Peppermint Patties

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This was yet another “baking” episode Cait and I got up to – except it involved no baking whatsoever. If you’re not a fan of peppermint patties, then you won’t like this. If you ARE a fan, well, then, maybe you’ll like these, which we made from a mish-mash of these two recipes. Just a warning: if you make these puppies around Christmas time, you may have to search a bit to find peppermint extract in the grocery store. Cait and the Pie and I went to three separate stores before we nabbed the very last one hidden at the back of a shelf. If you’re making these for your Valentine tomorrow you may have some better luck!

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Now, you’re basically making a peppermint-flavoured fondant as the centre of these babies, so let’s start with that.

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In the bowl of your electric mixer, dump in 2 1/4 cup icing sugar, 2 tablespoons softened butter, 2 teaspoons peppermint extract, and 2 tablespoons cream.

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Start beating it on low speed until incorporated (so you don’t get a face full of icing sugar), then increase the speed and beat until you have a solid, smooth mass.

Peppermint Patties 2

Now take your fondant and roll it into a long snake between 1″ and 1 1/2″ in diameter (any bigger and the patties will fall apart as you manipulate them).

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Wrap the snake in waxed paper and chill it for about 45 minutes or so. If you shove the snake into an old cardboard tube from a paper towel then it won’t deform while in the fridge.

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In the meantime, plop 12oz chocolate (dark is probably best, but it’s your choice) into a double boiler with 6 teaspoons shortening and let that melt. The shortening is what will give the chocolate a shiny, harder exterior once it hardens again. The magic ratio for shortening to chocolate, if you’d like to use it in other recipes, is 1/2 teaspoon shortening for every 1oz chocolate. And as it happens with every chocolate-dipping recipe, depending on the size of your patties and how quickly you get this done, you may need to melt more chocolate.

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Anyway, let the chocolate cool to almost room temperature (because otherwise you’ll melt the patties when you dip them and that would be bad). Take your snake out of the fridge and slice it into little disks about 1/4″ thick. To avoid the patties warming up and getting floopy, I put half of them back in the fridge.

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Using chopsticks or a fork, dip the cold patty into the cool chocolate and flip to coat. Lift it out of the chocolate and let it drip for a few seconds. Set the patty on a sheet of waxed paper to harden completely.

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The demented ones are the ones that Cait did. I take no responsibility for them.

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Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks. Enjoy!

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The Molly Cake

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Mrs. Nice’s birthday was back in November and the Pie and I wanted to make her birthday cake a little more personal this year. Papa John and Mrs. Nice now live next to a farm and so their backyard faces a huge field full of very curious cows. At a craft fair recently, Mrs. Nice picked up this gorgeous painting of a cow named Molly, and so the Pie and I tried to re-create at least the sentiment of it as best we could, considering our utter lack of artistic skill.

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My frame of reference. NAILED IT.

Start at the beginning first. Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. Bring 3 egg whites to room temperature in a decent-sized bowl. You can drop in 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar too, while you’re at it. Leave that alone for a while.

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Grab yourself some frozen strawberries. This is from a 1kg package frozen strawberries, which is about 5 cups’ worth.

Molly Cake 1

Plop those in a pot with 1/2 cup granulated sugar and stew them over medium heat until they’re all melted and gooey and lovely.

Molly Cake 2

You can purée them at this point if you wish but I wanted some strawberry chunks in the cake batter so I mashed the goo with a potato masher instead.

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Now you can turn your oven on to 350°F and butter and parchment up your cake pan(s). I used my trusty 17″ round cake pan but there is enough batter here if you wanted to use 3-8″ round pans instead and create a layer cake.

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Sift together 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, and 2 teaspoons baking soda and set that aside for a minute.

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In the bowl of your electric mixer, beat together 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup vegetable shortening until fluffy and amazing.

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Next, beat in 1 3/4 cup granulated sugar until it’s also fluffy and amazing. Then you can add in 2 teaspoons vanilla (I used vanilla bean paste, my new favourite thing).

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Now scrape down the sides of the bowl and plop in 1 egg. Just one. It looks so lonely. Beat it up. Show it who’s boss.

