Sunday, August 30, 2009

Vanilla Bean Pound Cake

I am in search of the perfect pound cake recipe. The consummate pound cake recipe, the one that has the right amount of flavour, a firm but moist texture and tender crumb.

I also have a slight obsession with using vanilla beans in desserts and pastries. They just impart a much truer, more fragrant vanilla flavour.

I found this pound cake recipe on Smitten Kitchen. The recipe intrigued me because it uses a vanilla bean ground with the sugar to make a vanilla sugar that is then combined with the rest of the ingredients. This is a “true” pound cake in that it uses no baking powder or leavening agent just a pound each of butter, flour sugar and eggs.

I made the recipe as stated and baked this in a bundt pan. I served it with a strawberry rhubarb sauce, whipped cream and lots of fresh berries. It was a nice basic pound cake flecked with little bits of vanilla seeds.

My family really liked the cake, and remembered it with fondness after it was gone however my mom has since made a sour cream pound cake that has usurped this one in their affections…hmmm we seem to have a competition….

However, competitiveness aside, this is a good cake and definitely worth a try if only for the wafting scent of vanilla that will fill your apartment. It’s really the best kind of aromatherapy.

Vanilla Bean Pound Cake

Time: about 2 hours including baking time.


Makes one 10 inch bundt cake

  • 2 cups sugar
  • ½ vanilla bean, used is fine
  • 2 cups butter
  • 9 large eggs
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

    1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. In a food processor, grind vanilla bean and sugar until vanilla is as finely chopped as it can get, about one minute. Sift this mixture twice, making sure al larger pieces have been filtered out. Set aside.
    2. In a large bowl, cream the butter with an electric mixer, then gradually add the vanilla sugar, continuing to beat until well creamed and smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. When all the eggs are added, the batter will look slightly curdled, but adding flour will bring it all together. Gradually add the flour and salt, beating constantly. Add the vanilla extract and continue beating until well blended.
    3. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube or Bundt pan. Pour in the batter and “spank” the bottom of the pan to distribute the better evenly. Bake until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour 15 minutes, taking care not to overcook. There may be some melted butter on top of the cake even if the cake is fully cooked. Turn cake onto a rack and let cool.

Adapted from Martha Pearl Villas, New York times 3/16/04 and

I Sprained My Ankle and All I Got Was this Roasted Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart

First lets talk about this crust.

This crust is different from your typical quiche vessel, because it is enriched with the addition of cornmeal and held together with sour cream and ice water. The dough is fairly easy to work with, but you should work quickly it softens fast—although that could also be the intense heat this time of year.

I never use pie weights so I skipped that step, but my crust did puff and warp a bit during baking though it did go back to it’s regular shape by the time it was done . When this crust comes out of the oven it smells like fresh cornbread and the thyme in the pastry adds a savory aroma that is irresistible and I couldn’t wait to make the filling so I could eat it.

For the tart itself, caramelized onions and crumbled goat cheese are loaded into the pie shell. All of this is topped with a pretty arrangement of oven roasted cherry or grape tomatoes. And then the egg custard is poured into the crust and baked. Simple , n’est-ce-pas?

But beware! The eggs and cream mixture makes a lot more custard than you need for this tart. So only pour in as much of the eggy mixture as you need. I blindly poured all of the custard in and it dribbled over the crust and ran into the sides of my pie plate. Definitely eyeball this part. If it looks full, it is full no matter how much custard you have left.

I also ended up needing to bake this longer than the instructions stated. The filling would just not set in the centre. I ended up baking the tart at least 10 minutes longer than the recipe stated. Because of my overbaking, the edges of the crust got a little dark (though miraculously I did not manage to burn it) So make sure you do a better job than I did of covering your crusts with tin foil. In retrospect I think the melty/liquidy goat cheese was partly to blame for this quiche’s refusal to set in the centre. (But I also need a scapegoat)

Another facet of the roasted tomato tart saga is that while this was baking, I stupidly decided to change a light bulb, slipped off a chair, and sprained my ankle. So I was checking for doneness all while cursing the baking gods and my swollen ankle.

Sprained ankle notwithstanding, this tart tastes amazing! It is rich and creamy because of the goat cheese. The roasted tomatoes are fragrant and their acidity balances out the sweetness of the onions and the richness of the filling. All of this in a tender crust that is scented with thyme and has the pleasant grittiness of cornbread. Since even my mishaps couldn’t destroy this tart, I conclude that it must be fool-proof. I would definitely try this recipe again, being wary of this experience, because it was definitely worth having to apply ice for the next few days.

