Every year when the grocery stores suddenly stack their shelves high with tiny bite size versions of everyone's favourite chocolates and candies in preparation for spooky season I get STOKED. What a wonderful time to be alive! It seems that public establishments everywhere suddenly have not only a reason but perhaps an obligation to stick out bowls of free candy. And the public has not only a reason but an obligation to do their part by taking and indulging in such free tiny delicacies. I set all self control and logic on the shelf when it comes to halloween time. I normally wouldn't be eating candy bars everyday, but TIS THE SEASON and they are so small so just one can't hurt right? But just one never really seems to be thing. Oh well. THIS IS MY CHANCE.
This time of year is also terribly inspiring for me as a baker because I've had a looooong time dream of making my own homemade versions of halloween candy. Yet year after year passes and I somehow never set aside the time to do this. Well this year I changed that and I MADE the time. Twix bars were never my favourite halloween candy as a kid, but as an adult they have snuck right up there and I've realized that they are like tiny versions of "millionaire's shortbread"... which is one of my favourite treats to bake/eat!!! So I knew I had to make homemade Twix bars a reality! But once I get the ball rolling it's hard to stop and suddenly I'm thinking, what if we somehow incorporated PUMPKIN into this candy classic... and soon with a bit of research and recipe mish-mashing and kitchen tinkering I have successfully created the "Pumpkin Twix Bar" that I am proud to share with you today!! Don't let your dreams be dreams!
I quite like these little guys. They feature a shortbread-cookie base that is spiced with the all familiar "pumpkin pie spice" (use a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger if you don't have a pumpkin pie spice blend kicking around). The filling is just as I was hoping for... a chewy caramel that is not rock hard and impossible to bite, but not too soft so that it oozes everywhere and looks messy. No, this caramel holds its shape but gives way when your teeth sink into it. For best results though, serve this at room temperature.
I especially love to sprinkle the top with toasted pumpkin seeds and flaky sea salt... to show that these ain't your ordinary twix bar... and also to balance out the sweetness from the caramel. Enjoy!!
Pumpkin Twix Bars
It's hard to believe, but it's been just over one full year since I started working at River Cafe Restaurant in Calgary. For some reason, which I can't even really explain to myself, I have had my sights set on working here for years... way back when I just needed a summer job to get me through art school and I wanted to be a server (I would have been awful at it I now see), to when I needed an internship during my time at baking school, to finally when I applied after graduating from baking school, hoping to find a job that felt "legit". Well let me tell you it's legit alright. I shall attempt to sum up my experience so far, which is a task so immense that it is difficult to start! But let's start at the beginning, shall we?
I don't know what it is that kept drawing my to this place to apply time after time, knowing slightly in my head that this whole place is WAY COOLER than me...
Perhaps it's that giant wooden entry door that just makes the whole experience of walking up to it very intimidating yet also full of excitement and wonder...
Perhaps it's the location, in the middle of the city, yet stranded on an island, surrounded by green grass and towering trees and the most beautiful river view and so many ducks!!! *(I will later decide that the ducks are more annoying than cute, and at times, terrifying in their defensiveness)
Perhaps because it is not only biking distance for me to get there, (what I look for first in a job, lol) but a rather gorgeous bike ride along the river pathway at that.
Perhaps because it is one of Calgary's top restaurants (if not number 1) AND it is ranked 28 on the list of top restaurants in CANADA which is mighty impressive for little old Cow Town. Not that I need to work in "the best" restaurant, rather River Cafe is not just any ordinary restaurant, and that appealed to me. I want to work in interesting places and to me, this was a very interesting place, even though really at the time I didn't actually know much about it. I knew that they celebrated local/Canadian cuisine, but oh boy I didn't even know what that really meant. So like, lots of saskatoons and maple syrup? and Bacon? Yes, all of these things, but there's also a heck of a lot more to it.
Upon my third application I was invited to come in for a stage, which is a lovely opportunity for both employee and employer, to see how everything jives. You basically come in a volunteer for a day, so you can see how the kitchen runs and the kitchen can see how you run (almost literally) and if you will be a good fit or not. That day it was pouring rain and miserable out yet the restaurant was still buzzing and busy and wild. The executive chef met with me (#oneofthemostintimidatingmomentsofmylife) and very coldly straight up warned me that restaurant life is hard and the hours are long and basically encouraged me not to take the job. I have never worked in a restaurant before. But turning down the job because someone tells me it is difficult was not my plan and so I just smiled and nodded and said I understood even if I didn't understand and I said "That's okay" even though inside I was saying "is it though??" But through my trepidations I remained persistent. Even if the job was hard I wanted to at least try. I wanted to say for myself that it was too hard. I wanted the experience. Kind of like running a marathon, yes it might hurt and be difficult and you KNOW this... but it is also a goal to accomplish, a life experience to gain, and a sense of pride on the horizon. And I have a hard time saying no.
