A Study in Apple Pie

Happy Canada Day everyone! I can’t believe I’ve been writing this little blog for 9 years now – with a little blurb, a love of food, and a bored brain full of ideas. I’ve been through quite a few changes over the years, and the blog has seen the subtle shifts as I’ve grown, developed, and learned to “adult” as opposed to “student” or “invalid”. I joined up with The Recipe Redux and The Sunday Supper crews, which keep me mostly on track with blogging (thanks!), and while I’m not the most regular of posters, I still try my best to share the joys (and the occasional frustrations) the kitchen brings me.

These days, I am gloriously happy (most days!) teaching Home Economics in the school I grew up in, taking care of my cat, Dish, and cooking and baking as much as I possibly can. Who knows what the next year will bring? Hopefully, you’ll all stick around to find out.

So for this special day, I decided to do a little R&D for that aforementioned Home Ec class – a study in apple pie, if you will. Apple pie is American, you say?? Well, the USA may be known as the “owner” of apple pie, but I’ve grown up with enough apple picking, pie making, and pie-eating to know that we have equal stake. Extra if you add a slice of old Cheddar cheese on the side. Now, our “mom standard” around here is very, very plain-Jane: as in no sweetener, butter, and half the time not even cinnamon (we get distracted when we bake!). No, our Fall Harvest pies are just crust (made with shortening, but not the Crisco recipe anymore since it doesn’t behave the same with their new formula) and Northern Spies piled up as high as we can go. They are still some of the best pies I ever remember eating, and as a kid I would not touch a storebought one becaue it was “too sweet”.

But when have I ever followed the rules? Looking back at this blog, every apple pie recipe I’ve shared has had some sort of adornment. I’ve learned that (especially cooking for kids), most people are so used to the sweetened crusts and fillings of pie from bakeries or grocery stores that ours is “flat” to their tastebuds. That said, when one of my students started bringing in to-die-for tarts she called “apple tarts with caramel”, and wrote me a request that we make them in class this coming year, I had to try and figure out what actually went into them. Thankfully, her mom pointed me in the direction of the recipe she used – the infamous Apple Pie by Grandma Ople recipe from Allrecipes. Looking at the recipe, I can see why it’s so popular – how can you go wrong with butter and sugar and a lattice crust? I was hoping for something a little more streamlined, though (I only have an hour for lessons), so I decided to try a few other options too and see what still gave the “caramel” feel with less effort (yes, I said effort. I’m managing up to 15 Grade Ones this year!).

A Study in Apple Pie for Canada Day

So, armed with my trusty muffin tin and strips of parchment for easy removal, I tried three different options (using my mom’s crust recipe, but with added instant oatmeal for texture). The first one (on the right of the photo) was filled with my variation of the Caramelized Apples recipe on rouxbe.com, using salted butter (it’s all we use at home), a pinch of cinnamon and a half teaspoon of honey (love my local honey!!). Next (in the middle) came the “original”, a scaled-down Ople pie, using salted butter, oat flour instead of all purpose simply because it was on hand, and with more water (it was clumping too much with the amount as written). Lastly, I wanted to make Bright Eyed Baker’s fantastic DIY Caramel Sauce (which has worked for me before) and drizzle that on top of the apples, but when I added the milk it split and curdled, and I wound up tossing the batch. Instead, I opted to try a mock “condensed milk”, adding a pinch of cinnamon and only reducing the sugar and milk for a few minutes, until syrupy. Those are on the far left.

Overall, looking at the options, I kind of like the first ones best. First, the recipe cooks the apples, meaning they’ll shrink less in the oven (read: more apples per bite!), second, cooking the apples in the butter / sugar mixture allows them to really soak up the butterscotchy flavour of the brown sugar, and they release their juices too. After filling the shells with the strained apples, I drizzled each with a little of that sauce left in the bottom of the pot (which I let reduce a little as I sorted the apples), and the rest makes an awesome syrup for anything appley! (For adults, I’d even add a half-shot of butterscotch schnapps to the filling mixtures… but you do you!). Regardless of the one you like, it’s always important to let the pies cool completely before digging in so the juices can set. Reheat them in a low oven afterwards!

Looking at all three, what would your pick be?

Caramelized Apple Tartlets
Makes 3 tartlets
1 tbsp salted butter
1/2 tsp honey (I used a dark amber one made by our neighbours, which could be any variety)
2 tbsp packed dark brown sugar
pinch of cinnamon
1 whole tart apple (such as a granny smith), peeled and diced

  1. Heat the oven to 400F and line 3 muffin cups with a strip of parchment.
  2. Fit rounds of pie dough into the lined cups, allowing 1/2″ overhang around the edges.
  3. In a small pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat.
  4. Add the honey, brown sugar and cinnamon and cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add the apples and cook, stirring, until they begin to collapse and release their juices – about 4 minutes.
  6. Turn off the heat (leave the pot on the burner) and, using a slotted spoon (I used a fork, which does the same thing!), fill the tartlets up to the lip.
  7. Drizzle with reduced sauce, then fold over the edges of the pastry to slightly encase the filling.
  8. Bake for 15 minutes.