Roasted Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart

Makes one 9-inch quiche serves about 8


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • ¾ cup crumbled goat cheese(about 3 oz)
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup milk1/4 cup 10% cream
  • pinch each salt and pepper

Roasted grape (or cherry) tomatoes

  • 1-1/2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary or thyme (I used ½ teaspoon each dried)
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Cornmeal pastry

  • 1-1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup cornmeal
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ½ teaspoon each granulated sugar and salt
  • ½ cup cold unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons ice water (approx)

    1. Cornmeal Pastry: In bowl mix together flour, cornmeal, thyme, sugar, and salt. Using pastry blender cut in butter until in large crumbs. In a glass measure, whisk sour cream with water; drizzle over flour mixture, tossing with fork until dough comes together and adding up to 3 tablespoons more water if necessary. Wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour. (Make-ahead: refrigerate for up to 24 hours)
    2. On a lightly floured surface roll out pastry to scant ¼-inch thickness; fit into a 9-inch quiche dish or pie plate. Fold edge under, leaving1/4 inch above rim; flute or crimp edges with fork. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
    3. Line pie shell with foil; fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake in bottom third of 400 degree F oven until rim is light golden, about 20 minutes. Remove weights and foil; bake for 10 minutes. Let cool on rack. (I skipped the foil and pie weights. The crust shrank a little but otherwise didn’t warp too much.)
    4. Roasted grape tomatoes: In bowl, gently toss together tomatoes, oil, rosemary, and salt. Bake cut side up on parchment lined baking sheet in 350 degree F oven until tender, 20-25 minutes. Let cool.
    5. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat; fry onions, stirring occasionally, until golden 15-20 minutes. Let cool.
    6. Sprinkle goat cheese over pastry shell; spread with onions. Top with tomatoes, cut side up. In bowl, whisk eggs, milk, cream, salt and pepper; pour over top. Bake in 375 degree f oven until knife inserted in centre comes out clean, 35-40 minutes. Let cool on rack for 10 minutes. (make ahead: Let cool. Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Reheat in 350 degree F oven for 20-25 minutes.)

Adapted From: Canadian Living Magazine December 2008

Monday, August 24, 2009

Rhubarb Sorbet

I first had rhubarb sorbet at a Toronto restaurant as part of a rhubarb trio. It was in the form of a pink little quenelle perched atop a mini pavlova. It turned out to be the best part of the trio.

Anyways when I saw Garret’s recipe for rhubarb sorbet on Simply Recipes I knew I had to try it, like right now!

Rhubarb has been quite inexpensive here so I picked up some fresh stalks. I chose to use Tartelette’s version of this recipe, subbing the orange with lemon and omitting the fresh ginger because I figured it would be more appropriate to the people who would be eating it. My rhubarb was not as brilliantly pink as many of the other ‘s must have been because when I pureed my sorbet base, the rhubarb turned bubble gum pink. When churned in the ice cream maker the sorbet was the colour of Pepto Bismal. However the taste was perfect. Tart and refreshing without being cloying, this sorbet also has an unusually creamy texture and stayed fairly soft in the freezer unlike some sherbets I’ve made earlier this year which turned into chrystalline ice shards.

Rhubarb Sorbet

  • 3 1/2 cups of chopped fresh rhubarb (4-5 stalks)
  • 2 1/2 cups of water
  • 1 2/3 cups of sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons of corn syrup

  1. Place the rhubarb, sugar, water, and lemon zest in a large and heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, and simmer 5 minutes, uncovered.
  2. Let cool to room temperature. Working in batches, purée the mixture in a blender until smooth. Stir in the corn syrup. Cover and refrigerate until completely cold, preferably overnight.
  3. Process the ice cream according to your machine's manufacturer's instructions. The sorbet will have a soft texture right out of the ice cream maker. Freeze a couple of hours before serving.

adapted from Simply Recipes via Tartelette

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Chocolate Madeleines

Does anyone realize I haven’t posted anything chocolate yet? There’s been a chocolate drought on this blog and honestly, it’s a travesty!

So to appease the craving here are some pretty little chocolate madeleines from Williams Sonoma Essentials of Baking.

See? I’m not going to start off my madeleine post by writing about Proust, I mean it, that would be so cliche. Though I must confess, these take me back to the French childhood I never had, and I think I am Parisian in spirit. Really, everything is just better in France (wistful sigh).