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Okay now we put all this jazz together. Take your strawberry goo. And your flour.

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Starting with the flour, add about a third of it to your mix and stir to combine.

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Add half the strawberries, then another third of the flour (mixing it all in), then the final half of the strawberries, and the last of the flour.

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I decided to disobey my normal rules about colouring food and added a bit of red gel paste colouring to the batter to make the strawberries pop.

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Then stir in 1 cup sour cream.

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Look at that gorgeousness.

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Beat your room temperature egg whites until stiff peaks form. Yay, meringue!

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Ever so gently fold those fluffy whites into your batter. This batter is pretty dense and produces a pretty thin cake so you need all the fluff you can get.

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Smooth the batter into your cake pan(s) and bake for about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the pan comes out clean.

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Set the whole shebang on a wire rack to cool completely.

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Now, if you’re not making a giant cow out of your cake, you can skip this whole segment. If you are making a giant cow out of your cake, then I hope yours turns out better than mine because you are less terrible at art.

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So with the giant cake laid out on a board, I cut out the shape of the cow’s head, and then from what was left I cut out the horns and the ears. It’s all symmetrical.

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Then I laid it out.

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I had to move everything around on the board to get it to fit, and the cake was so sticky it was a hard job to do it without disaster. And now it looks like the Chicago Bulls logo (GREAT GIFT IDEA FOR BULLS FANS FOLKS!).

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The Pie thought we should add a bit of extra cake at the snout. Now we need some frosting.

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I needed two colours of icing, so in two double boilers I melted 4 oz dark chocolate and 4 oz white chocolate, respectively. If you’re just doing one colour then obviously just use one double boiler and 8 oz chocolate. When that’s all melty and smooth, set it aside to become less horribly hot.

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In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat 2-250g packages plain cream cheese (room temperature) until they’re silky smooth. Remember, the warmer your cream cheese is, the less lumpy the frosting will be.

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Beat in as well 1 tablespoon vanilla (again I used the paste because I love it), 3/4 cup heavy (whipping) cream, and 3/4 cup icing sugar.

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Then I split the frosting between two bowls. Hello, beautiful. Look at those little flecks of vanilla seeds.

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Then I poured the now-cooler white chocolate into one bowl, and the now-cooler dark chocolate into the other and stirred them up.

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Ready to decorate!

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I started with the white, because … well, I just did.

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Then I filled it in with the dark chocolate. The nostrils are wonky because I dropped a huge gob of icing accidentally and so that’s just how it had to be. TADA! Not fine art, but highly tasty, and Mrs. Nice loved it.

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Gluten-Free Fig Bars

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Fussellette and her Hurler are in town again.  Hurler is staying for good and Fussellette will be along permanently in January.  Currently they’re staying with us so I decided to whip up some gluten-free fig bars from Serious Eats to feed to my guests and to take to my biweekly meeting at work.  These cookies have a few more steps than a regular cookie, but none of them is particularly difficult or time consuming, so it’s worth it.

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Start with your figs.

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Take about 14oz dried figs and soak them in water for at least an hour.

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Here is the underwater view of the figs starting to soak.

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And the after-soaking underwater view.  I just like taking pictures underwater.

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Especially considering that this was going on outside.

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Now let’s get on to the dough. In a bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups brown rice flour, 1/2 cup cornstarch, 1/4 cup white rice flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum, and 1/2 teaspoon table salt.  Set that aside and haul out your mixer.

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In the bowl of your electric mixer, cream together 1/4 cup vegetable shortening, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, and 1/4 cup dark brown sugar.

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Beat in 2 large eggs, one at a time.

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Grate in a few teaspoons of orange zest.

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Tip in your flour mixture and beat on low until well combined.  Continue to beat on a higher speed until a nice cohesive dough forms.

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Shape the dough into a patty, wrap it up and refrigerate it for at least two hours.

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Now you can make your filling.  Drain your soaked figs and tip them into a food processor.

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I ripped off all the tough stems, which was an easy job with the softened figs.

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Add in the juice of half a lemon and about 3 tablespoons light corn syrup, a dash of salt, 1/4 cup water, and pulse until your goo is uniform and you can pipe it like icing.  You may need to add some more water if it’s not squishy enough.