Almost Ople’s Apple Tartlets
Makes 3
1 whole tart apple (such as a granny smith), peeled and diced
1 tbsp salted butter
1 tsp oat flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp packed dark brown sugar
2 1/2 tbsp boiling water

  1. Heat the oven to 400F and line 3 muffin cups with a strip of parchment.
  2. Fit rounds of pie dough into the lined cups, allowing 1/2″ overhang around the edges.
  3. Fill with apples, mounded slightly. Make an “X” with scraps of pie dough overtop of the apples.
  4. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
  5. Stir in flour and cook 30 seconds – 1 minute, until “pasty” and not “floury” smelling.
  6. Add the sugars and stir, then stream in the water and bring to a brisk simmer.
  7. Let simmer, stirring, until the mixture is thick and creamy – about 2 minutes.
  8. Gently spoon the sugar and butter liquid over the crust and apples in the muffin tin.
  9. Bake for 15 minutes.

Sweet Milk Apple Tartlets
Makes 3
1 whole tart apple (such as a granny smith), peeled and diced
3 tbsp whole milk
3 tbsp sugar
pinch cinnamon
pinch salt

  1. Heat the oven to 400F and line 3 muffin cups with a strip of parchment.
  2. Fit rounds of pie dough into the lined cups, allowing 1/2″ overhang around the edges.
  3. Fill with apples, mounded slightly.
  4. In a small pot, heat the milk, sugar, cinnamon and salt until briskly simmering.
  5. Cook, swirling the pan often, until the milk starts to reduce and possibly take a hint of colour (it may be hard to see because of the cinnamon, but the thickness should be like a syrup).
  6. Spoon over the apples, then fold over the edges of the pastry to slightly encase the filling.
  7. Bake for 15 minutes.

Studded Spiral Cinnamon Brioche

It’s been a while since I’ve posted… blame the warmer (read: gardening) weather coupled with end-of-the-year school stuff, and spending time at the computer just doesn’t hold the same allure! Besides the usual annual demands for time, I was stuck with a slowly dying laptop which I (finally) replaced this past weekend! Hopefully, this will mean things are back to their slightly-less-sporadic posting… I still have lots to feed you!

Studded Spiral Cinnamon BriocheIf you know me at all, you know that the best way for me to blow off steam is to cook or bake something. Between the rhythm of preparing, mixing and cooking, the ability to be creative, the control over the situation and the smells that emanate while doing so, I don’t see any better solution on the pharmacy shelf! I must come by that trait honestly, since my grandfather would do the same – and, like me, he found bread to be the answer to all. 

Of course, just because bread is the ultimate tamer of hunger and nerves doesn’t mean it always has to be a plain old loaf of white or wheat! With the end of a carton of eggs and a container of Scented Cinnamon Honey Butter sitting in the fridge (it’s the new “cinnamon toast” staple here), I was thinking about a rich, exotically inspired loaf. Of course, I went back to the Middle East for inspiration after finding a neat spiraled Tahini Bread , this Noon Rogani loaf and this flaky pastry along with my stepsister-in-law’s donation of baklava to a family dinner. My mom (my bread-eater) prefers pecans to any other nut, and for me using them in the filling for my version of a spiral bread was only natural, as was using good ol’ Canadian dried cranberries and the same local honey I made this batch of butter with. To keep the filling in, I turned to this handy tip from King Arthur Flour and used the whites left over from my yolk-based egg wash. A spring-form pan coated with semolina helped the bread keep its shape while adding a light crunch.

Cutting into the loaf, the most incredible aroma wafts out and boldly declares that it is anything other than the ordinary. It was perfectly moist and tender, remaining so for days, and when toasted was the perfect foil for the Toast Toppers in the fridge. 

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Studded Spiral Cinnamon Brioche

Studded Spiral Cinnamon Brioche
Makes 1 large loaf, 20 slices
2 cups whole wheat bread flour
½ cup all purpose flour
3 tbsp skim milk powder
1 tsp salt
2 tsp instant yeast
2/3 cup recently fed sourdough starter
1 tbsp vanilla
1 tsp orange flower water (optional)
2 large eggs
⅓ cup Scented Cinnamon Honey Butter

Filling:
¼ cup dried cranberries
½ cup diced pecans
1 tbsp honey
2 egg whites

Assembly:
¼ cup semolina, for dusting
2 egg yolks, beaten with 2 tbsp water, for egg wash

Dough:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, whisk together the dry ingredients.
  2. Add the sourdough starter and flavourings, mixing well.
  3. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing in well.
  4. Add the butter in small pieces, beating it in gradually. Continue beating until the dough is smooth and shiny, about 5 to 8 minutes.
  5. Cover and let rise until puffy, about 1 ½ hours.