My stage was mostly a blur of a very hectic stressful kitchen which included at one point water flooding in from outside into the basement and a very busy/pre-occupied but trying his best to accommodate me pastry chef. His assistant kept giving me tasks to do while juggling her own important to-do lists for the day. At the end, I was asked, "What do you think?" and apparently I replied with just a wide-eyed "Wow". I left feeling all the feelings. In the future I will look back on this day and laugh because not ALL days were like this at the restaurant, I just happened to pick a very crazy day. But if one can survive that...
I was hired (a miracle!) on the basis that I would be a part time pastry cook, there to assist the workload of the Pastry Chef and his assistant. I was able to still work part time at my other job (Higher Ground Cafe) which suited me just fine because I wasn't ready to leave the safety of that place just yet. Also, I thought, if working in a fine dining restaurant is intimidating and difficult and stressful, it's a wise plan to just start as part time, to dip my toes in the water you know? Not diving in head first, full time. Well, this worked for sure, I did dip my toes in. However once I did, it was a rather quick SWOOSH and I found myself entirely submerged.
After my first real shift, in which I worked 9 hours with no break (which I am now entirely accustomed to however at the time I had never done such a thing) I was EXHAUSTED and overwhelemed and quite frankly terrified about the situation I had gotten myself into and downright worried that I had made the wrong choice and is this the place for me and what have I done and I am not cut out for this and the standards are too high and everything is too fancy and the people are unfamiliar and I don't know if I will ever fit in and what have I done. The run-on sentence is necessary to emphasize how my brain was functioning at the time. I honestly felt like I had made some kind of mistake. But I was more horrified by the thought of quitting. I am not a quitter. I did not want to be a person who gets such an awesome job that many of my classmates would strive for and then work like one week and give up and say its too hard. Most of all, I was embarrassed that I was even having these thoughts. AND SO with the help of a good tear-filled heart to heart with my dear mother, I consoled myself by thinking: "I just have to get through this summer" and when even that felt daunting, I consoled myself by saying: "I just have to get through one month, and then I can re-assess things" Surely, things would settle by then and I could see things a little more clearly.
Before things could have a chance to settle however, our lovely assistant to our fearless and crazy Pastry Chef got in a terrible horrible car accident which forced her out of the kitchen for 9 months (!) and to keep this story from rambling on too much, I can sum it up by saying aside from the shock of this tragedy, my help was needed more than originally planned and my hours increased. I was soon being trained on the bread shift so that I could cover our bread baker on her days off. Still not wanting to let go of Higher Ground, I was working much more than I had originally bargained for, but I didn't know how to avoid that. So I just kept nodding and smiling. Surely, things would settle soon enough.
Meanwhile, as I was forwarned, work was indeed difficult, but in a way that I could not have predicted or prepared for. I made so many mistakes that hurt me to my core because I felt stupid and guilty. I felt small and weak. I felt dumb. I felt like I didn't belong, I felt like maybe I was simply not nearly good enough for a place with such high standards... Perhaps a sign from the universe demonstrating my stress levels, it would also become known to me as the summer in which I discovered my first grey hair.
But also, I was learning, and dare I say improving! Slowly but surely gaining more confidence, even if I didn't realize it at the time. Working 9-10 hours a day and working 6 days a week slowly became my normal. I was tired and sore most of the time. But along with all of this, I was also inspired and was in the middle of awesomeness that kept me coming back. And my mother kept telling me, "Don't worry, things will settle into routine soon".
