Monday, July 2, 2012


Happy Canada Day!! July is my favourite month of the year. It starts off with Canada Day (a stat holiday) and then has the Tour de France (21 days of well-toned men in lycra), and we don't even need a coat!!

So for this Canada Day weekend, I thought I'd try making some Canadiana dish, in between writing the novel that no one will ever see and the blog that no one reads (not this one but this one). So I set out on the quest to make the most grandma of desserts, the humble butter tart.

Butter tarts (or tarte au sucre if you're from Quebec - Happy Belated St. Jean-Baptiste by the way) are a pure Canadian concoction. Well they appear to originate from Quebec, who are conveniently Canadian to the rest of us when they do something good (butter tarts, poutine, depanneurs, GSP, Schwartz's) and then are those friggin French whenever they do something the rest of the country finds off-putting (hockey riots, student riots, FLQ riots). Personally, my politics are for a Canada that includes Quebec just as it is, with its distinct society and its obscene taxes on gasoline (where you can also buy beer, unlike anywhere else in the country except for Alberta. In fact, Quebec and Alberta have a lot in common, but whatever you do, don't tell them that!).

And so, my Canada includes the humble butter tart. Some people like to put things into butter tarts, like nuts (nuts are not indigenous to Canada, so why?) or raisins (raisins are rabbit droppings from hell, so again, why?). I like my tarte au sucre as nature intended - plain, just a little runny, and sweet.

When I looked at the components of the butter tart, it's really just a pate sucree with a runny filling. Though really, the crust should be made with le Tenderflake (and I found out why in the process) instead of butter.

Pate Sucree
(from La Varenne)

1 2/3 cups (200g) soft flour (all-purpose will do in a pinch)
6 1/2 Tbsp (100g) cold, unsalted butter (does not have to be cubed) or Tenderflake lard (yes lard)
1/2 cup  (100g) caster or confectioners sugar (if caster - pate sucree; if confectioners - pate sablee)
4 egg yolks (cold)
1/2 tsp salt (I used 1/4 because I had sea salt)
1/2 tsp real (please) vanilla extract

Sift flour, sugar, and salt together onto a clean, smooth work surface. Make a well in the centre. Using your knuckles, pound the butter to soften it (a good stress reliever). Add the butter into the flour until it looks like cornmeal. Make another well and add the yolks and vanilla, bringing the whole thing together.

Using a pastry scraper, spatula, or knife, work the crumbs until you have large pieces that stick together. Press crumbs into a ball and knead with the heel of your hand until it comes together as one smooth piece of pastry. This will take a few minutes. Work out that stress. Once its smooth, form it into a ball and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 min to overnight, remembering that it is butter/lard in there, so if you leave it for too long, you'll have to let it warm up a bit before rolling it.

When you're ready to make tarts, roll out the dough as you would for a large pie, until it's about 1/3-1/2 inch thick. Yes make them this thick! Then cut large circles, about an inch larger than your tart tin or muffin tin. If you're using muffin tins, for the love of God grease them, even if they're no stick. Because in the world of the butter tart, there is no such thing as "non-stick". They're butter tarts!!

Take your cut circle and form it around the muffin tin/tart tin, making sure that no holes form. If you tear the pastry, make sure you fix it, so that there is no way in hell your tart will leak from the bottom. (Trust me!) Once you've lined your tins, put them back in the fridge while you make your filling.

So while I was watching Stage 1 of the Tour de France today (now yesterday as I'm finishing this entry during Stage 2), I put together a pate sucree and chilled it, then rolled it out and thought, why am I going to make these in muffin tins? Why not be fancy about it and use my tart tins that I never use (again I found out why in the process)? So, I rolled my pate sucree tart thin, and lined my tart tins.

To make the filling, I used maple syrup instead of corn syrup. Why? Because it's Canada Day, that's why! And what the hell, corn syrup? Did you know that shit can power your car? Corn syrup scares me. Even more than raisins.

Maple Butter Tart Filling
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 whole egg
1/2 cup maple syrup

(yes that's it. I couldn't believe it, either.)

First, set your oven to 375F. Whatever Celsius. In Canada, we use metric for everything but cooking. Deal with it, Europeans!

