Rhubarb Custard with Mini Donuts

Rhubarb is one of those flavors that signals the coming of spring. A staple crop for every Canadian homesteader, in the 1800’s, as it thrives specifically in cool climates. The focus was initially on function, not flavor and was used as a medicine due to it’s perceived benefits for the digestive system. The tartness adds kick to it’s character causing it to be adored and despised with equal vigor.

Rhubarb ‘fool’ is a traditional English dessert that was popular throughout the 19th century on both sides of the Atlantic. It generally consists of a pureed fruit folded gently into a light, custard. Today’s recipe is a take on that idea using custard, pureed rhubarb and some mini donuts for ‘dunking’.

Rhubarb Custard with Mini Donuts
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Servings
2-4
Servings
2-4
Rhubarb Custard with Mini Donuts
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Servings
2-4
Servings
2-4
Ingredients
Donuts
Rhubarb Sauce
Custard
Servings:
Instructions
Donuts
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a bowl, whisk together milk, egg, oil & lemon juice. In another bowl, combine flour, sugar & baking powder. Stir wet ingredients into flour mixture until combined in a smooth batter.
  2. Brush mini donut pan with butter. Fill each cup about 1/2 full; bake for about 4-5 minutes or until they test done. Place some sugar in a shallow dish. Remove baked donuts from oven; while still warm coat with sugar. Set aside.
Rhubarb Sauce
  1. Cut rhubarb into small pieces. In a saucepan, add rhubarb, sugar & water; bring to a boil & simmer, covered, gently for 10 minutes. Remove lid & stir, then remove from heat when it reaches a jam consistency.
Custard
  1. In a saucepan, bring milk & vanilla to a boil. In a bowl, whisk egg yolks, sugar & cornstarch together. Add the hot milk to egg mixture slowly whisking as you do so. Return the mixture to the saucepan & bring slowly to a boil, whisking constantly until thickened.
To Serve
  1. Divide custard between 4 custard dishes; place a spoonful of sauce on top. Serve the mini donuts on the side, ready to be 'dunked'.
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Almond Orange Blossom Cookies

A special memory that comes to mind at this time of year is the scent of orange blossoms. While it is still winter in our part of Canada, in Seville, Spain spring is in the air. Mid March to early April, for about three weeks in Spain’s sun-bleached region of Andalusia, there’s a soft intoxicating fragrance reminiscent of magnolia and wisteria flowers. The heady, powerful smell of orange blossom pervades the whole city.

Brion and I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days in Seville, in early spring one year. It was an amazing sight seeing all those beautiful orange trees. A number of our pictures in this blog show the abundance of the fruit that is produced.

These bitter orange trees from China were introduced to Spain by the Moors in the eighth century and were planted in the beautiful courtyards of the Alhambra  in Granada, and throughout the south of Spain. They have become known as Seville Oranges. Unique to citrus trees is the fact that fruit from the previous season can remain on the tree while the blossoms for the next season’s crop arrive. A flowering deciduous, evergreen that provides shade in the summer and thick swatches of lush green to line the streets in winter.

The fruit of the Sevillian orange tree is too bitter for fresh consumption. It has been put to good use in many other ways such as in the production of liqueurs and wine or for making confectionery like creams, pastries and chocolates. But above all for the well known Seville Orange Marmalade.

Orange Blossom Water is another product which is derived from the distillation of the orange tree flowers. This use of orange blossom water in cooking comes to the west from North Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean. The flavor of this distilled water is flowery but not too overpowering. The important thing is to use very little to give the merest hint of fragrance. Orange blossom pairs well with apricots, figs, strawberries, rhubarb, pears and dates. Add a few drops to fruit salads, stewed or poached fruit and fruit crepes.

The cookies in this blog are delicate like their namesake blossoms and lightly ‘perfumed’ with orange blossom water and orange zest. The almonds add an extra bonus in the flavor. I just love the ‘exotic’ touch fragrant water gives to baked goods.