And although the lows were low, the highs were high. I considered myself incredibly lucky to be working with a pastry chef who was incredibly talented, ridiculously creative, straightforward and tough but not "yell-y", and who loved vinatge jazz music as much as I did. How lucky am I to have a boss who is a creative, artistic genius and takes me under his wing like a mentor, looks out for me, and cooks me the most delicious food I have ever tasted... all while playing the best music in the background (Decemberists, Fiest, Frank Sinatra, oh my!) I was also remarkably lucky to work in a bakery in a fancy restaurant that actually had it's own space and respect from the rest of the restaurant, AND A WINDOW!! Most bakeries are tucked away into small corners and basements and you never see the light of day. But ours? We had a DECENTLY SIZED WINDOW and could look out onto the island :D Unreal. We could look outside and see people walking in the park, and in the early mornings when I came in at 6am to bake off the bread, I could see the most beautiful lighting linger over the park as the sun was rising. This always made me pause for just a second and smile, even during a very busy morning. I am so grateful for that little window.
I was also lucky that I had the opportunity to do some pretty fun jobs...
In the pastry kitchen there are so many weird and wonderful tasks and very creative uses of ingredients... I ate things that I have never tasted before (seabuckthorn, tangerine marigold, sorrel, edible flowers! pine mushrooms, goose! morrels, sunchokes, quince!), I used ingredients and techniques that I had never used. I made things I was always afraid to try making. I made plenty of mistakes, but I would try my best to forget the awful feeling of making the mistake and instead remember the lesson from it I had learned. I discovered how to use ingredients in magical ways that I had never thought of before. And although it is odd, many of the most tedious jobs were my favourite. Picking loads of tiny currants off the stems, pitting cherries, piping tiny dots of strawberry-rhubarb curd onto little golden bars of brown-butter blondie, making and forming literally hundreds of miniature waffle cones... very repetitive and daunting, but also meditative. I wasn't very good to start but I kept at it and slowly saw improvements. I was trying my best and generally succeeding and keeping a positive attitude and finding the joy in what I was doing. Compliments are not handed out often in the kitchen, but it also means that when they are, you know they are genuine. And boy that feels good. I realized that I was very lucky to be in the position I was in. I became less intimidated by the other staff and had now learned most of their names and work was feeling more friendly. We played good music and opened the window and had a lot of fun in the bakery. Many of the other staff often come into our space just because it's a nice place to be. In short, work was hard and demanding, but it was also fulfilling and rewarding. AND FUN. I was working in a kitchen, but most of the time I felt like I was part of some strange artist studio, and the work we were creating also happened to be edible. And also, delicious. Seriously living the dream!
I was asked if I wanted to stay and continue working in the fall. By now I was too curious to see what kind of whimsical desserts we would make next and excited for the learning opportunity. I wanted to see how the restaurant changed with the changing of the seasons. And, I was told, Fall would be much less busy, and things will slow down. "Things might even settle!"
I can tell you that right up until we shut the place down after New Years Eve, things never did settle as promised. I've learned to expect the unexpected, and know that there is always going to be something crazy that pops up out of nowhere, juuuuuust when you think things are starting to feel "normal". You can try to prepare yourself as best you can, however every single day is different, and you really never know exactly what is going to happen. This is difficult for someone like myself who really likes to plan ahead and be prepared and know what is going on. As much as I would like to be, I am NOT a spontaneous person. However, I contradict myself because I also love it, and the randomness can be fun, it keeps things interesting. I certainly have never, and do not understand the meaning of the word bored. Boredom is not in my vocabulary. I believe if you think you are bored YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.
I have always wanted the experience of working in a restaurant, and even though I am not really the best at it and don't always fit in, I have learned and grown so much and I can't believe how much more comfortable everything feels. I am stronger (both mentally and physically, thank you 22kg bags of rolled oats and constant running up and down stairs with immensely hefty trays of sourdough bread dough), and I have learned ways to be more efficient and how to function/survive in a restaurant. Don't get me wrong, I still make plenty of mistakes and still consider myself very inexperienced, but I have certainly grown and learned a ton. If I have one thing going for me it is my positive attitude and I was determined to keep that alive no matter what. It has helped me in so many ways.
When people ask me how I like my job I tell them the truth: that it is very hard, but also very rewarding. I think back to after my first day and how terrified I was and I am SO GLAD that I stuck with it and kept trying. Yes it is hard, yes it is difficult, yes I am physically drained at the end of every shift. But I do not regret any of it, rather I am incredibly grateful for this experience. My boss has often joked with me that of all the places to work for my first restaurant experience, I sure picked a wild one (one of the busiest in town with the highest standards) and "if you can survive here then you can work anywhere".