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You can store your fig goo in a piping bag but I scooped it into a Ziploc instead.

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And then the sun came out.  Briefly.

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When your dough is ready, preheat your oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set out another piece of parchment paper on your work surface and dust it with some brown rice flour.  Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces.

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Roll out each segment into a rough rectangle about 10″ by 4 1/2″ and trim the edges (save the trimmings).  Use an offset spatula to gently separate the dough from the paper.

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Cut a 1/2″ hole in the corner of your Ziploc bag and pipe a few lines of fig goo down the centre of the dough rectangle (I piped three lines on each and ended up with a LOT of leftover fig goo, so be generous).

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Fold the edges of the dough over the fig goo and seal the seam.

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Place your fig/dough log seam side down on your baking sheet.  I rolled out the trimmings into yet another rectangle and ended up with 7 logs in total.

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Bake the fig logs for 15-20 minutes, until they are a light brown.

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Slice them with a sharp knife into 2″ pieces while they are still hot, then seal in a lidded container overnight so they can sort of steam themselves until they’re a bit softer.

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The next day you get lovely, cake-y, gluten-free figgy goodness!

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Deep Dishes, Deep Pie, Deep Dough, Deep Thoughts

Deep Dish

Historically in my family, my dad’s mother has been the only person in the world who could successfully make pastry for pies. My mother and I have never been lucky enough to absorb her gift. I am still, however, determined to perfect my technique, and so, five years too late, I am using the Cooks Illustrated vodka pie crust recipe, which I borrowed from Smitten Kitchen.

I had gotten an email from my dad this morning (Monday) saying that my grandmother was unwell, and would I please send her a letter? So I was going to make a pie and take pictures and tell her all about how I had mastered this new skill. Or how I had failed. Either way, it would have been entertaining. Unfortunately, she passed away while I was making the dough, so I didn’t get that chance. She was 102, and healthy to the end. None of us can live forever, but she will nonetheless be missed. So in honour of Barbara Linklater Bell, the Queen of Pastry and all things baked, I present my own deep-dish pear and apple pie.

So we start with the crust.

Whisk together, in a medium-sized bowl, 2 1/2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar. Next time, I would probably leave out the salt, as it didn’t dissolve and I kept hitting little grains of it when I ate it.

Deep Dish

Now, you add your cold fat.  This recipe calls for 1/2 cup vegetable shortening and 3/4 cup butter.  Both being very cold.  That is key.  Cut those up into small cubes.

Deep Dish

Using a pastry cutter (though you could use a food processor if you wanted), start blending the fat into the flour.

Deep Dish

Keep going …

Deep Dish

Until you get this powdery, crumb-y sort of material.

Deep Dish

Now sprinkle in 1/4 cup very cold water and 1/4 cup very cold vodka. If you’re worried about the booze content, remember that vodka is tasteless and odorless, and all the alcohol in it will evaporate during cooking. This is what gives us that lovely flaky crust.

Deep Dish

Fold that in with a rubber spatula, until things start to come together. This will take some time, so be patient. Resist the urge to add more fluid.

Deep Dish

Eventually, you will be out of powdery stuff and have all these curd-like clumps. That was good enough for me.

Deep Dish

Now pour half that mixture onto a piece of plastic wrap.

Deep Dish

Gather the edges of the wrap and use it to squeeze the pastry into a ball.

Deep Dish

Deep Dish

Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap it tightly, and do the same with the other half of the dough.  Refrigerate those disks for at least an hour.

Deep Dish

In the meantime you can prepare your fruit.  Peel and cube up about 4-5 pears and 5-6 small apples.

Deep Dish

Now, I decided to cook my fruit a little bit beforehand.  In hindsight, I shouldn’t have done that, as the fruit obviously cooks while in the pie.  But nevermind.

So toss your fruit with 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 pinch nutmeg and 1 pinch ground cloves.

Deep Dish

Add in as well 2 tablespoons butter and 1/4 cup brown sugar.

Deep Dish

And 2 tablespoons flour.