The Plaza de Espana that Brion and I are standing in front of is a spectacular building, waterway and square. It was built as the centerpiece of the 1929 Ibero-American Expo. Colored ceramics feature heavily around the plaza. The provincial alcoves, walls, ornate bridges and balustrades are also covered in ‘azulejoz’. The plaza has been used over the decades as a location for filming several movies such as Star Wars and Lawrence of Arabia.

I hope you will enjoy the cookie recipe as well as my mental journey to Seville.

 

Almond Orange Blossom Cookies
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Servings
36
Servings
36
Almond Orange Blossom Cookies
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Servings
36
Servings
36
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl, beat butter & orange blossom water together until smooth & creamy. Add sugars & salt; continue beating for about 1 minute. Add egg yolks & zest; beat on low until well blended.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together flour & almond meal. Combine flour mixture with wet mixture, mixing only until combined. DO NOT OVER MIX.
  3. Using a rubber spatula, transfer this soft, sticky dough to a piece of plastic wrap & gently form into a disk. Wrap the disk & refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove disk from refrigerator. On a lightly floured work surface or between two sheets of parchment paper, roll out dough to 1/2-inch thickness. Using a 2-inch round cookie cutter with a fluted edge, cut out cookies & place on baking sheets.
  5. Top cookies with sliced almonds. Bake for 12-15 minutes. When baked, cookies should have a light brown bottom, light golden edges & pale tops. Remove from oven, letting them rest on baking sheet for a couple of minutes before carefully sliding parchment paper with cookies onto a rack. DO NOT OVER BAKE! The cookies finish setting up as they cool.
Recipe Notes
  • If you would rather not cut them out with a cookie cutter,  just form a log when you wrap the dough in the plastic wrap. After refrigerating, unwrap, slice & bake.
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German Apple Custard Cake

We will soon be heading into fall. For apple lovers, the cool mornings and clear days of Autumn mean one thing; its time for some of the season’s crisp, juicy apple harvest. Apples are available year round thanks to controlled-atmosphere, cold storage chambers that keep them fresh for months. Some varieties even develop better flavor overtime. After 30 plus years in the food service industry, I retired and spent some wonderful years as tree and shrub buyer for a garden center. On this property there were many apple trees. One of the varieties was called Westland. These particular apples don’t taste like much until the first frost had touched them. Apples are a very common fruit but shouldn’t be overlooked due to their versatility.

When you take notice of how many ways apples are used in German baking, cooking, etc. its very clear that Germany loves its apples. For example there’s fresh apples, apple sauce, apple pancakes, apple juice, apple schnapps, apfelschorle (apple juice and carbonated water) and of course the many versions of apple cake …..

This German Apple Cake is served with a nice vanilla custard sauce making it quite special.

 

German Apple Custard Cake
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Servings
12
Servings
12
German Apple Custard Cake
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Servings
12
Servings
12
Ingredients
Cake
Custard
Servings:
Instructions
Cake
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease & flour or line with parchment paper an 8 or 9-inch spring form pan.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon & cardamom. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut in butter until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Add 3/4 cup sugar & mix. Peel apples; slice & cut as suggested. Toss apples with flour mixture to coat.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat eggs & milk together. Add to the apples & flour; mix in with a large spatula until just combined. Batter should look thick & dough-like. Transfer the dough to prepared cake pan & flatten the top using the back of spatula. Sprinkle 2 Tbsp sugar over the cake top. Bake for 45-50 minutes or when cake tests done.
Custard
  1. In a bowl, whisk egg yolks & sugar until pale yellow about 2-3 minutes. In a medium saucepan, bring the milk just to a boil. Slowly whisk the hot milk into the egg/sugar mixture. Transfer the mixture back to the saucepan & stir over medium heat until custard thickens, about 4 minutes. Custard should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Stir in vanilla & transfer to serving pitcher. This custard is not a thick, pudding like consistency; it needs to be a pour able.
  2. Serve custard warm or cold over apple cake.
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Thumbprint Cookies

THUMBPRINT or THIMBLE COOKIES – are such a great little cookie with so many variations that they remain among the holiday favorites. Of course it’s not hard to figure out the meaning behind their name. Similar to filled cookies, you can either fill the divot you make in them either before or after you bake them.