These are actually the second recipe for chocolate madeleines I’ve made. The first was from Baking by Dorie Greenspan. I found that I prefer the Williams Sonoma version although they didn’t quite get that characteristic Madeleine “hump” on their backs, but they are tender and delicate little cakes with a gentle cocoa flavour. All they need as adornment is on some fresh fruit and a light dusting of icing sugar. You could dip them in melted chocolate but they don’t need it. Sigh ….Paris, France…

Williams Sonoma Chocolate Madeleines


Time: 30-50 minutes

Makes 12 madeleines

  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup cocoa powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
  • confectioner’s sugar for dusting

    1. Position a rack in the centre of the oven, and preheat to 375 degrees F. Brush Madeleine moulds with butter.
    2. Sift together flour, cocoa powder into a small bow, set aside.
    3. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, granulated sugar, and salt. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat on medium high speed until light in color and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in vanilla. Sprinkle the sifted flour and cocoa over the egg mixture and mix on low speed to incorporate. Remove the bowl from the mixer.
    4. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in one half of the melted butter just until blended. Fold in the remaining melted butter.
    5. Divide the batter among the prepared moulds, spooning a heaping tablespoons of batter in each. Bake the cookies until the tops spring back when lightly touched, about 12 minutes.
    6. Remove the pan from the oven, invert it over a wire rack, and rap the pan on the rack to release the madeleines. Use your fingers to loosen any madeleines that may have stuck. Let cool for on wire rack. Dust with confectioners sugar to serve. Can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 days (if they last that long) or stored in the freezer for 2 months.

From: Williams Sonoma Essentials of Baking

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

Rhubarb at the grocery store! For 1.99! I had to buy it. Fresh rhubarb is such a seasonal novelty that I have a slight obsession with it’s tart taste and it’s beautiful bright pink colour. I wanted a simple homey recipe to use with a lemony buttermilk ice cream because lemon and rhubarb complement each other well. I made a strawberry rhubarb crisp to use up some freezer burned strawberries that were hanging out in my freezer.
This was a made up recipe because I couldn’t find a “real” recipe anywhere that I liked. The only change I would make next time is to increase the flour to about ¼ cup because the strawberries let out a lot of syrup. But really that is just me being a perfectionist. A crisp isn’t meant to be fussy fare,. The important thing the flavour, and this recipe is definitely flavourful, the tart juicy filling and crispy oaty topping with the barest hint of cinnamon is pure comfort food.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

Serves 8
Time: about 45 minutes including baking time

• 3 cups fresh or frozen strawberries
• 3 cups fresh or frozen rhubarb
• ½ cup granulated sugar
• 2 tablespoons (or more) all-purpose flour
• 1 tablespoon lemon juice

• ½ cup all-purpose flour
• ½ cup butter
• ¼ cup granulated sugar
• ¼ cup brown sugar
• ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
• 1 cup old-fashioned oats
• pinch of salt

1. Toss together strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, flour and lemon juice together in a 2 quart baking dish or a 9-inch square pan.
2. Make topping: combine flour, sugars, cinnamon, oats and salt, and cut in butter either by hand or with a food processor until mixtures resembles pea sized clumps.
3. Sprinkle topping over strawberry-rhubarb mixture and bake at 400 degrees F for 25-30 minutes. Let cool 30 minutes before serving. May be served hot or cold.

My own recipe

Lemony Buttermilk Sherbet

The first time I used buttermilk I was a bit put off by the sour milk smell. But the results you get from in baking have made me a convert. It just lends such a wonderful tanginess and tenderness to baked goods. Oh and it’s good in ice cream. I have since grown accustomed to that funky buttermilk smell, but when cultured dairy products are combined with sugar and a little citrus zest the result is deliciousness. Even though buttermilk can smell funky, this ice cream tastes nothing like sour milk.

It is lemony, light and refreshing not to mention low in fat (if you ignore the sugar content, that means it is healthy) Martha Stewart magazine calls this a buttermilk ice cream, but it is more a sherbet or sorbet because it uses no eggs or cream, just simple syrup, buttermilk, lemon zest and lemon juice. And it is the easiest to put together since the only cooking involved is the syrup.

This recipe doesn’t stay creamy long so you should enjoy it pretty soon after it is made to take advantage of it’s fresh-churned softness. After about a week in the freezer, it gets a bit icy.

Lemony Buttermilk Sherbet

Makes about 6 cups


  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon corn syrup
  • pinch of coarse salt
  • zest of ¼ lemon (about ½ teaspoon)

    1. In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water, and bring to a boil; remove from heat. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or until chilled.
    2. In a large bowl, whisk together buttermilk, lemon juice, corn syrup, and salt. Slowly add the chilled simple syrup; whisk to combine. Stir in lemon zest. Freeze in icecream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.