Deep Dish

Now, when your dough is chilled and ready you can start rolling it out for your pie pan.  I took this nifty tip from Smitten Kitchen to roll the dough (which, with the vodka, will be slightly stickier) between two pieces of plastic wrap.  It certainly saves chipping up cemented flour on your countertop.

Deep Dish

The Pie helped with the manual labour. Just make sure to remove the folds in the plastic wrap as you roll. It makes everything smoother.

Deep Dish

Oh, and preheat your oven to 400°F while you’re at it.

Deep Dish

Fit one of the rolled out sheets of dough into your pie plate and tuck it in.  Chuck that in the fridge while you do the other one, which will be the top. The plastic wrap is a godsend here in terms of transferring the dough from one place to another. I am never using any other method.

Deep Dish

When you are ready to assemble the pie, take the bottom out of the fridge and toss in your fruit (cooked or uncooked, up to you).

Deep Dish

Flop the top piece onto the pie.  Fold the edges of the top piece under the edges of the bottom piece. Man I really wish I had more light in my kitchen. Or that my lightbox were bigger.

Deep Dish

Crimp the edges with your fingers or a fork and cut some holes for escaping steam.

Brush lightly with milk, and sprinkle with demerera sugar (optional).

Deep Dish

Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until your crust is firm and golden-brown and the innards are all bubbly.  And, as my husband says, “your pies never look all that great, but they always taste great.”  He’s not being mean — it’s true.  I make an ugly pie.

Deep Dish

Allow to cool on a rack and warm to serve.  What a lovely, flaky crust!

Deep Dish

We had ours with Fussells, a present from Fussellette.

Deep Dish

O Canada: Baked Beans with Toutons

Baked Beans with Toutons

My house currently smells like awesome.  All the windows are steamed up.  It’s great.

Baked beans, I think you’d agree, are a traditional staple all down the eastern seaboard of North America.  Add a splash of Québec maple syrup to the sweet, dark sauce and serve it with a side of Newfoundland toutons (“TAOW-tuns”), however, and you’ve got yourself a Canadian dish.  It all takes quite a bit of time (you have to start by soaking your beans overnight), but it’s worth it to have your house smell this good.

For the Baked Beans:

I cobbled together this bean recipe from three others, which I’ve listed at the bottom of this post.  I think baked beans are conceptually pretty fluid, so feel free to experiment on your own.

Baked Beans with Toutons

This recipe also involves some interesting food items that are not usual additions to my refrigerator contents: fatback pork and salt pork.  If you can’t find fatback pork or pre-cut scruncheons, you can also deep-fry the toutons in vegetable oil.  Here in St. John’s, salt meat, which you can buy in 4L buckets, has its own section in the grocery store, right next to the bologna section.  That’s right, bologna section.  As in, there are several different kinds and cuts of bologna available to the residents of this lovely city.  Luckily I found smaller amounts of fatback pork and salt pork riblets, and was able to get away with just a scant pound of each, rather than having to find a use for a whole bucket of meat.  You could probably use a salty ham (Virginia-style) in place of the salt pork if you can’t find it.  And of course if you want a vegetarian version of the baked beans, leave out the pork altogether.

Baked Beans with Toutons

Start with about 4 cups dried white navy beans.  Rinse them and plop them in a bowl.  Cover them with several inches of water and leave them overnight to soak.  You may need to add more water as it gets absorbed.

Baked Beans with Toutons

The next day, drain and rinse the beans and plop them in a very large pot with three times their volume of water to cover (so take the bowl the beans were in and fill that sucker three times with water and you should be good).

Baked Beans with Toutons

Plop in 1lb salt pork.  Usually this comes on the bone.

Baked Beans with Toutons

Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat and let the beans and pork simmer for 40-50 minutes, until they’re all tender and stuff.  Scoop out 1 1/2 cups bean cooking water and then drain the rest.

While the beans are simmering, finely chop up 1 large onion.

Baked Beans with Toutons

Plop the onion in a saucepan with 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon dry mustard (Keen’s or Colman’s are the traditional versions around here), 2 teaspoons chili powder, and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt.  Cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes, until the onions are soft and fragrant.