Filling and Assembly:

  1. Line a greased 10” springform pan with parchment and dust the bottom with semolina.
  2. Punch down and roll out on a lightly floured surface to a rectangle about 9 inches wide and 3 feet long. Let rest 5 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, combine cranberries, pecans, honey and egg whites.
  4. Sprinkle the surface of the dough with the filling mixture.
  5. Beginning with a long edge, roll the dough into a log.
  6. Spiral the log into pan or other deep, round pan, tucking the end into the middle.
  7. Cover and let rise in a warm place until very puffy, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
  8. Heat the oven to 350°F.
  9. Brush the risen loaf with the egg wash.
  10. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until its internal temperature is at least 190ºF on an instant-read thermometer. Check after 20 minutes and tent with foil if it’s browning too quickly.
  11. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then gently unmould onto a rack to cool completely.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 129.2
Total Fat: 4.9 g
Cholesterol: 41.4 mg
Sodium: 146.9 mg
Total Carbs: 18.0 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.2 g
Protein: 4.4 g

Chocolate Cherry Truffle Cheesecake #SundaySupper

My mom has always adored dark chocolate, cherries and cheesecake – particularly in that order. Given the choice, she’d happily sit down to a relatively spartan slice of New York style cheesecake with cherry and chocolate sauce before a towering sponge cake, so this year for her birthday I figured I would combine her three sweet favourites. This Chocolate Cherry Truffle Cheesecake was born out of a 3AM brainstorm (the best ideas always come out of insomnia!) where I thought “why not make a cookie (rather than cookie crumb) base packed with dried cherries and cocoa, topped with a silky, dense, slightly tangy chocolate-laden cheese filling with a cherry swirl?”. A quick consult with the birthday girl later, I found myself in the kitchen whipping together this intensely rich, but incredibly easy one bowl / one food processor cheesecake.

To make things easier on myself (and to ensure the base was completely cool and set) I baked the “cookie” the day before, letting it hang out in its springform home at room temperature overnight. The cheese mixture featured not only silky couverture chocolate and sour cream, but my favourite “secret ingredient” – silken tofu – as well. The tofu, unlike eggs, doesn’t hold air when beaten, making the cheesecake incredibly creamy and dense with a far smaller chance of cracking – even without a water bath! Coupled with the extra step of partially cooling the baked cake in the oven, this dessert was as gorgeous as it was delicious.

Chocolate Cherry Truffle Cheesecake

The name of this dessert is no lie, either. Each bite of this cake feels almost exactly like eating a dark chocolate Lindor, with the occasional break of chewy cherry tang. It’s so intense that a small piece is more than satisfying, and that’s probably a good thing given the incredible decadence of the ingredients! According to Mom, the cake freezes well too – she just pulled the last piece out for dessert this week!

While my mom’s birthday was over a month ago, Mother’s Day on May 8th is another perfect excuse to indulge in all things mom-worthy! This #SundaySupper we’re sharing our favourite recipes Mom made throughout the years as well as the recipes they love to eat. Our hosts this week are Christie Campbell of A Kitchen Hoor’s Adventures and Wendy Leep Hammond of Wholistic Woman.

Starters (Appetizers, Beverages, Breakfast):

Salads, Side Dishes, and Sauces:

Main Dishes:

Desserts:

Plus What Mom Really Wants for Mother’s Day plus Mom’s Favorite from Sunday Supper Movement recipes.

Sunday Supper MovementJoin the #SundaySupper conversation on twitter on Sunday! We tweet throughout the day and share recipes from all over the world. Our weekly chat starts at 7:00 pm ET. Follow the #SundaySupper hashtag and remember to include it in your tweets to join in the chat. To get more great Sunday Supper Recipes, visit our website or check out our Pinterest board.  

Would you like to join the Sunday Supper Movement? It’s easy. You can sign up by clicking here: Sunday Supper Movement.

Chocolate Cherry Truffle Cheesecake
Serves 20

Crust:
¼ cup dried cherries
¼ cup port wine (or cherry juice)
⅓ cup unsalted butter, softened
⅓ cup shortening
½ tsp Kosher salt
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
⅓ cup dark brown sugar
1 ¼ cups barley or whole wheat pastry flour
⅓ cup cocoa powder

Filling:
14 oz chopped best-quality bittersweet chocolate (I used couverture wafers)
4 oz chopped unsweetened chocolate
1 (10 oz / 300 mL) can sweetened condensed milk
24 oz cream cheese, softened
½ cup sour cream
2 large eggs
4 oz silken tofu
½ tsp salt
¼ cup cherry pie filling, pureed until smooth

chocolate wafers and / or chocolate covered cherries, for decoration

Crust:

  1. Combine cherries and port in a small bowl. Let stand at least 30 minutes (do not drain).
  2. In a large bowl, cream the butter, shortening, salt, egg, vanilla and sugar until fluffy.
  3. Sift in flour and cocoa, mixing until incorporated.
  4. Fold in cherries and liquid. The dough should resemble a chocolate chip cookie.
  5. Spread dough into the bottom of a greased and parchment-lined 10” spring-form pan and freeze 1 hour.
  6. Bake at 400 °F for 20 minutes or until just firm. Set aside to cool.