Now I know how to make and bake all sorts of breads, pastries, desserts, chocolates, sauces, garnishes, and more. Making wedding cakes feels (dare I say it) easy (okay no, easier) instead of daunting, I know how to tell when croissants are proofed (something that remained a mystery to me throughout baking school).
I've plated desserts and yelled "SERVICE PLEASE!" (a very thrilling thing to do, yet for a soft-spoken someone like me is also incredibly challenging)
I can use a both a paco jet and a vac machine with some kind of confidence and I know how to make "fluid gels" and I finally understand all the settings on the fancy-thousand-dollar-ovens we use.
I (unfortunately) say "CORNER" almost everytime I turn a blind corner (even in public and on the bike path). I've also gained the habit of knocking on doors everytime I go to open them, as if to warn whoever might be on the other side that I'm opening the door. An important move in the kitchen, kind of ridiculous to do in the outside world,
I've made friends with the people who intimidated me at first, and I've mastered (well, gotten better at) jobs that I once failed horribly at.
I've made steam buns, mousses, chocolate garnishes, curd, cookies, brownies, butterscotch, buttercream and countless cakes. I've rolled out dough, processed fruit, picked herbs and rhubarb from the garden, scrubbed flour bins and racks, mopped floors, rounded a million buns, peeled parsnips, HECK I have even cut thin slices of bread to turn into crostinis to feed none other than our very own prime minister!
This has been the longest post in the universe, so if you are still reading, congratulations and thank you... reflecting about all this is mostly a selfish act so please excuse me as I give myself a pat on the back. (sorry/not sorry) But it feels darn good to sit here right now and look back on all I've accomplished and know that I can and will handle whatever crazy curve balls are thrown at us this year... The most important thing I've learned is the powder of a positive attitude. It is SO IMPORTANT to be able to make mistakes and learn from them without taking things personally and getting down on yourself. There's a quote that I think about often that says "Forget the mistake, remember the lesson." It can be so easy in a busy restaurant to get caught up in the stress and let stuff get to you. I have learned how to still work hard and aspire to be my best, but not go crazy. I want to do a good job but if I mess up I will not let it destroy me. I have to remain positive and keep appearing happy because that defines who I am and it's what I am best at. In the words of my inspiring coworker, "nothing's gonna bring me down". Everyday might not be good, but there is good in everyday. Focus on that.
In the meantime, it's summer and I am still here! Trying to enjoy every minute and finding the joy in every task and every day. Which is easy right now because a new summer menu change is HAPPENING and GET THIS: I have the task of coming up with a "Tasting Dessert" feature soon after! Excuse me as I pick my jaw up off the floor. I never thought I'd be here. I am so happy I am.
Thank you, River Cafe, for everything.
This is a custom invention, created for none other than my very own father, my papa bear, also often known among friends as Pablo. My papa (and I'm sure many other papas out there) dearly adores oatmeal raisin cookies... Anytime I bake cookies, he wishes aloud and quite clearly that they will be oatmeal raisin cookies, which unfortunately for him they usually are not. Another thing he often requests is my homemade ice cream. Since I moved out, he has had to resort to STORE BOUGHT ICE CREAM heaven forbid. Seeing as it's not only FATHERS DAY but also his BIRTHDAY this past weekend... I figured I owed it to him to whip up a special treat!
In the spirit of "why or when you can and" I decided not to make cookies or ice cream, but to instead make an ice cream INSPIRED by cookies! This flavour is designed specifically with my dad in mind, however I am fairly confident that this concoction would suit many a father on Father's day. Or any hot summer weekend for that matter, of which I'm sure there will be plenty. And worst case scenario it suits me juuuuust fine.
Oatmeal Raisin Ice cream begins humbly with whole milk, heavy cream and all the usual custard-culprits. However I'm twisting things up by infusing the milk with toasted oats, hoping to squeeze out any extra nutty-oat-flavour that I can to make this ice cream special.
While we wait for things to chill, we're still busy in the kitchen, baking up oat streusel to crumble into the ice cream at the end. We're also soaking raisins in RUM because YUM.
Layers of flavour, layers of love.
Kinda like an oatmeal ice cream sandwich, all blended into one bowl. To my papa and to all the DADs out there... this scoop's for you!