Baked Beans with Toutons

Pour into that 4-156mL cans of tomato paste (that’s about 2 1/3 cups), 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 1/4 cup packed brown sugar, 3/4 cup fancy molasses, and 1/2 cup pure maple syrup.  Give that a good stir and bring it to a boil.  Reduce the heat and allow it to simmer for about 10 minutes.  It will bubble like the Thing from the Black Lagoon and get absolutely everywhere, so make sure to cover it.

Baked Beans with Toutons

Pour in the reserved bean cooking water and mix well.  You can purée it in a food processor at this point if you wish, but I didn’t bother.

Baked Beans with Toutons

Preheat your oven to 300°F.  You could do this earlier but it really doesn’t take long, so there’s no point in having your oven on for such an extended period of time.

Strip the salt pork from its bones and tear it into small pieces before tossing it back in with your drained beans.

Baked Beans with Toutons

Mix the beans and the sauce together.

Baked Beans with Toutons

Pour the mixture into a large casserole dish.  Cover and bake for 2-3 hours, then uncover and bake until sauce is thick and the beans are coated, about another hour.  Serve hot with toutons, or allow to cool and freeze for later.

Baked Beans with Toutons

For the Toutons:

I pulled the recipe for these weird little Newfoundland doughnuts/dumplings/biscuits from this site.  Most of the other recipes I found ended up being exact copies of this one, so I figured it was legit.  Toutons are essentially fried white bread dumplings.  Most of the time they are served doused with butter and maple syrup.  This sounds like a good idea to me.  You can buy pre-made touton dough at the gas station down the block from our house.  During the summer festival here they have touton-throwing contests.  These bready balls are evidently important to Newfoundland culture.

Start by dissolving 1 tablespoon sugar in 1/2 cup warm water.  Add in 1 tablespoon traditional yeast.  Allow that to stand for 10 minutes, then stir it in until it’s all dissolved.

Baked Beans with Toutons

In a saucepan, scald 1 cup low-fat milk (the recipe called for 2% but we use 1% so I figured that would only save us from an earlier death).  Add in 2 tablespoons vegetable shortening and stir until it’s all melted.

Baked Beans with Toutons

To the hot milk, add 1/2 cup cold water, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon sugar.

Baked Beans with Toutons

Make sure the milk mixture is lukewarm and then add the yeast mixture and stir until well-blended.

Baked Beans with Toutons

Add in 2 cups all-purpose flour and stir until it’s all smooth.

Baked Beans with Toutons

Gradually add 3-4 more cups of flour until you have a moist dough that no longer sticks to the bowl.

Baked Beans with Toutons

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes.

Baked Beans with Toutons

Shape the dough into a ball and plop it in a greased bowl, turning the ball to grease the top.  Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and put it somewhere warm and draft-free for the dough to double in size, about an hour.

Baked Beans with Toutons

While you’re waiting, you can make your scruncheons (or scrunchins), which are fried pork back fat.

Baked Beans with Toutons

Mmmm.  Like bacon only without the actual pork.  So you take your backfat, about 1/4lb, and you cube it up as finely as you can.

Baked Beans with Toutons

This is harder than it looks.  Pig backs are tough.  Also see the surface of this particular chunk?  I’m convinced it was actual skin, because it was a pain to get through, and it fried up almost rock hard.  I suggest trimming that off if you can.

Baked Beans with Toutons

Set your raw scruncheons aside for a spell, until your dough is ready.

Baked Beans with Toutons

Punch down the dough and squeeze off pieces about 1/3 cup in size.

Baked Beans with Toutons

Flatten them to about 1/2″ thick, in a circular or triangular shape.

Baked Beans with Toutons

Fry your scruncheons until the solid pieces are golden brown and crisp.

Baked Beans with Toutons

Take them out and lay them on a paper towel.

Baked Beans with Toutons

Fry the toutons in the liquid pork fat until they are golden on both sides, a minute or so per side.

Baked Beans with Toutons

Add a dab of butter to the hot touton, sprinkle with crispy scruncheons, and douse with maple syrup.  Serve hot!

Baked Beans with Toutons

Now if you’ll excuse me I am going to go and have a heart attack somewhere.

