Some Tarts, of Sorts

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There was a day a couple weeks ago where it was absolutely pouring out and it was a super-depressing, totally un-summery day.

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So I went grocery shopping and found that fresh figs were on sale, as well as some reasonably local strawberries. So of course I bought a whole bunch.

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And then I had to figure out what to do with all this gorgeous fruit.

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But I had some puff pastry and some good ol’ custard-in-a-can. So let’s make a tart — or two!

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So I sliced up all the figs and strawberries, nice and thin, about 1/4″ thick.

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And then I drooled a little bit, because look at all that awesomeness.

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I’ve never baked with canned custard before, so I wasn’t sure if it would solidify after cooking. Just to be on the safe side, I decided to beat one whole egg into the custard for insurance.

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I also spilled a few drops of Grand Marnier orange liqueur in there and it tasted amazing already.

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I created a quick glaze by mixing some honey with some egg white I had sitting in the fridge.

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Then I preheated the oven to 375°F and rolled out my two sheets of pastry onto parchment paper.

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I added a few spoonfuls of my custard mix and smoothed it out with the back of a spoon. Not too much – you don’t want it spilling everywhere once it heats up.

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Then I laid out the fruit. This one was all fig.

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This one I alternated fig and strawberry.

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Then I took a silicone brush and smoothed the egg white glaze over the fruit. I shoved those in the oven, one at a time, for about 25 minutes. Keep an eye on them to make sure the glaze and the custard aren’t burning.

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Let those puppies cool almost completely before cutting them up.

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I still had some glaze and strawberries and custard left, and there was a cup of that delightful rhubarb curd I made earlier. What should I do?

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I decided to whip together a wee bit of shortbread (butter, sugar, flour), which I pressed into a pan and baked at 375°F for 15 minutes.

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Then I mixed that gorgeous curd into the custard I had left over.

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Poured it into the pan on top of the shortbread.

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Then lined it with the strawberry slices.

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Glazed it with what was leftover.

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And then I baked it for about half an hour. It’s kind of like a rudimentary flan. It was so tasty!

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And so was the tart!

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SideBar: the D’Artagnan

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Let’s sit down and have a drink today to celebrate: Ali Does It Herself turns FIVE this week! Five years of shenanigans and DIY failures and a whole lotta successes and support from you, you gorgeous nearly 14,000 followers. Thanks for sticking with us through the ups and the downs – here’s to five more years!

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This light cocktail seems at first like a standard mimosa but it packs a secret punch with a touch of class. To make the simple syrup that goes into this recipe (and a whole lotta other ones), simply dissolve one part granulated sugar in one part water and store the result in the fridge. I made this to serve 6 people twice, but I will put in brackets the amounts for just one serving so you can do your own math when expanding or contracting the recipe.

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Start by grabbing 2 large juicy oranges and using a zester to pull some twists off them.

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Then you might as well juice them as well, so as not to waste all that citrusy goodness. Pour 6oz orange juice (1/2oz for one) into a container with a pour spout.

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Next, tip in some booze. This recipe calls for 1.5oz Grand Marnier (1/8oz for one), which you could substitute for another orange liqueur (though Grand Marnier is the best).

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It also calls for 1.5oz Armagnac de Montal (1/8oz for one). Armagnac is a type of brandy from a particular place (Armagnac), but you can substitute with another type of brandy if you find Armagnac a little pricey.

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Then you need to tip in 6 teaspoons simple syrup (1/2 teaspoon for one).

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Give it a good stirring – don’t fret about the seeds and pulp from the oranges because you’re going to strain this as you pour. Add in some ice cubes and stir it again to chill the mix.

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Pour about an ounce each of the mix through a strainer into 6 champagne flutes (one for one), then top up with about 3oz chilled sparkling wine or Champagne.

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I used Freixenet brut because I like how it tastes and also I had an enormous bottle of it under the sink and that’s why I made this whole party beverage in the first place.

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Garnish with a twist of orange peel and serve immediately.