The best way to mix this is by hand. I know...nobody has hand-creamed butter and sugar since 1972. But you have to for this. Or else it's a waste of electricity and it's just not right, eh? So, using a wooden spoon, cream butter and sugar together until it's smooth. Then add egg and vanilla and whisk until fluffy and even. Then stir (not whisk) in maple syrup until blended. Bits of butter will float to the top. That's ok. That's your tart cap.

Take your shells out of the fridge. Pour in the filling to about halfway up the tart. Don't go all the way up. Why? Because it's sugar, damnit. What does sugar do at high heat? It bubbles! So fill it 1/2 maybe 2/3 if you like to live dangerously. Fill as many as your mix allows (mine did 7). Then put them in the oven for about 12 minutes. Check. If they are leaking and flowing all over, cry. If they're not bubbling, leave them for another 4 - 7 minutes. When they bubble, give them a minute and then take them out. Pray to God they haven't leaked. If you are worried about leakage, make sure your tins are on a cookie sheet.

So here's how the good ones turned out, because, well, nobody ever posts pics of the disasters, do they?

That is, until now:

What happened? Well, they're butter tarts. The crust was made with butter. Butter melts in the heat. Butter also melts through butter. Ergo, leaks all over the place. Leaks which might have been contained had I used the muffin tins for the tarts as every self-respecting Canadian grandma will tell you.

But hell, they tasted amazing! So good they can only be described with bad grammar...

So enjoy the rest of your Canada Day weekend. Have a butter tart! And since all the stores are closed Monday, go for it and make your own. Spoon any leaked filling on top of chantilly cream or Canadiana ice cream by Chapman's. :)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

More Fun with Nutella

Is there any more polarizing food than Nutella? People either love it or hate it. But very rarely is anyone indifferent about it. Many cyclists consider it ambrosia. Many women consider it ambrosia. Many other people think it was created in the bowels of hell and should stay there.

I am a reformed Nutella consumer. I loved it as a child, hated it once my hormones kicked in, and now, in the twilight of my biological clock years, am starting to love it once again. (Maybe it's an estrogen thing...?) 

I've already made the aforementioned crack cookies (in my previous blog), which are still the best cookies I have ever made. I tried a stuffed Nutella cookie, and it was okay, but they weren't as "cracky".

Now, it's strawberry season. We're two weeks early this year, thanks to the summer conditions we had in and around the Greater Toronto Area in March and early April. In late April, we did have a frost, and some of our strawberry farmers struggled to keep their plants alive. But alive they stayed, and so I picked up the first sweet Ontario strawberries of the season  last weekend.

My son is currently in a strawberry phase. "I love strawberries because they are so healthy!" he says. Except when it comes to eating them. He likes looking at them, smelling them, but putting them in his mouth whole? Nope. Still won't do it.

So I was stuck with this quart of strawberries. I suppose I could have eaten them all, but that would be selfish of me (never mind I really don't feel up for a cleanse at the moment). And I was stuck for a breakfast idea. I was going to make strawberry muffins, but muffins last way too long in my house since, well, I don't eat them. My son will eat them the day they are made, but after that, they sit there. And my partner is off carbs at the moment. 

I made a batch of crack cookies yesterday, and stared at the Nutella jar on the counter this morning. What goes with strawberries better than chocolate? There had to be a recipe out there for strawberry Nutella something...sure, lots of recipes for Nutella pancakes with strawberries on top. But again, that doesn't solve the problem of my son's disdain for fruit looking like fruit.

So I made up my own recipe. And he ate it. And so did everyone else. So I'm sharing it with you, because really, if you're a Nutella junkie fan, it's only fair to share Nutella recipes with the world:

Strawberry Nutella Pancakes

Makes 7 large or 12 mid-small pancakes

1 cup plain flour (all-purpose or whole wheat or bread flour)
1 1/2 Tbsp sugar (white or brown)
1 1/2 - 2 tsp baking powder (depending on how fluffy you want your pancakes)
1/4 tsp salt

1 large egg
1 cup plain milk (not buttermilk or cream)
1/4 - 1/3 cup Nutella (to taste)
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp melted unsalted butter, cooled
1 pint minimum but not more than 1 quart fresh strawberries, hulled, washed, and pureed

First things first - wash your strawberries. Don't buy a huller. Just use a paring knife and cut the green part off. These are being pureed, so there's no need to make them look fancy. Puree them in a chopper or food processor (or a mortar and pestle if you have the time, but most of us are busy trying to wake up children and/or make sure they don't kill themselves during unsupervised play time). Set aside.