Filling:

  1. Reduce oven temperature to 325°F and wrap the outside of the spring-form pan with foil.
  2. Melt together the chocolates and condensed milk. Cool slightly.
  3. In a food processor, puree cream cheese, sour cream, eggs, tofu and salt until smooth. Add chocolate and beat until combined.
  4. Pour mixture onto prepared crust.
  5. Spoon dollops of pureed pie filling onto the cheese mixture and swirl lightly with a knife.
  6. Bake in preheated oven for about 1 hour or until filling is set.
  7. Turn off the oven and let cool inside for 30 minutes, then remove and cool to room temperature.
  8. Refrigerate in the pan, covered, at least 8 hours or overnight.
  9. Unmould and decorate with chocolate wafers and / or chocolate covered cherries, if desired 

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 449.0
Total Fat: 31.4 g
Cholesterol: 79.9 mg
Sodium: 181.3 mg
Total Carbs: 37.7 g
Dietary Fiber: 4.1 g
Protein: 8.3 g

Tie-Dyed Vanilla Cupcakes with French Vanilla Frosting

It was my birthday this past Monday (PS – thanks everyone for the Facebook b-day wishes!), and to celebrate with my Grade 1, 2 and 3 Home Ec classes I busted out what is now becoming more or less “tradition” – cupcake decorating! To simplify matters (mostly because I don’t have an oven, or much of a counter, at easy disposal) I bake the cupcakes at home and bring them “naked” to class with a bucket of “base frosting” (AKA vanilla buttercream) and some Ziploc “piping bags” of decorating frosting. I usually stick with vanilla-based flavours rather than chocolate, since enough of the kids are anti chocolate (horrors, I know) that it’s not worth fighting about it.

That doesn’t mean I can’t have fun with them, though! This year I busted out one of my childhood favourites, the “Tie-Dye Cupcake”, which quickly became the hit of the class. The basic recipe is simple – almost ridiculously so – and I easily veganized it by swapping the dairy milk out for a boxed coconut beverage. Not only did the coconut milk add a touch of extra rich, sweet flavour, but it kept the cakes incredibly moist and tender. A little whole wheat pastry flour and a whisper of nutmeg added a little complexity to the vanilla base and appealed to both grown ups and kids, even if they didn’t know it was there! Of course, the colours have no flavour, but they did make the whole lesson festive and way too much fun – especially when the kids ate theirs (topped with loads of coloured frosting too, of course) and compared their “tie dyed tongues”!

Going with the vanilla theme, I decided to make a rich, French vanilla frosting as my “base buttercream”. To the drop-dead simple icing sugar – shortening – “butter” mix, I added a scoop of vanilla custard powder and another touch of nutmeg which not only added great flavour but helped to stabilize the blend enough to spread without adding a bucket of sugar (I hate frosting that tastes of just powdered sugar!). That said, it is still very much a “keep refrigerated” item – the vegan butter softens faster than “regular” butter so if you want to keep things solid, cool is best! 

Tie-Dyed Vanilla Cupcakes with French Vanilla Frosting

Tie-Dyed Vanilla Cupcakes
Makes 12 – This recipe doubles well but I don’t recommend expanding it further.
⅔ cup unsweetened coconut milk beverage (not the canned kind) or unsweetened soy / almond milk
⅓ cup canola oil
2 tbsp vinegar
1 tbsp vanilla
¾ cup flour
½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
¾ cup vanilla sugar
1 tsp baking soda
¾ tsp salt
¼ tsp nutmeg
Food colouring (3+ colours)

  1. Preheat your oven for 350 F. Line a cupcake pan with 12 paper liners.
  2. In a big bowl, beat together the milk, oil, vinegar and vanilla.
  3. Whisk in the flours, sugar, baking soda and salt just until the batter just comes together.
  4. Split the batter from one large bowl into 3 smaller bowls.
  5. Add 4-5 drops of your chosen food colouring to each bowl and stir in until well blended.
  6. Drop spoonfuls of each colour batter into the cupcake liners, filling the cups ⅔ of the way full.
  7. Bake 18-20 minutes, until the tops are slightly golden and a cake tester comes out clean.
  8. Wait until the cupcakes are cooled completely before frosting.