From: Martha Stewart Living Magazine October 2001 (called buttermilk ice cream)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Apricot Almond Biscotti

Moving out of a house full of chocoholics has been a liberating experience for me (baking wise ) because it’s meant that I get to experiment with flavours and use a lot of ingredients that I like, but may not go over well at home.
One such example is dried fruits like the dried apricots in this recipe. I enjoy heir chewy tanginess in quick breads and muffins and they make an excellent addition to biscotti.
Whenever I bake anything with dried fruits and /or nuts I wish I could share them with my mom, even though she lives a few provinces away. So when she came to visit me this summer I knew I had to make these almond apricot biscotti especially since I have had this recipe bookmarked for a long time.
I made these so my mom would have a treat after her flight, since I find after the stress of airplane travel I always need a cookie.
This recipe is not as crunchy/crispy as your typical biscotti due to the milk in the batter. Even after the second round of baking they firmed up but did not harden, rather they had a texture similar to very crumbly shortbread. These are an excellent cookie to eat as is or to dunk into coffee. The cookies are studded with crunchy, slivered almonds and chewy, dried apricots and dipped into melted white chocolate to add a creamy counterpoint to the tangy apricots. The recipe comes from the Canadian Living Holiday Best magazine from 2005, but the original recipe used macadamia nuts. I used almonds instead because I prefer them, but any nut or dried fruit could be used as a substitute in this recipe.
The recipe was a definite hit with my mom (and me, of course).

Apricot Almond Biscotti

Adapted from: Canadian Living Holiday Best 2005

Time: about 2 hours
Makes 30 -48 biscotti

• ½ cup butter, softened
• 1 cup granulated sugar
• 2 eggs
• ¼ cup milk
• 2 teaspoons almond extract
• 3 cups all-purpose flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup almonds or macadamia nuts
• 2/3 cup dried apricots, chopped
• 12 oz white chocolate, melted

1.Line 2 rimless baking sheets with parchment paper or grease; set aside.
2.In a large bowl beat butter with sugar until fluffy; beat in eggs, milk and almond extract. In separate bowl, whisk together flour baking powder and salt; stir into butter mixture. Stir in nuts and apricots.
3.On lightly floured surface, form into four 2-inch logs. Place, 3-inches apart on prepared pans. Bake in top and bottom thirds of 350 degree F oven, rotating and switching pans halfway through, until light golden and firm, about 22 minutes. Let cool on pans for 10 minutes.
4.Transfer logs to cutting board. Using chef’s knife, cut diagonally into ½ inch wide slices. Stand slices upright, ½ inch apart on prepared pans; bake in top and bottom thirds of oven for about 10 minutes on each side, switching pans halfway through, until biscotti are dry. Transfer to rack; let cool. (careful to watch the biscotti—apricots burn)
5. Dip half of each biscotti into white chocolate; return to rack and let set.

To make ahead:
Layer between waxed paper in airtight container and store for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 3 weeks.)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Lavender Blueberry Muffins

You put flowers in your muffins?!

This was my sisters reaction to my description of these unusual blueberry muffins.

Lavender is such a pretty flavour, fragrant and woodsy it makes a lovely aromatic addition to all kinds of baked goods. I had tried lavender in shortbreads and jams but never baked with it myself so when I found some dried lavender buds at one of the grocery stores I frequent, I knew I had to make something with lavender in it. Enter the lavender –blueberry muffin. I found this recipe on the Toronto Star recipe archive. It is a somewhat unusual combination, but lavender goes amazingly well with berries especially when it is accented with a hint of lemon. This recipe is a basic blueberry muffin heightened with the addition of lemon zest and lavender. I ground the lavender with the sugar in this recipe to make lavender sugar before adding that to the rest of the ingredients. I also used the tiny little wild blueberries that appear in the markets this time of year. These tasted a bit more complex than your usual blueberry muffin recipe. The lavender flavour comes through as a subtle aftertaste that is accented by the lemon zest in the batter.

I think my only problem with this recipe was that it uses a full tablespoon of baking powder, which gave a light texture and created nicely domed cupcakes but I think it also made them a little on the dry side.

Despite that these muffins taste fresh and springy and bright , and with a bit of butter and jam they make a great brunch. I really like the combination of blueberry and lavender and I think I will try using lavender sugar in place of regular sugar in other blueberry treats.

Lavender Blueberry Muffins


  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1-1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh lavender or 1 tsp finely chopped dried
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
  1. In food processor grind sugar with the lavender until lavender is finely ground.
  2. In large bowl, combine flour, lavender sugar, baking powder and salt.
  3. In separate bowl, beat eggs and stir in buttermilk, oil, lemon zest, and blueberries. Stir into flour mixture just until dry ingredients are moistened.
  4. Pour into lined 12-cup muffin tin. Bake in preheated 375F oven 25 to 30 minutes. Cool completely before removing from pan.

Makes 12.