Blend all the dry ingredients together in a large-ish bowl. Don't use a spoon. Use a whisk, pastry blender, or a fork. Make sure the baking powder is incorporated well into the flour. If you want, you can add a dash (1/4 tsp) of cinnamon or cardamom or both into the dry ingredients at this point. Set aside.

Mix all the wet ingredients, including the  Nutella and strawberries, into a medium bowl. For this, don't use a whisk. You can use a spoon or a fork, but if the Nutella is in globs, it's not a problem, really. Just make sure your eggs are a little scrambled into your milk, berries, and Nutella. 

Now, here's the secret to fluffy, yummy pancakes: Dump the wet into the dry. Stir, or better, fold in less than 10 times with a spoon (or whatever you used to mix the wet ingredients together), until most of the flour is barely blended in. Do not overmix. It doesn't have to be homogeneous. It just has to "meet" - dry, meet wet.  

Second secret to great pancakes - get a cast iron skillet. It can be used as a weapon, but it's the best thing ever for pancakes. It holds heat well, is thick enough to keep the fire off the bottom, and they come out oh-so fluffalicious! Use a ladle or large spoon to pour batter into the centre of the skillet for a pancake large enough to eat but small enough that you can handle easily. And watch. Soon you'll see little bubbles start to appear at the surface. Keep watching. The bubbles will burst and not close up. Keep watching. The edges will start to look dry and matte. There you go. Use your flipper, slide it under, and flip! Perfect pancake. Wait until the bottom looks as dry as the top of your edge, and then turn onto a plate. Or, if you're still not sure, stick them in a warm (185F) oven until you've finished your batch and are ready to serve.

I served these with whipped cream (like cream I whipped myself by hand, unsweetened. Not that stuff in a can. And good lord NOT cool whip!), and maple syrup, and for my stepdaughter, topped with whole tiny strawberries. 

Sorry I only have pics of the prep, but you'll see, they are a pretty colour. And if you have Nutella fiends in your house...they'll just ask for more!!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Crack Cookies!!!

Last Sunday was a beautiful Wintring morning. Since we haven't really had Winter yet, except for a couple of days, and it was nice and warm like Spring, and it's after January first, I'm making up a new word and calling it Wintring.

I woke up early. The sun was shining. The birds were singing. The tank is clean...

Anyway, I had an urge to bake something with peanut butter. The child did not want muffins. He wanted eggs and sausage. So no peanut butter there.

I didn't want to make just any old peanut butter cookies. I wanted something different. So I went to my good friend Google, and Google led me to these. They are quite easy to make, and it's a good recipe. I substituted organic red fife flour for the whole wheat flour, which added an extra nutty taste, and organic peanut butter for that crap that they make with hydrogenated peanut oil and shitloads of icing sugar.

In the middle of rolling the cookies for the cookie sheets, my BBM went off. Normally I would have just waited until I was finished, but I was expecting some news during the weekend, and unfortunately, it was the sad news that we had anticipated. I had one batch in the oven, and a second batch on a second tray nearly ready to go. There was still some dough remaining in the mixing bowl, so I threw some plastic wrap over it and put the entire bowl in the fridge.

As I was on my way to the funeral, the sunny day that I had woken up to quickly became overcast, and as we drove to the gravesite after the service, the snow started falling in giant flakes. By the time we had buried the body (most people at the site performed the mitzvah of helping the family bury the body by shoveling dirt into the grave after the body is placed inside), we were standing in near whiteout conditions. The family's limo fishtailed as it left the cemetery, but they and the rest of us were okay. Since the storm was travelling eastward, I ended up driving all the way home in it. When I did get home, the one thing that helped settle me from the day's events was taking the remainder of the dough out of the fridge and rolling it up into cookies, pressing each one with a fork (as you do with peanut butter cookies).

I also noticed that, when I came back, the 18 cookies that had been baked had suddenly become 4. And the 18 I baked after that were consumed within 24 hours of leaving the oven.

So let me warn you know - these are comfort cookies that will bring you joy in your time of sorrow. They are also, simply put, highly addictive. Make sure you make a double batch, as I have to when I make them again this Saturday for UFC night. :)