N.B.: Depending on your preference, you can cut the sugar to 2/3 or even 1/2 cup – especially if using a large amount of frosting! Many of my kids (who made “frosting mountains” rivaling the one on the left here) told me the cupcakes were “too sweet”, however the adults (who are more modestly frosted ones) found the balance perfect, especially after chilling.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 143.7
Total Fat: 5.9 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 0.4 mg
Total Carbs: 22.2 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.9 g
Protein: 1.5 g

Tie-Dyed Vanilla Cupcakes with French Vanilla Frosting

French Vanilla Frosting
Makes ~ 3 ¾ cups, enough for 30 cupcakes
¼ cup Earth Balance Buttery Sticks (or vegan butter of your choice)
¼ cup non-hydrogenated shortening
1 ½ cups icing sugar
pinch nutmeg
¼ cup vanilla custard powder or cook-and-serve vanilla pudding powder
2 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp unsweetened coconut milk beverage (not canned)

  1. Mix all the ingredients together with a hand mixer until creamy.
  2. Chill 1 hour before using.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 59.8
Total Fat: 3.1 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 13.4 mg
Total Carbs: 6.0 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.0 g
Protein: 0.0 g

Gluten and Dairy Free Hot Cross Buns

Do you follow the tradition of eating hot cross buns at Easter? The spicy, fruit packed yeast rolls are a favourite of my dad’s and were a staple in our kitchen from the beginning of March all the way through April, when they disappeared for another year. I liked the spicy flavours and the raisins, but never got onto the “candied fruit” bandwagon, so I just stopped bothering to buy and eat them as an adult!

Now, the original recipe is obviously rich, decadent, and made with wheat flour – since this past week saw be being tested for Celiac (and since I’ve had numerous issues even working with wheat flour), I decided I’d take our “recipe box” formula and try out a gluten free, dairy free variation and see how it went.

All things considered, I think these are pretty darn delicious – packed with raisins, currants, Craisins (and even the prerequisite candied fruit) that all marry with sweet, warming spice is kind of hard to go wrong with! My flour blend for these also included the sweet richness of chestnut flour and my current favourite sweetener jaggery, which added an “old style” flavour to the mixture. The traditional flour-water cross overtop got a touch of sugar and almond extract for extra oomph, and the whole shebang was glazed with chestnut honey right out of the oven. The honey also helped to keep everything moist for a while, since these gluten-free rolls generally don’t stay moist for too long (about 2 days, tops). That said, leftovers (and even fresh buns) are excellent split, toasted and topped with honey or vegan butter!

Gluten Free Hot Cross Buns

Now, forewarning: these buns took a long time to proof – and I’m still not sure they poofed all the way – but the two 2-hour waits were beyond worth it for me.  I can’t even begin to explain how DELICIOUS these are! Candied fruit and all!

Shared with Gluten Free Fridays

Gluten and Dairy Free Hot Cross Buns
Makes 10

Fruit Mixture:
½ cup raisins
¼ cup currants
¼ cup Craisins
Juice and zest of 1 orange
¼ cup hot water
1 tbsp vanilla

Buns:
½ tbsp instant yeast
1 tbsp baking powder
1 ¼ cups sorghum flour
1 cup rice flour
¼ cup chickpea flour
¼ cup chestnut flour
½ cup tapioca starch
1 tsp  guar gum
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup jaggery or coconut sugar
¼ cup diced candied fruit (optional)
1 tsp sea salt
¼ cup canola oil
1 egg, beaten

Cross:
1/3 cup rice flour
1 tsp sugar
1/4 cup water
2 drops almond extract (optional)

Glaze:
3 tbsp chestnut honey, warmed until runny (you could use amber honey too)

  1. Combine raisins, currants, craisins, orange juice, orange zest, water and vanilla. Let soak at least 20 minutes.
  2. Combine yeast, baking powder, flours, starch, guar gum, spices, jaggery, candied fruit and salt in a stand mixer.
  3. Add the fruit mixture (along with any soaking liquid), oil and egg.
  4. Mix for 5 minutes dough will be stiff but slightly sticky.
  5. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot for 2 hours, until puffy but not necessarily doubled in size.
  6. Grease a 9×13” baking dish.
  7. Divide dough into 10 pieces and roll into balls with lightly oiled hands.
  8. Place them in baking dish, re-cover and set aside in a warm place for 2 hours, until risen.
  9. Heat the oven to 400F.
  10. Whisk together the “cross” ingredients to form a smooth paste.
  11. Scrape into a small zip-top bag and snip the corner.
  12. Pipe the paste in a cross over the center of each bun.
  13. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until they sound hollow when tapped.
  14. Remove from the oven and immediately drizzle with honey.
  15. Return to the oven for 2 minutes.
  16. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then move to a wire rack.
  17. These don’t stay moist for too long, but leftovers are excellent toasted with honey or vegan butter!

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 328.9
Total Fat: 7.2 g
Cholesterol: 18.6 mg
Sodium: 245.0 mg
Total Carbs: 58.9 g
Dietary Fiber: 4.0 g
Protein: 4.9 g

Uber Ginger Cookies

Ginger cookies are one of those “love it or hate it” treats that seems to show up on cookie trays all year. I used to think they were a “Christmas only” special (thinking of gingerbread houses + men), but just because the shapes aren’t popular in July doesn’t mean the flavours aren’t! Ginger has one of those properties of being able to heat you up or refresh you, depending on it’s form and application, so it gets heavy play in my kitchen all year. Of course, I’m spoiled when it comes to willing gingerphile tastebuds around here too, so I’m always looking for ways to “up the ante” when it comes to my baking.