What makes this ice cream as special as my papa? I've toasted oats to bring out their nutty flavour, then steeped them in the ice cream base. I've used three varieties of raisins just for fun and colour and partially due to my curiosity... (The bulk bins have three different kinds, and so I'm like, LETS TRY THEM ALL) and soaked them in a spiced-rum simple syrup. The spiced flavour of the rum will pair nicely with everything here, however any old rum will do. By soaking our raisins in syrup, this will plump them up and ensure that they stay soft even when frozen into the ice cream. If you don't have rum you can always soak the raisins in a simple syrup without the rum instead.
THE RESULT: A creamy smooth ice cream, reminiscent of vanilla but dare I say creamier in flavour due to the oats. Soft & sweet fruity raisins swirled throughout, (not the rock hard pellets of disappointment that raisins sometimes can be...) and a crunchy, salty oat-cookie crumb in every bite. I give you: The Papa Bear Ice Cream!
Oatmeal Raisin Ice Cream (AKA Papa Bear Ice Cream)
Recipe adapted from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, inspired by my Dad
ice cream base:
March 14th is one of my favourite days to celebrate! If you haven't heard of Pi Day before... here you go:
March 14 = the 14th day of the 3rd month = 3.14 = Pi = Pie
My kind of math.
I have been wanting to try my hand at making an apple crumble pie for a while now... we sell one such pie at the cafe where I work and it is a thing of beauty. Or at least, it looks like a thing of beauty. I confess I've never actually had a whole slice but I have tried broken bits and pieces that were not fit enough to sell. I'm no pie connoisseur, but it looks picture perfect and that crumble topping is all I ever want to eat ever. I always hope that a big chunk will fall off as we are cutting it to serve, so that I can snatch it up and have a taste for myself :)
You might say, "Why don't you just buy a slice?"
But, if you know me, my style response is more along the lines of, "Let's go home and figure out how to make this myself"
Here is my attempt to re-create that pie, mashing together a few recipes from one of my most trusted baking mentors... that's right I'm talking about Martha. She usually doesn't let me down, and in this case, she pulled through once again. I believe the pie was a success!! For two reasons:
I added a few of my own twists to make the pie of my apple-crumble-dreams by throwing in some chopped walnuts and toasted oats into the crumble mixture. I also made sure there was a good pinch of salt in there too, as the slight salt in the crumb is what keeps me hoping a big chunk will decide to stray from the pie and make for easy snacking ;)
The apple filling uses both fuji and granny smith apples for a nice balance of sweet/tart, and the filling itself is not overly wet but still juicy. I highly encourage you to serve this with a big scoop of ice cream... a good quality vanilla OR if you are feeling sassy, salted caramel is my weapon of choice. (High five that a Village Ice Cream store is just a few blocks up the street from where I live)
Happy Pi Day!
Apple Crumble Pie
recipe adapted from Martha Stewart
Roses are red,
Velvet is too,
This cake is made with beets,
So it must be good for you.
We all know that a cake for February, AKA Valentines MONTH (not sorry) was gonna be a red/pink deal. For me, that means whipping up one of my favourite recipes: BEET red velvet.
That's right, BEET! This is a historically correct red velvet cake, in that the colour comes entirely from the magical power of beets, not a trace of food colouring. ALTHOUGH I confess that food colouring was used in the frosting. But I'm in charge here, so, it's okay.
Did you know that back in the day Red Velvet was named thusly due to the velvety texture imparted by beets? It's true. If you're like, "for real, beets in cake?" then I say hey, if carrot cake is so common then why not beet cake! You've gotta try it, I've converted a lot of non beet-lievers. (Yikes that was bad)
But seriously even the skeptics loved the flavour of this cake! Even a friend who says he "doesn't like beets". The beets add flavour, colour, texture, and a little drama. Nice and tangy, especially good with cream cheese frosting...
I made this recipe in cupcake form for Higher Ground Cafe for some valentine-themed treats. I always get so stoked to see how vibrant the colour is! I called these "Heart-Beet Cupcakes" heh heh
As this is part of my monthly cake challenge, I needed to try something new. This month I attempted the technique of painting with frosting! It turned out not exactly as I envisioned in my mind... to be honest my first thought was "WOW epic fail" like when you see something on pinterest and then in reality it just is laughably awful? But after walking away and coming back with fresh eyes, I actually liked what I created! Like so many of my art experiments, really! This one really felt like painting. FUN.
Perhaps painting with buttercream might yield better results as opposed to cream cheese frosting... But this cake really requires cream cheese frosting. It's just non-negotiable.