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Boozy Cookie Croutons

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… Otherwise known as BISCOTTI.  If you WANT to call it that. Cait likes to make biscotti every year and this year she dragged me over to make it for her help her out and learn a few things. We doubled our recipe but we were making a billion, so I’ll give you the single recipe here, which produces one heckuva lotta biscotti.

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Start with your dry ingredients.  In a small bowl, whisk together 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour and 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder.  We were also making a gluten-free version for Cait’s sister Jul so we did the same recipe again with the Robin Hood ready to go gluten-free flour.

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In a larger bowl, cream together 1/2 cup room temperature butter and 3/4 cup granulated sugar.

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Add to that 2 eggs and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract and mix until well combined.  If you had an electric mixer this would be an easier task, but I only had my trusty wooden spoon.

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Finely grate the zest of 2 oranges (eat the oranges because you need vitamin C this time of year) and plop that into the mix, together with 3 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur.

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Slowly add your flour mix into your wet mix, then add in about a cup of your nut of choice and some chocolate chips (again, probably about a cup — we just dumped the package in).

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At this point stirring becomes next to impossible, so I made Cait take over and she kneaded the dough into submission.

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The gluten-free version was even tougher and she had to wrestle it to the floor in order to get some leverage.  We ended up adding a whole lotta extra booze to the GF version just to moisten it.  Whoops.

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Form your dough into a happy ball and chuck it in the fridge to chill out for about 20 minutes.  While this is going on you can preheat your oven to 350°F and line some baking sheets with parchment paper.

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When the dough is chilled, separate it into several little tubes.

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Roll the tubes out into long rectangles about 3/4″ thick and 4″ wide.  Our GF ones were a little thicker.

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Place as many rectangles as you can fit on your baking trays (don’t worry, they’re not going to expand too much) and chuck them in the oven for 30 minutes to bake.

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When they’re ready, set them out to cool for 5-10 minutes.  Turn your oven down to 300°F.

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Using a sharp bread knife and a downwards cut, slice your biscotti into 1″ wide pieces.

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The GF ones began their structural crumble at this point.

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Tip your biscotti pieces until they’re cut-side-up and bake them for a further 30 minutes.  Let cool to room temperature before storing or serving.

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The gluten-free ones, made with the Robin Hood gluten-free flour, did not turn out as well.  To boost cohesion, we ended up dumping a huge amount of Grand Marnier into the mix.  I think in retrospect, I would have used an extra egg, and I would have made my own flour mix.  I think in this one I would have employed a bit of coconut flour, which I like for its relative stickiness, as well as some xanthan gum for its gluey properties.

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We packed them up in festive baggies!

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Chocolate Moose Cake

My siblings-in-law Rusty and Mags are arriving today for a couple of weeks.  It’s Rusty’s first time on a plane, so something tells me he’ll need some chocolate when he gets here.  And possibly booze.

I borrowed the actual cake recipe from here, but everything else I made up on my own.  Make sure you’ve got some time when you make this cake, or at least a list of other things to do.  There’s a lot of waiting around for things to cool.

First, you need a springform pan.  Mine here is 10 inches.  Anywhere around that size should be fine.  You see how it has a little lip on the bottom?

Well, flip that so the lip is facing down and lock it in place.

Now butter it like there’s no tomorrow, making sure to fill in all those wee squares, and then dust it with flour.  Knock out the excess and set that sucker aside.

Preheat your oven to 325°F.

In a large bowl, sift in and whisk together 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa, 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda.

In a small bowl, whisk together 1 cup water and 3 large eggs.

Chop up about 8oz bittersweet or dark chocolate (or milk, if you prefer, it’s your cake — who am I to tell you what to do?).  Melt that in a double boiler with 3/4 cup butter.

Remove that from the heat and whisk in the egg mixture until it’s smooth and feels like pudding.

Then whisk all that chocolate goodness into the flour mixture and get out all the lumps.