Baked Beans with Toutons

More Baked Beans:

http://canadianwinter.ca/index.php?page=canadian_winter_molasses_baked_beans

http://www.canadianliving.com/food/maple_baked_beans.php

http://suppertonight.wordpress.com/2008/09/09/canadian-baked-beans/

Baked’s Sweet and Salty Cake

Sweet & Salty Cake
Not only do the Pie and il Principe share a birthday, but I’ll have you know that Cait’s birthday is only four days later.  And then Jiss’ birthday is only a scant five days after that.  Because we were heading back to Ottawa for a visit at the beginning of the month, we decided to postpone our birthday celebrations until we got there so that Cait  and Jiss could share in the fun.

So, for my husband on his birthday and my best friend on her birthday, and my husband’s friend’s spouse on HER birthday, I made them this fantastic confection, which comes out of our favourite cookbook of all time, Baked.
Sweet & Salty Cake
You can read the recipe online here, here, or here.  But you should really buy the book.  The pictures are glorious and the authors explain everything so well.

This recipe involves caramel, chocolate, and salt.  Yes, SALT.  I rarely use salt in baking but this one made it all worth it.  If you can get your hands on fleur de sel, all the better, but you can use sea salt as a substitute if necessary.  It’s also worth noting that this cake takes many steps, and you can save time by making things like the caramel the day before and putting it in the fridge.
Sweet & Salty Cake

For the Caramel:
Pour 1/4 cup water, 1 cup sugar, and 2 tablespoons light corn syrup into a medium saucepan and stir it around.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Plop a candy thermometer in the pot (making sure it doesn’t touch the bottom) and bring the mixture to a boil, cooking until the temperature reaches 350°F, which will take about 10 minutes.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Keep a close eye on it.  If you cook it any higher than the specified temperature it can burn super quickly.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine 1/2 cup whipping cream and 1 teaspoon fleur de sel.  Bring that to a boil as well and cook until the salt is dissolved, about 5 minutes.  Remove that from the heat and set aside.

Sweet & Salty Cake

When the sugar has reached 350°F, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool for one minute.  See how it’s browned a little bit? That’s the caramelization of the sugar, but you don’t want it to get too dark.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Carefully (very carefully) add the hot cream to the sugar mixture.  It foams and fizzes quite a bit, so you don’t want that in your face.   Whisk that all up until it’s smooth.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Whisk in 1/4 cup sour cream and let the caramel cool.

Sweet & Salty Cake

For the Cake:
Preheat your oven to 325°F and butter three 8″ round cake pans.  Cut a circle out of parchment paper for the bottom of each one, butter it as well, and dust them all with flour.

Sweet & Salty Cake

You need two decent-sized bowls and the bowl of a mixer for this next part.  In one bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa, 1 1/4 cups hot water, and 2/3 cup sour cream.  Set that aside and let it cool while you do the other things.

Sweet & Salty Cake

In the other non-mixer bowl, sift together 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and set that aside.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Now, in the mixer bowl, beat together 3/4 cup softened butter and 1/2 cup vegetable shortening.  Beat them until they are smooth and kind of stringy when the paddle is spinning around, about 7 minutes.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Beat in 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar and 1 cup dark brown sugar until light and fluffy.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Add in 3 eggs, one at a time.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Add in 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and beat for a further 30 seconds or so.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Carefully add in a third of the flour mixture, then half your chocolate mixture, then a third of the flour, the rest of the chocolate, and the rest of the flour.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Divide the batter evenly between the three prepared pans and bake for 18-24 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre of each cake comes out clean.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Allow to cool completely before removing from the pans and peeling off the parchment paper.

Sweet & Salty Cake

For the Caramel Ganache:
First, finely chop 1lb dark chocolate.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Also, cut up 1lb butter into tablespoon-sized pieces.  Make sure they’re soft but still cool.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Now we’re going to make some more caramel, but this time without the salt or the sour cream.
So, in one pot, combine 1/4 cup water, 1 cup sugar, and 2 tablespoons light corn syrup and stir it around.  Bring it to a boil over high heat until a candy thermometer reads 350°F, which will take about ten minutes.  Remember to watch closely.