This bowl here contains the liquid ingredients for our beet-cake-batter. WOW amiright? I swear I didn't edit this! Life is this magical! I love veggies.
And here is our cake batter, all trayed up and ready for the oven. But first, a glamour shot. This batter deserves it.
You may notice that I often bake cakes as a flat sheet tray, and then cut them into circles for stacking. This way the layers bake flat and evenly, the baking time shortens, you can cut them into any size you want, and it gives you lots of scraps for snacking :)
Also, if you just moved and don't currently own a round cake pan, this technique really comes in handy...
Garnished with toasted red-velvet crumbs (good use of those cake scraps!), beet chips (store bought from costco!), and gold sprinkles because oooh lala.
To February! The short but sweet month of love, cold weather, and chocolate that goes on sale. What a grand time of year. Time to sneak some veggies into dessert! It's practically health food! Right?
All-Natural Red Velvet Cake
Recipe barely adapted from Yossy Arefi
Cream Cheese Frosting
I was recently asked a daunting question: What is the greatest joy in life? Is it odd that immediately my brain went to food related things? Well, knowing me, not odd at all. Also, food is a great joy in life for everyone... we need it to survive and also can derive great pleasure from it so I think it's only natural I would jump to this topic.
I came up with two conclusions: chocolate. I have always loved chocolate from the dawn of time (read: when I was a tiny thing not even born yet and my mama would get strong cravings for chocolate ice cream). I crave chocolate everyday, and the darker, the better.
My other response was: anything that strikes that wonderful contrasting balance of sweet vs salty. I live for sea salt on my cookies, salted caramel anything, and those Nature Valley bars that are literally called Sweet and Salty. I drool just thinking about it. It's something about the initial sweetness and then this POW of addictive salt that is crave-able beyond my wildest dreams. Some people only think of using salt in savoury cooking. They are so wrong. Baking requires balance of flavours too, and salt can offer so much to sweet foods in this regard. Next time you have toast with jam, sprinkle a little salt on top. KAPOW
So what about taking these two great joys in life (Chocolate + Sweet/Salty) and putting them into another great joy in life? Of course I am talking about COOKIES.
I love creating a cookie based on a quick scan through the pantry, throwing in whatever I have on hand that might taste good together. In this case, during a cookie baking emergency where I wanted to whip up something quick and delicious, the cookie gods were smiling down upon me
I found a half-full bag of these "salted caramel chipits" and an open bag of pretzel sticks that needed to be used.
Throw those gems into a chocolate cookie base (with some extra chocolate chips for good luck) and we have ourselves a sweet and salty treat with a good hit of cocoa to relieve those intense chocolate cravings. All you need is a glass of milk, and life is golden my friends, golden.
Chocolate Sweet + Salty Cookies
recipe adapted from Daphna Rabinovitchna
Here in Cow Town it's been averaging at about -25˚C for the last week or so... it's time for some TROPICAL TREATS I say!!! ENOUGH OF THIS COLD.
These zesty bars will trick you into thinking you are on a beach in Mexico, sipping a paloma, with your bare feet tucked into soft warm sand... when in reality I have spent too many minutes waiting for the bus outside and despite my desperate attempts to keep my feet warm by wearing my (ugly but warm) clompy snow boots, I still managed to get frostbitten toes for which I have lost all feeling... where was I? Oh yes, eating our feelings through the power of citrus! (and tequila, that helps too)
This recipe was born out of a desire to make lemon bars... However, not having any lemons, nor the desire to venture out to the grocery store for only them specifically.
What I did have sitting around in my fridge needing to be utilized was grapefruit and lime, leftover from the recent grand Paloma Cake adventure.
If one can make lemon bars out of lemons, then surely one can make Paloma bars out of grapefruit lime and tequila!!! Right?
Throw in some coconut because YUM! and we have ourselves a tropical treat to make us forget about winter for juuuuuust a second. It's slightly more affordable than actually going to Mexico, which is what my parents did for this month, smart people, I tell ya. This is as close as I'll get.
Paloma Coconut Squares
Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart
for the base:
And now it's time for another edition of The Travelling Cookie Monster! In this episode, we travel to the grungey-cool graffiti-coated boat-harbouring city in southern France known as Marseille. (think, Mar-Say... not mar-sigh).