Here is a good example of the phrase ‘the same only different’. Four varieties of thumbprint cookies you might want to add to your office cookie exchange list, if they are not already on it.

                                       SPICED PUMPKIN CREAM CHEESE * LEMON BLUEBERRY

                                                             RASPBERRY ANISE * FIG & FLAX

Thumbprint Cookies
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By Christmas cookie standards -- they are pretty healthy, right!
Servings
30 (each recipe)
Servings
30 (each recipe)
Thumbprint Cookies
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By Christmas cookie standards -- they are pretty healthy, right!
Servings
30 (each recipe)
Servings
30 (each recipe)
Ingredients
Spiced Pumpkin Cream Cheese Thumbprint Cookies
Cream Cheese Filling
Lemon/Blueberry Thumbprint Cookies OR (Raspberry/Anise)
Fig & Flax Thumbprint Cookies
Servings: (each recipe)
Instructions
Spiced Pumpkin Cream Cheese
  1. In a medium bowl, combine butter with brown & white sugar. Add egg, pumpkin, flour, spices & salt; mixing until a thick dough forms. Preheat oven to 300 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop balls (about 2 tsp size), 1-inch apart from each other. Using your thumb or a sewing thimble, make a divot in the center of each ball. Bake for 25 minutes or until slightly brown. Remove cookies from oven; while hot, deepen any of the divots if needed. Place on cooling rack.
  2. In a small bow, combine cream cheese filling ingredients, mixing well. When cookies are completely cool, spoon a small amount of filling into each of the divots. Top each with a bit of crystallized ginger.
Lemon Blueberry or Raspberry Anise Thumbprint Cookies
  1. In a medium bowl, cream butter & sugar well. Beat in egg yolks & extract. Stir in lemon zest, then fold in flour & salt until fully incorporated & a soft dough forms. Wrap in plastic wrap & chill about an hour. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Form dough into 1-inch balls; roll in hazelnuts & place on baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Using your thumb or a sewing thimble, make a divot in the center of each ball. Bake for 16-18 minutes or until slightly golden. Remove cookies from oven; while hot, deepen any divots if needed. Place on cooling rack & cool completely before filling centers with preserves.
Fig & Flax Thumbprint Cookies
  1. In a medium bowl, beat butter & 1/4 cup brown sugar with an electric mixer until creamy. Add egg yolk & vanilla; beat until combined. In another bowl, whisk together flour, 2 Tbsp ground flax seeds, cream of tartar, spices & salt. Slowly add flour mixture to the batter & beat on low until just combined, scraping down the sides as needed.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a small bowl, place the egg white. In a small dish, combine 1/4 remaining brown sugar with 1/4 ground flax seeds. Roll slightly rounded teaspoons of dough into balls. Dip one ball at a time into the egg white & then roll in the sugar mixture. Place 2 inches apart on baking sheet; press divots in each ball. Bake about 15-17 minutes or until slightly golden. Remove from oven; check if divots need to be deepened. Place on cooling rack & cool completely.
Recipe Notes
  • With the Blueberry, Raspberry & Fig recipes, you can bake the cookies for about 15 minutes then add the preserves & bake another 3-4 minutes. I find it easier to store or freeze the cookies if I put the preserve in at serving time -- personal preference only.
  • I rolled my spiced pumpkin cookies in gingersnap crumbs just for a little added flavor.
  • Apricot preserves are another good choice for the flax thumbprints and probably easier to find depending where you live.
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Thanksgiving Day in Canada

The second Monday of October has been the day Canada has celebrated Thanksgiving since 1957. We have now entered into our Autumn season with all it’s breathtaking fabulous fall foliage. Part of Canada’s appeal is it’s four seasons that offer changing landscapes and temperatures. 

I, for one, have always loved the changing seasons. That’s not to say that I like freezing cold and slippery roads but that I have come to understand the important role each one plays in the ‘big picture’. When Brion and I initially landscaped our property, careful consideration was given to what plants were planted. Over the years it has developed into a beautiful tapestry of color through our growing season.