I think, though, that I’ve hit the apex of the ginger cookie curve with these beauties. Not only are these packed with ground ginger and TWO hits of the fresh rhizome, but I went ahead and rolled the sticky batter in instant ginger-honey granules, snickerdoodle-style, before baking them off. The resulting cookies, which got a tender chew from golden syrup, molasses and apple butter, offer pops of vibrant sweet-spicy flavour with every bite. They’re rather “moreish” as well, their texture mimicking that of my favourite Lassy Mogs while their taste reminds me of the cookies we used to get right from the bakery by my grandparent’s house. While I can’t see myself having a glass of milk with them, a frosty ginger ale? You bet!

Uber Ginger Cookies

Uber Ginger Cookies
Makes 24
½ cup non-hydrogenated shortening
¼ cup unsweetened apple butter (I used homemade)
⅔ cup sugar
2 tbsp golden syrup (you can use corn syrup too)
¼ cup molasses
½ tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
1 tbsp minced peeled fresh ginger
2 cups spelt flour
2 tbsp ground flax seed
¾ tsp baking soda
3 packets Instant Ginger Honey Crystals (you can use plain honey crystals or coarse raw sugar if you can’t find the ginger-honey crystals)

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F and line a baking sheet with parchment or SilPat.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the shortening, apple butter, sugar, syrup, molasses, salt and gingers until well-combined.
  3. Add the flours, flax seed and baking soda, mixing well.
  4. Roll into 24 little balls (about the size of a walnut), then roll balls in the honey crystals and place on the sheet 1″ apart.
  5. Bake 10-12 minutes.
  6. Cool on the sheet.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 119.6
Total Fat: 4.4 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 8.0 mg
Total Carbs: 19.5 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.4 g
Protein: 1.4 g

Cabernet Fudge Sauce

We’re well into our “use up all the holiday stuff” mode around here, and one thing we have a good lot of sitting around is wine. We usually open a couple bottles of red at the start of a party (one for each table), plus one of white, but there’s also beer, cocktails and “heartier” liquors available, not to mention the pop, water and seltzer in the cooler. Inevitably, we always wind up with leftovers, which sit for a good while now that my mom is avoiding wine at night for headaches. Instead of letting it go to waste, we’ve been cooking with it, making crockpot flank steak with mushrooms with the third-bottle of Shiraz and, with the half bottle of this Cabernet blend I’ve been let loose in the sweet kitchen.

The first thing I whipped up actually used up the last bits of a couple things in my kitchen – not only some of the wine fell into the pot, but the last of our half-and-half and milk chocolate pieces from Christmas Eve. I can’t recall where I found the original idea for making a chocolate fudge sauce with the red wine, but I’m glad I did! Pairing both the richness of bittersweet chocolate and salted butter with the premium milk chocolate and cream made a gorgeously velvety base that was perfectly accented with the reduced red wine and my homemade Cabernet Salt. Rather than overload the works with sugar, I added a little bit of Truvia along with sucanat to sweeten the deal. Jarred up, it’s hanging out in the fridge, where we’ve been dipping into it for drizzling on frozen yogurt, cheesecake and fresh berries! We’re all grownups here, so who knows? This might fall into our next mocha or cappuccino!

Cabernet Fudge Sauce

Shared with Gluten Free Fridays


Cabernet Fudge Sauce
Makes ~1 cup, 8 (2 tbsp) servings
½ cup red wine
3 oz good-quality bittersweet chocolate (at least 70%), chopped
1 ½ oz premium milk chocolate, chopped
2 tbsp salted butter, diced
¼ tsp Cabernet Salt (or kosher salt)
¼ cup raw sugar, sucanat or brown sugar
3 packets Truvia
½ cup half and half cream

  1. Bring wine to a simmer in a small pot and cook until reduced by half.
  2. Meanwhile, combine chocolate, butter, salt, sugar and Truvia in a double boiler and heat, stirring, until chocolate and butter are melted.
  3. Whisk in the cream and wine reduction and cool.

Amount Per Serving (2 tbsp)

Calories: 165.0
Total Fat: 9.7 g
Cholesterol: 15.0 mg
Sodium: 31.5 mg
Total Carbs: 16.1 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.0 g
Protein: 1.3 g

Hélène’s Beautiful Pears

Well, we made it through Christmas! While it’s almost never smooth sailing (especially here, with 4 meals at one place and 1 at another, 3 different diets and one oven), the week of celebrations heralded everything that the season is about – love, peace, laughs and family. In terms of meals, the new “convection roast” function on our oven made a spectacular turkey while the warming drawer kept everything else perfectly hot, the collaborative vegetarian pasta dish mom and I made for Christmas Eve (roasted cauliflower, peppers and ricotta) was divine, the Clementine and Cranberry Sauce I adapted from Aimée’s book Brown Eggs and Jam Jars has been slathered on everything from mashed potatoes and brussels sprouts to our toasted leftover Challah this morning.  