Not many people choose to travel here because it's considered less glamorous than say Paris of course or Nice, however it was WELL worth the trip. Marseille is just COOL. I loved my brief stay in this artsy city. Also, like many regions in Europe, they have their OWN SYMBOLIC COOKIE. That's worth a visit for me if nothing else. Enter: The Navette.
FUN FACT: Navette cookies are traditionally eaten on the lesser known religious holiday known as Candlemas. Not to be confused with Candlemass which is a Swedish "doom metal" band. This year, Candlemas happens to be February 2... WHICH IS TODAY! What a great day to make Navette cookies.
Sometimes referred to as shuttle cookies, Navettes are named after their boat-like shape. Appropriate for a city that does indeed have many many boats that fill it's harbour. Right along the docks is a long boardwalk lined with market stands and tables with people selling souveniers, housewares, treats, sailor-themed baby clothes, and of course, Navette cookies. You can also find them in all the bakeries, piled high in baskets. The most common flavour is orange blossom, but there are also lemon, anise, and many other variations to be found. As far as treats go, they are pretty darn basic. But when looking for something to dunk into your tea whilst in Marseille, one must reach for a navette. And cookie monster never says no to a cookie.
As mentioned before, the classic Navette cookie is made with Orange Blossom water. I really wanted to make these cookie today, (cuz it's Candlemas! LOL) but I do not have orange blossom water. I do have, however, a real orange. So, I used orange zest instead. Not the traditional Navette, but good enough for me :)
True confession time, The Navette that I ate in Marseille, and the ones that I re-created in my kitchen back home, are not the same. Let me just say the cookie I ate in France was much more pleasant. I don't know if it is just me, or the recipe I used, but these cookies were a little disappointing. However it's the thought that counts and it made for some fun reminiscing. And you never know until you try! Regardless, here is the recipe.
recipe adapted from Saveur
For the sake of cake
I love cake! The strange part about me saying this is that I think eating cake is all good and fine, however I would probably rather eat cookies, cuz I am a COOKIE MONSTER and that's just me. Give me a choice between a chunky cookie or a slice of elegance and I will pick the cookie nearly every time. I could instead re-phrase "I LOVE CAKE" to a more specific "I love the concept of cake!" I love the way cakes look, how they are symbols for PARTY and CELEBRATION. They are food of happy times and meant to bring joy. I could also say "I love the act of making cakes", as it is an art form all on it's own!!! Cake decorating is one of those areas in life where the worlds of pastry and fine art collide... and it's a weird and wonderful zone.
I've realized however, that I spend a lot of time looking at pictures of cakes and thinking about making them, more than the actual act of making them. I have learned and read enough to know how certain cakes are produced and the various fascinating techniques that are used. But, I haven't had much practice in actually making them. It's time to stop being the naive viewer in the art gallery saying "I could do that" and to actually get out there (or stay at home) and actually JUST DO IT.
My problem is that I seem to be always waiting for the right occasion for which to bake a cake, because I have this mental block that says: you need an occasion to bake a cake. What if we flipped this? What if the opposite became true? What if... the cake created an occasion for itself? The cake is the cause! (Tiny epiphany, cue tiny fireworks and explosions of inspiration). I need to make time for cake.
Resolution: Stop waiting for an occasion and just bake a darn cake. For the sake of cake! Try new techniques! Make ugly messes! Because this is how we learn things.
My goal for 2019 (this is dangerous, now that I am officially announcing it as a goal,) is to each month make one cake, using a baking or decorating technique that I have never tried before, or one that I need more practice with. I figure this will be fun, because cake is fun. It's like painting or any other hobby, only you can eat it. If I mess up, it's just cake. I will be learning and growing as a baker, and I will have delicious treats to share with family and friends. Please help me eat all this cake that's about to happen.
January: A cake for a Fiesta
It's 2019, it's a new year, it's a new dawn, it's a new day! And... I have a new home! Naturally, my roomies and I wanted to throw a housewarming shindig to make things official, and to brag to our friends/show off our new digs. After rejecting my suggestion that the party be themed "House" or "Warm" (appropriate, yes! But also lame? kay fine) we very quickly agreed to having a fiesta themed housewarming party. My favorite theme. And so with this in mind, along with the long-time desire I've had for wanting to make succulents out of frosting... I designed the Paloma Cactus Cake!