Growing up on the farm, Fall was an especially busy time with the grain crops being harvested, garden vegetables being canned, frozen or just stored for use over the coming months. So much needed to be done before winter would set in. As a teenager it all just seemed like a lot of work. Even as hard as my parents worked at making a living from farming, I think they felt a real sense of satisfaction in what they were able to achieve. I realize now that even without being aware of it the visual beauty of the farmland at harvest was imprinted on me forever.

Thanksgiving Day in Canada is linked to the European tradition of harvest festivals. A common image seen at this time of year is a cornucopia, or horn, filled with seasonal fruit and vegetables. The cornucopia, which means ‘Horn of Plenty’ in Latin, was a symbol of bounty and plenty in ancient Greece. Turkeys, pumpkins, ears of corn and large displays of food are also used to symbolize Thanksgiving Day.

Over the years, Brion and I have chose to have a variety of different meats for our Thanksgiving meal. Turkey is always the tradition for our Christmas dinner and since the two holidays come fairly close together, why not! All that being said though, we decided this year to roast just the turkey breast with stuffing. I also incorporated some of that wonderful Butternut squash with cranberries into the meal as well. For dessert we are having some pumpkin chiffon tarts. As a ‘kid’, I remember having a great dislike for the regular pumpkin pie — you know the kind –‘solid’. Then one year my mother made pumpkin  ‘CHIFFON‘  pie. Well, now that was glorious and I have loved it ever since.

Today in my recipes I have only included the Butternut Squash with Cranberries and Pumpkin Chiffon Tarts. I thought I’d get into the turkey and stuffing recipes later in the season.

Happy Thanksgiving Day!

Butternut Squash with Cranberries / Pumpkin Chiffon Tarts
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Servings
6
Servings
6
Butternut Squash with Cranberries / Pumpkin Chiffon Tarts
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Servings
6
Servings
6
Ingredients
Butternut Squash with Cranberries
Pumpkin Chiffon Tart Filling
Pastry
Servings:
Instructions
Butternut Squash with Cranberries
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Split squash in half; place hollow side down on a lightly buttered baking sheet. Bake for about 45 minutes or until completely soft to the touch.
  2. In a small skillet, saute celery & onion in margarine until tender. Add the apple, salt, lemon juice & pepper. Cook, uncovered, over medium-low heat until apple is tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in cranberries, sugar & water. Cook & stir until berries pop & liquid is syrupy. If you prefer, you could process this mixture for a couple of seconds in a food processor.
  3. Remove seeds & membrane from cooked squash; mash well. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, balsamic vinegar & maple syrup. Place some squash in individual custard dishes. Make a hollow in the center for the cranberry 'filling'. Add cranberries & serve.
Pumpkin Chiffon Tart Filling
  1. In a medium saucepan, combine first 7 ingredients; mix well. Add pumpkin, evaporated milk, regular milk & egg yolks; combine well. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens to a heavy custard. Boil 2 minutes, add 1 Tbsp margarine. Place wax paper over custard to prevent a 'skin' from forming. Let custard become cold (it can be refrigerated overnite at this point, finishing it the following day) then stir in 1/4 cup orange juice.
  2. Whip envelope of dessert topping with 1/2 cup milk & 1/2 tsp vanilla until stiff peaks form. It should yield about 2 cups. Put aside the amount you need to garnish tarts with. Fold remaining whipped dessert topping into custard. Spoon custard into a large pastry bag with a large 'star' tip. Fill baked mini tart shells. Decorate with a small dollop of dessert topping.
Pastry
  1. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder & salt. Cut in white & yellow Crisco shortening. In a 1 cup measuring cup place egg & vinegar; beat well. Add enough COLD water to fill cup. Pour all at once over flour mixture, mixing until pastry pulls away from sides of bowl. This should only take a couple of minutes, making sure not to over mix pastry. Roll out on floured surface. Using the bottom side of tart pans, cut pastry circles & place over each 'cup'. Bake at 350 F. until golden. Cool on wire rack before filling with pumpkin custard. If your using purchased shells follow baking instructions & cool before filling as well.
Recipe Notes
  • This pastry & pumpkin chiffon custard recipe was one I started using many years ago while working in the food industry. They were some of my favorites because they were pretty much 'fail proof'. If you want to make a double batch of each it will give you 4 - 9-inch pies. You can make them up to the point of decorating. Freeze until needed then just bring them out & thaw, decorate and you got a nice little homemade dessert just like that!
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Portuguese Custard Tarts (Pasteis de Nata)

A while back I was in a grocery store and happened to notice a familiar looking little tart being sold. Sure enough, it was some Portuguese custard tarts with their typical characteristic of a ‘browned’ custard. There is no doubt this little sweet treat has universal appeal.