With so many rich meals so close together this year, dessert was simple – dishes of ice cream with a spoonful of these cocoa-laced pear preserves. I was inspired by the Poires Belle Hélène recipe in Camilla Wynne’s book Preservation Society Home Preserves: 100 Modern Recipes a few weeks back when planning gift baskets, and with the glut of Asian pears in the local store I decided to try those out instead of the traditonal Anjou. Muscovado sugar and a kiss of Grand Marnier upped the elegance a wee bit – and with the inspiration being more of an adult-friendly one anyways I wasn’t pulling any punches with the flavour. I wound up making a second batch for holiday gifts, after the first one mysteriously disappeared – but who knows how those North Pole elves celebrate?

Hélène's Beautiful Pears


Hélène’s Beautiful Pears
Makes 2 ½ pints, 5 (1/2 cup) servings (including syrup)
1 cup sugar
¼ cup Muscovado or dark brown sugar
1 tbsp amber honey or agave nectar
1 ⅓ cups water
1 tbsp lemon juice
3 large Asian pears, peeled and sliced into wedges
⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (use a high-quality one)
pinch salt

Per (pint) jar:
1 tbsp Grand Marnier
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp pure vanilla

  1. Combine the sugars, honey, water and lemon juice in a pot over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
  2. Add the pears and cook 5 minutes. Transfer pears to sterilized jars, add the liqueur, lemon juice and vanilla and set aside.
  3. Whisk the cocoa and salt into the syrup and bring to a boil, whisking constantly.
  4. Remove from heat and carefully pour over the pears in the jars.
  5. Process 25 minutes in a waterbath.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 306.7
Total Fat: 1.1 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 5.7 mg
Total Carbs: 80.1 g
Dietary Fiber: 7.7 g
Protein: 1.8 g

Mini Tourtières

Our family has a few holiday traditions – a big brunch with Mom’s infamous Holiday Brioche and Challah taking centre stage, dancing with the turkey and of course as many batches of shortbreads as humanly possible before school starts again in January. Over the years we’ve added the Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve to the docket, too. My own “traditions” during the season involve making granola and biscotti to go into the gift boxes I give in lieu of purchased gifts, and this year I added a new one – homemade freezer meals for both my grandmother and a friend to enjoy in the New Year.

I’ve always associated meat tarts like Scotch pie and French-Canadian tourtière with spending weekends at my grandma’s house – it seemed like that was our go-to dinner at least one night, usually paired with carrots, peas or a salad. It has been ages since I’ve broken into the flaky shell of one to enjoy the flavourful, spiced meat filling – not only because of my own food restrictions but simply because making them is a process not fit for a fast weeknight dinner. Since it is Christmastime, though, and tourtière is one of the traditional francophonie holiday meals, I decided I’d make some (smaller sized) pastries for grandma to enjoy.

Ironically, these pot pies actually contain no meat at all! With the economic crunch yet again putting strain on the food budgets everywhere, even the cheapest ground meats are getting ridiculously expensive. Our family as a whole has been eating less animal protein and more vegetarian options like lentils, beans and eggs – and in things like chili, bolognese sauce and shepherds pie, we’re stretching the meat with TVP. Some foodies will turn their noses up at this, but when soaked in a flavourful liquid (or simply added to the stew or sauce) it’s almost indistinguishable – and the same case goes for these tourtières. Not only is the basic recipe spiced well originally, but by combining “unbeef” broth, tamari, vegan Worcestershire sauce and red wine with the vegetable crumbles the umami flavour really shines through and the texture is dead-on. All that was left is to add were the traditional herbs and spices, grated potatoes and onion – and for a festive twist, a shot of cognac too!

Finally, I thickened the works with some kinako from our Asian market, since we were sorely lacking crackers in any form for the traditional binder.

Mini Tourtières

Whether you’re looking to save a little money this season or are simply trying to reduce the meat you eat, these little 2-serving pies are a great option. Make a batch on the weekend and freeze for later – just pull one out to thaw overnight and bake, covered, at 350F for 20 minutes.

Note – for the most “authentic” French Canadian Tourtière flavour, do not omit any of the seasonings. They truly add the “oomph” to the filling and lend nuances of sausage, pork and beef savouriness.

Mini Tourtières
Makes 5 “pot pies”, each serving 2

Filling:
1 ⅔ cups TVP granules
1 ½ cups hot not-beef broth or water
1 tbsp tamari
1 tsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
½ cup dry red wine (I suggest Beaujolais or Pinot Noir)
1 tbsp canola oil or melted Earth Balance
1 large, sweet onion, finely grated
1 large Russet potato, skin-on, finely grated
2 garlic cloves, grated or minced
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp pepper
¼ tsp paprika
½ tsp savory
½ tsp dried thyme
¼ tsp celery salt
½ tsp fennel seed
¼ tsp ground clove
1 cup hot water
splash of Cognac (optional)
⅓ cup kinako or fine cracker crumbs

Assembly:
1 tbsp cornstarch + ¼ cup cold water, for brushing
Pastry for two (2 crust) 9” pies (I used the classic Crisco recipe)