If you are thinking "What in tarnation is a Paloma?", let me tell you... Firstly, it is amazing. A Paloma is a cocktail with a fun name and even more fun ingredients: tequila (my spirit-spirit), grapefruit and lime. SO, I wanted to let these flavours set the stage for my fiesta-party-cactus-cake.
This is a triple layer cake, using grapefruit and lime zest and juices AND TEQUILA to flavour the sponge and the frosting. To really bring it home, I (generously) soaked each cake layer with a dousing of tequila-grapefruit-syrup. This adds flaaaayyyyve and helps prevent the dreaded dry-cake-phenomena. Between the layers is a grapefruit curd, then the whole shebang is frosted with paloma frosting, and decorated with little buttercream succulents. I giggled a lot when making these tiny guys cuz they're just so darn cute! Buttercream decorating like this takes a decent amount of time and preparation and makes a decent sized mess. However, being able to pipe the succulents then keep them in freezer until you are ready to decorate makes life that much simpler and tidier. And remember the golden rule of kitchen: clean as you go.
The "sand" crumbs that you see are made from leftover cake scraps that I toasted until crisp in the oven, snacked on a few, then blitzed them up in the food processor.
Definitely room for improvement, but I'm pretty happy with how this first attempt worked out :) So glad I finally made the time to try this!
If a grapefruit-lime-tequila cake speaks to your soul, then lucky you, here is the recipe! It tastes just as tropical without the tiny cacti, but they do make life fun. Happy Baking!
recipe from Wilton
recipe from Wilton
*note:when I made my cake, I only used half this recipe of frosting, and it worked, however I had absolutely none left over and probably could have used a little more to cover the sides of my cake better. If you want to be safer and have some frosting leftover, use the full recipe.
Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart
Swiss meringue buttercream is my favourite for piping, because it is so silky smooth. Below is a favourite recipe of mine that has the addition of white chocolate, which I believe does two wonderful things: helps stabilize the buttercream, and also helps it taste delicious. You can use your own buttercream recipe if you have one you like, or you can even use the paloma frosting if that feels simpler, however you may have to adjust the consistency by adding milk or icing sugar as needed. I liked the contrast of the two frostings on this cake, for their different appearance, textures, and flavours!
White Chocolate Buttercream
I would be silly to try and leave instructions here, for I am certainly no expert on this topic. Instead, here is a link to a video that helped me as I endeavoured on this time consuming but deeply satisfying procedure:
High five to Wilton, thank you!
And there we are! Easy right? Get ready to make a mess :)
Speaking of which, I can't help but include this beautifully grotesque image of the cake-eating-aftermath:
Nobody wanted me to cut into the cake, however I am happy to report that it was worth it as the cake itself was in fact delicious as it was pretty. Yay for cake! We are off to a grand start.
A very wise lady inspired the belief in me that a house is not a home until one has baked homemade banana bread in it. I am 100% on board with this concept. And so in an effort to make my new house my new home... I baked banana bread. Amen.
My mom, and her sister, are both banana bread baking queens. They both use the same recipe, one passed down from their Aunt, known by most as, Auntie Irene. My great Auntie Irene was the sweetest of little ladies, with fire-truck red hair and the cutest smile. Despite her petite size, she would smother you with hugs and kisses and tons of food. Her recipes remain family favourites, and are made often in my household. A few recipes come to mind including cheesy mashed potatoes, her famous chocolate sauce... but made most often, her whole-wheat-banana-bread.
One taste of this loaf and I am instantly "home" no matter where I actually am. I love the combo of half whole wheat flour and half regular flour, not just because I trick myself into thinking its good for you, but the whole wheat flour adds another layer of nutty flavour which I crave! This baby is delicious just on its own, but I also love adding toasted walnuts for some crunch, or chocolate chips if I'm feeling it. Oh I'm feeling it. Can't go wrong.
I baked two mini loafs in my new place to welcome myself into the kitchen and lay a foundation for home-baked goodies to come. Before we can get crazy making new experiments, we gotta stick to the old favourites first, ya know? When I got to sit down and enjoy a warm slice of my labour... my first thought was "Tastes like mom!" (Hi mom)
Life is good.
Auntie Irene's Whole Wheat Banana Bread
makes 1 large loaf, or 4 mini loaf pans. Or ~12 muffins!
Happy Baking <3
Tiny Tea Party
It's about celebrating the tiny things.
© 2015 Larissa Costella
All Rights Reserved
(All images and content are my own unless otherwise noted)