Add in 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar and keep on whisking.  Make sure to rest your whisking hand often, as this is a very whisk-heavy recipe.  How many more times can I say “whisk”?

Pour that glop into your prepared springform pan.

Make sure to rap the pan on the counter to get out all those pesky air bubbles.

Bake for 75 to 90 minutes, until the cake is starting to pull away from the side of the pan and a wooden stick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Cool the cake in the pan for 20 minutes, then remove the ring and let the cake cool completely, about an hour.  Once the cake is cool you can carefully remove it from the bottom of the pan.

At this point, I brushed the cake with the contents of a wee bottle (50mL) of Grand Marnier, an orange-flavoured liqueur, to keep the cake moist while it awaits the arrival of its consumers.

While your cake is cooking and cooling, you can work on your fondant covering.

We’re going to do a cocoa-mocha fondant today.  So, in the bowl of your mixer, plop in 3/4 cup butter, softened, 3/4 cup corn syrup, and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract.  Mix that until creamy, then add in 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa, 3 tablespoons instant espresso powder, and, slowly, so you don’t start an icing sugar mushroom cloud, about 5 cups icing sugar.

You may need to adjust the level of icing sugar until you get the appropriate doughy texture.  You can always knead in more icing sugar with your hands.  Set that aside.  Possibly in the fridge to firm up a little.

Now we’re going to make the decorating fondant.  In a clean bowl, mix together 1/4 cup softened butter, 1/4 cup lily white corn syrup (because otherwise it won’t turn out as light as you want it to), and 1 teaspoon almond extract.

Mix that until it’s creamy, then add in about 2 cups icing sugar and mix until doughy.  Set that aside.  Again, you can put it in the fridge.  Or next to an open window to catch the cold Newfoundland breeze.  Of course if you live anywhere else at this time of year you probably have your air conditioning on so you could always use that.

Normally, you would create a buttercream icing to go under your fondant, a nice solid glue to hold everything together.  But since when do I obey the rules?  We’re going to go with a ganâche, and that’s all there is to it.

Chop up another 8oz chocolate (your choice, of course), and melt that in a double boiler.

When it’s completely melted, whisk in 2 cups whipping cream until smooth.  Chuck that in the fridge to let it cool completely and thicken.  Stir it around every once in a while.

As this cake is a welcome-to-Newfoundland dessert for my siblings-in-law, I thought I would put a moose on the cake.  The moose, in case you didn’t know, was introduced as a hunting species to Newfoundland at the end of the 19th century and, having no natural predators other than man (because introducing species to island ecosystems is a bad idea), has proliferated and is now one of the province’s biggest pests, wreaking havoc on people’s gardens within the city and accounting for high numbers of traffic fatalities for those unfortunate (or stupid) enough to drive across the island at night.  The moose is an extremely dangerous animal, for all its vegetarian-ness, but Newfoundlanders have adopted the moose as a cute symbol of what makes Newfoundlanders a bit different than everyone else.

What I’m saying is that it’s entirely appropriate to put a moose on your cake when you live in Newfoundland.

I printed out a stencil of a moose from the internet and cut it out.  I rolled out the white fondant onto a piece of waxed paper and laid my stencil on top.

I traced the outline of the stencil with a thin, sharp knife.

Then I peeled away the excess fondant.

And thar be me moose.  I set that aside to dry a little.

When your ganâche is cooled and thickened, you can slather it on your cake.

Like that.  Holy crap does that ever look good.  Chill that in the fridge to let the ganâche set a bit more while you roll out your coffee fondant.

The Pie and I used a rolling pin to ease the fondant onto the cake.  Because the ganâche is soft and squidgy it didn’t provide a very good base for the fondant and so you can see we have some cracks.  But we’re okay with that.  Plus the moose will cover up the worst of it.  For more information on dealing with fondant, check out my Raspberry Trifle Cake experiment.

Trim the excess fondant from the bottom and smooth the sides.

Lay that moose on down on top of the cake and smooth it down as well.