Sweet & Salty Cake

In the other pot bring 1 1/2 cups heavy cream to a boil, then remove from heat and set aside.
When the caramel has reached 350°F, remove it from the heat and allow it to rest for a minute.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Carefully add the hot cream to the caramel and stir to combine, then let it cool for 5 minutes.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Plop your chopped chocolate in the bowl of a mixer and pour the caramel over the chocolate.  Let that sit for a minute, then stir the chocolate to dissolve it.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Shove your bowl into your mixer with a paddle attachment and mix the chocolate goo on low until the outside of the bowl feels cool to the touch.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Dump in your cut-up butter bits and mix on medium-high until it’s all well-combined and smooth and a little bit whipped, another 2 minutes or so.

Sweet & Salty Cake

To Put It All Together:
Now I followed the instructions up to this point to the letter, and ended up with a slippy-slide-y cake that ended up looking a bit like a giant pile of poop.  When I put my cake layers together, they kept sliding off on the caramel and the weight of the cake pushed all the lovely caramel goo out of its insides and it was altogether rather a disaster.  So I recommend cooling your ganache and your caramel slightly before you do this, just so they’re slightly colder than room temperature and a little easier to handle.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Slice the tops off your cakes to make them level and place one on your cake plate.

Sweet & Salty Cake

If you are concerned about making a mess with your icing (though considering how goopy mine was it didn’t matter anyway) you can place four strips of parchment paper on your cake plate under the cake to catch the excess, and then pull them away later, leaving a nice clean plate.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Take about 1/4 cup of the caramel and spread a thin layer on the cake, allowing it to soak into the cake a bit (which will only happen if your cake or your caramel is warm, and will just make everything quite slippery).

Sweet & Salty Cake

Layer on top of that about 1 cup of the caramel ganache (also, at room temperature, incredibly slippery).

Sweet & Salty Cake

Add another layer of cake.  See what I mean about gravity really being annoying here?

Sweet & Salty Cake

Repeat your caramel and ganache steps and top with your final cake layer.  This is where I tried to remove some of the excess and failed.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Use the remaining ganache (easy to do if it’s cold, if it’s room temperature you’ll use wayyy less) to cover the surface of the cake.  At this point the whole thing started to slide slowly and rather unnervingly to one side.  It was like watching a mudslide in slow motion.  There was much yelling.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Sprinkle the top with fleur de sel and chill for an hour or so before serving, to set the ganache.

Sweet & Salty Cake
At least it tasted good.
Sweet & Salty Cake

Spy Tarts

Secret AGENT Tarts, Secret AGENT Tarts, he’s givin’ you a number, and takin’ AWAY your name …

Baking is much more exciting if your recipes come from a spy, like this one did.

I have a friend who works for CSIS, which is the Canadian equivalent of the CIA (likewise, our RCMP is the FBI).  And like all good spies, he is multi-talented, and thus has a very good recipe for butter pecan tarts. Or butter tarts.  Or raisin tarts.  Or whatever you call them.  I call them SPY TARTS.  I had to call him at work to get this recipe.  Espionage was involved.

(I also applied to work at CSIS a few years ago, and after a very entertaining 3-hour interview, both CSIS and I decided we wouldn’t be a good fit, though I’m sure they kept that file on me somewhere.  I must be too awesome to be a spy.)

So here is your top-secret recipe.  It’s top secret because it’s super easy.

At some point I will expand my repertoire to include pastry, but at the moment you will just have to be satisfied with pre-made Tenderflake tartlet shells.  This recipe makes 12 3″ tarts.

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

Gather together the following:

1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup shortening
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup raisins
Divide the raisins evenly among the 12 pre-made shells and place them on a baking sheet.
Mix all the other ingredients together in a bowl.
Fill each shell 3/4 full.
If you have mixture left over do not be tempted to overfill your cups, as they will bubble and get everywhere.
Bake on the bottom rack of your oven for 12-15 minutes.  Be careful not to overbake.  Of course if you underbake then they will stay runny. 
Remove from oven.  They should be all foamy and bubbling and the crust should be a nice brown.  Place a pecan half on top of each tart and allow to cool and solidify.  The reason I put the pecans on after they are cooked is I find that the pecans tend to burn if you do it before cooking.
EAT!