  1. Combine TVP, broth, tamari, vegan Worcestershire and wine in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat and add the onion, potato and garlic.
  3. Cook about 5 minutes, until potato begins to soften and garlic is fragrant.
  4. Add TVP mixture (with liquid), spices and water (and Cognac, if using), stir well and bring to a boil.  
  5. Reduce to a low simmer and allow mixture to cook, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally (and adding a splash of water if necessary) to prevent sticking.
  6. Remove from heat and add kinako or cracker crumbs. Stir well.  
  7. Loosely cover and let stand for 10 minutes.
  8. If mixture is still “soupy”, add in more kinako or crumbs, 1 tablespoon at a time and stirring well after each addition, until the mixture is still “wet” but not drippingly so (especially if using kinako, which takes a few minutes to absorb liquid).
  9. Cool to room temperature before using.

Assembly:

  1. Preheat oven to 375F.
  2. Whisk together cornstarch and water, set aside
  3. Roll and cut out about ⅔ of the pie dough to fit into 5 “pot pie” pans (about 5” across and 1 ½” deep).
  4. Fill the pie crusts with cooled tourtière filling.
  5. Roll and cut out the remaining pie dough, top the filled pies and crimp / flute the edges to seal.
  6. Trim the edges and brush with cornstarch slurry.
  7. Cut a cross into the top of each crust to vent.
  8. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 35 minutes, or until dough is golden brown and mixture is steaming.
  9. Let stand 10 minutes before digging in!

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 482.0
Total Fat: 24.7 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 708.9 mg
Total Carbs: 55.8 g
Dietary Fiber: 4.1 g
Protein: 9.6 g

Tigernut (Chufa) Biscotti

It’s biscotti time again! I find it ironic that every year, I choose to make the cookies that technically last the longest at the very end of the baking spree – after all the shortbreads, drop and sandwich cookies, candy and fudge, granola and tarts are packed up and in various stages of either being consumed or stored. Biscotti – in all its various incarnations over the years – has remained a clear favourite in both the family circle and the friends I gift the crunchy sticks to.

The recent years have seen a definite upswing in the presence of food restrictions I’m baking for – it seems like everywhere I turn somebody is avoiding eggs, meat, nuts, soy, sugar, corn and – the biggest “baddie” of all – gluten. While I have my own thoughts as to these (usually) self-imposed restrictions – for instance I only know of 5 people who require a gluten free diet every day for life, no exceptions, no cheating – I do my best to cater to them because, as a foodie and nutritionist, I can. Gluten free baking isn’t overly complex for me any more, but in the craziness of the holiday rush, simple is often best! This particular recipe is inspired by Ricki Heller‘s Grain-Free Hazelnut Biscotti with Cinnamon Glaze and the resulting cookies are  gluten, egg, Tree Nut, refined sugar, peanut, soy and corn free (if you use Corn-Free Baking Powder). Just because I could – and really, the flavour was fabulous paired with the tigernut flour – I tossed in a glug of Butterscotch Schnapps for good measure! They don’t need any sort of frosting or chocolate to sing on their own, but a cup of mocha on the side? You’re on!

Tigernut (Chufa) Biscotti

What allergies do you cook or bake for over the holidays (or everyday)? What’s your go-to dish?

Shared with Gluten Free Fridays

Tigernut (Chufa) Biscotti
Makes 10
¼ cup  coconut flour
1.6 oz (a generous ½ cup) ground chufa (aka TigerNut flour)
2 tbsp potato starch
¼ cup psyllium husk powder
½ tsp Corn-Free Baking Powder
¼ tsp nutmeg
pinch fine sea salt
¼ – ½ tsp gluten free liquid stevia
⅔ cup half-and-half cream (for dairy free, use canned coconut milk)
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 fl. oz butterscotch schnapps (make sure yours is GF (like Dr. McGillicuddy Intense Butterscotch) if needed)
coarse or raw sugar, for topping

  1. Preheat oven to 375F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment.
  2. Combine all the ingredients just until blended and uniformly moist, but not sticky-wet (it should stick together when squeezed but may not form a ball while mixing).
  3. Turn the mixture onto the cookie sheet and, with wet hands, shape the dough into a flat log about 8 ½” long and 3” wide.
  4. Coat generously with coarse sugar and, using a bench scraper or a sharp knife, cut along the log on a diagonal into 10 pieces.
  5. Gently move the biscotti apart so they are positioned upright with at least 1” of space between them.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes, until edges just begin to brown. Reduce oven to 350F.
  7. Turn each piece over onto one cut side and bake for 12 minutes, then turn over and bake another 12 minutes.
  8. Turn off heat and leave the biscotti in the oven 1 hour.  

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 78.7
Total Fat: 3.4 g
Cholesterol: 5.8 mg
Sodium: 5.8 mg
Total Carbs: 11.3 g
Dietary Fiber: 4.9 g
Protein: 1.2 g