We used Cadbury’s chocolate covered raisins (like Glossette’s) as “moose poop” around the edges of the cake at the bottom.  And of course one big one, just behind the moose in question.

Keep this cake in the fridge to firm up the fondant and to keep the ganâche from spoiling.  Once you have cut into it make sure to keep it covered with plastic wrap, and eat it within a few days.

Delicious Disaster

Well.

I should know by now that experimenting with recipes before a dinner party is not a good idea.  But who else can I experiment on but my hapless dinner guests?

My goal was a dense, gooey, flourless chocolate cake, maybe with a glossy dark chocolate ganache poured over top.  I thought I had found the ideal recipe here.  It had four simple ingredients and no-nonsense instructions.  It even gave me the opportunity to use my kitchen scale, which had long sat unused.  Working in metric is such fun.

I’ll give you the recipe here, and then you can see for yourself how things went horribly wrong.

Preheat your oven to 180°C (that’s about 350°F for those of you who don’t have both measures on your ovens).  Grease (with lots and lots of butter) a 22cm/9″ cake pan and set that aside.

Measure yourself out 250g dark chocolate and chop that sucker into pieces.

Melt that in a double boiler with 100g butter until smooth.  Remove from the heat.

Separate 4 large eggs.  Sift 175g icing sugar into a bowl, add the 4 yolks, and whisk until pale and creamy.

Fold the melted chocolate into the egg mixture.

In yet another bowl, whisk the 4 egg whites until soft peaks form.

Using a metal spoon, gradually fold the whites into the chocolate mixture.

Pour the mixture into the greased pan.  Mine nearly filled it, so I put a pizza pan underneath to catch any spills.  I needn’t have worried, it turns out.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until the surface begins to crack but the centre is still gooey.

Alas, though the cake baked up perfectly and smelled divine, it wouldn’t come out of the pan, no sir.  Not at all.  I don’t even think lining the pan with parchment paper would have helped.

This is it after it cooled.

I ended up with warm, gooey, dense chocolate cake bits in a pile on a plate.

With three hours until the dinner guests arrived, the Pie said, “Well, you have time to make another cake.”

I gave him a dark look.

“Or,” he says, backtracking, “you could make a trifle?”

Huzzah!  Dessert is saved!  Another floor pizza crisis averted.

Of course, having never made trifle in my life (I save that duty for my mother-in-law, because Mrs. Nice does it so well), I do not own a trifle bowl.  Not to worry, I will improvise.  Though I wouldn’t mind getting a trifle bowl someday, hint, hint …

Trifle is all about the layers.  The traditional version is a sponge cake, usually soaked with some form of alcohol, like brandy or sherry, topped with fruit, custard, and whipping cream in alternating layers.  In a straight-sided container like a trifle bowl you can see all the layers and the effect is quite pretty.

This being a chocolate cake, I thought the custard would be inappropriate.  If I had more time, I would have made chocolate pudding as a substitute for the custard, but I didn’t have the time needed for the pudding to set.  Instead, I opted for a strawberry fruit sauce with drizzled melted chocolate between the layers of whipped cream, and topped with fresh raspberries.  I drizzled a wee bit of Grand Marnier over the cake and let that sink in.

When I made the fruit sauce I added a little bit of corn starch just so it would thicken, and then I made sure to let it cool.

I added butter to the melted chocolate so that when it cooled it wouldn’t be as hard as it was originally.

I also added a wee bit of cream of tartar to my whipped cream so that it would hold its shape better while chilling in the refrigerator.

Then I did my layering …

Gooey cake.  Drizzled chocolate.  Strawberry goodness.  Whipped cream.  Repeat.

Drop a handful or two of fresh raspberries on top and drizzle the remaining chocolate all over and we’re set.

The layering doesn’t look as pretty from the side but we have to sacrifice aesthetics sometimes.  Chill that sucker for a couple hours then feed it to your unsuspecting dinner guests with a sob story about your failed dessert.