and rolling up your sleeves.

Now … for clarification – it is not an actual clafoutis.  Because (as I learned in my research … because I do tend to research these types of things) a real clafoutis can only be made using cherries.  The flaugnarde is the same idea – using other berries or fruit.  And that is your lesson for the day!

roasted pear flaugnarde

ingredients:

5 underripe pears

1/2 c. sugar

1/2 c. butter, cubed

3 eggs

1/4 tsp salt

3/4 c. flour, sifted

1 c. milk

2 tsp vanilla

powdered sugar to sprinkle on top

Preheat your oven to 400 F. 

Peel the pears, remove the stem from both ends.  Then cut the pears in half (lengthwise), and remove the cores, including the small strip at the narrow end of the pear.

Place the pear halves, flat side up (cut side), in a heavy bottomed pan – large enough so that the pear halves can be placed in a single layer (no overlap).  I used my large pot – which I can place in my oven.  Sprinkle the sugar on top, and then place the butter cubes over the halves.

Roast the pears for anywhere between 25 to 60 minutes (it depends on the ripeness of the fruit) – you want the butter and sugar mixture to become golden brown and the pears to be soft enough that you can poke through it with a knife.

Remove them from the pan using a slotted spoon, reserving the juices.  If the sugar hadn’t browned – place the pan over medium heat and allow the mixture to brown.

Meanwhile, decrease the oven to 350 F.  Butter your pie pan.  Place the pear halves; this time cut-side down, in the pie pan.  Arrange the pears with the narrow ends towards the centre, and if there is room, place one or two pear halves in the centre.  Set aside.

Put the sifted flour into a medium-sized bowl.  Add the eggs and salt, whisking everything together so that it creates a thick paste.  Whisk until there are no lumps left (add a little milk if you need to thin it just enough to get the lumps out).  At this point, you can stir in the milk and the vanilla.  Grab the butter/sugar mixture and pour that into flour batter … watch out – the syrup smells good.  There you have it – the batter is ready.

Strain the batter into another bowl – you want a really smooth batter.

Pour it over the pear halves – you want it to come almost halfway to the tops of the pears.

Bake for 45 minutes (puffed and golden brown on top). 

I took this out of the oven and literally exclaimed “I am so excited.  This is so amazing.”  And then I waited to taste it.

Oh my goodness.  It’s like the best french toast I have ever tasted.  So light and fluffy.  I couldn’t believe how much I loved it.

To serve – it should be at room temperature, sprinkle some powdered sugar and then cut out wedges – each wedge should include an entire pear half.  You might think that makes a pretty large piece – but it doesn’t  – the flan is so light that the real star of this dessert is the fruit.

Simply amazing.

Now I can’t wait to attempt an actual clafoutis.  Cherries … here I come!

ps.  This would be perfect for tomorrow or Sunday morning.  It’s a great addition to your brunch menu.  Believe me.  So worth it.

oh yes … and it’s pronounced klah-fou-tee in case you were wondering.