Until Brion and I had the pleasure of visiting Portugal in 2014, I really had never even tasted them or realized what an interesting history these  unassuming custard tarts had.

‘Pasteis de nata’ were created by Catholic monks at the Jeronimos Monastery in the district of Belem, in Lisbon. These monks were originally based in France and loved these pastries. At the time, convents and monasteries used large quantities of egg whites for starching clothes, such as nuns’ habits. It was quite common for them to use the leftover egg yolks to  make cakes and pastries, as a result these legendary tarts were born!

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, next to the Jeronimos Monastery there was a sugar cane refinery attached to a small general store. Following the extinction of the religious orders and in the face of the impending closing of many of the convents and monasteries in the aftermath of the Liberal Revolution of 1820, the monks started selling pasteis de nata at the sugar refinery to secure some revenue. In 1834 the monastery was closed and the recipe was sold to the sugar refinery. Three years later, the baking of the ‘Pasteis de Belem’ began in the buildings attached to the refinery, following the ancient ‘secret recipe’ from the monastery. Passed on and known exclusively to the master confectioners who hand-crafted  the pastries in the’secret room’, this recipe remains unchanged to the present day. The bakery produces something like 10,000+ of these tarts a day, everything being done by hand except the filling of the tart shells.

When you read the recipe it makes you wonder how does a simple little custard tart reach such status. It seems it might be a few things such as ‘secret recipes’, teams of folks who do nothing but make the pastry dough or whip up the filling. Then there are those commercial ovens that blast at 800 F. to get that characteristic ‘browned’ look and taste. Definitely, when you make that many daily you can’t help but get it right!

All that being said, here is an easy way to make some ‘pasteis de nata’  in your own kitchen to enjoy but we all know so much of it is in ‘the taste of a memory’.   

 

Portuguese Custard Tarts (Pasteis de Nata)
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Light, flaky, crispy crust with a lightly sweetened creamy custard
Servings Prep Time
24 tarts 30 minutes
Servings Prep Time
24 tarts 30 minutes
Portuguese Custard Tarts (Pasteis de Nata)
Yum
Print Recipe
Light, flaky, crispy crust with a lightly sweetened creamy custard
Servings Prep Time
24 tarts 30 minutes
Servings Prep Time
24 tarts 30 minutes
Ingredients
Servings: tarts
Instructions
  1. Whisk yolks, eggs, cream, sugar & cornstarch in the top of a double boiler set over simmering water. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until custard is thick enough to coat the back of spoon; remove from heat. Whisk in butter, vanilla & lemon zest. Strain the custard into a bowl. Place a piece of waxed paper directly over the custard; refrigerate until chilled or up to a day.
  2. Starting from the short end, roll each sheet of thawed puff pastry into a log; cut each into 12 equal pieces. Lightly grease 2-12 cup muffin pans. Place a piece of dough in each cup, Pressing dough evenly with your fingers to form a tart shell. Line each tart case with a small round of parchment paper. Fill with baking weights or rice. 'Blind' bake at 400 F. for ABOUT 10 minutes.
  3. Adjust oven temperature to 450 F. Fill tart shells about 2/3 full with cooled custard. Bake for about 10-12 minutes. Adjust to BROIL temperature & brown for 3-5 minutes, watching closely so they don't burn.
  4. Leave to cool in muffin pans for about 5 minutes then turn out carefully on to a wire rack. Serve at room temperature. If preferred, sprinkle with a little ground cinnamon.
Recipe Notes
  • Using frozen puff pastry makes it less time consuming but it still seems to take a few times of making them to get your timing just right with each part of the baking process. In the end it's well worth it!
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