The vegetable cake idea is really not so strange if you consider that most of these dense moist cakes are either spice or chocolate. Who would guess that ‘vegetables’ would be lurking within?
When you think of how many veggies we have incorporated into our desserts, its amazing. Carrot cake is hardly novel having been around for decades but there is also beet torte, zucchini chocolate cake, sweet potato cake or the delicious chocolate sauerkraut cake just to name a few.
The popular chocolate potato cake recipe goes back to the early 1800’s, so its likely the oldest of them all. Like buttermilk, mashed potatoes make baked goods taste better, perhaps because both have the effect of making the cake crumb more tender.
It seems the humble potato is like a blank canvas and wears every role its put in with equal flair. This is a moist, rich cake so icing is purely optional.
Vintage Chocolate Potato Cake
Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly oil a 9-inch round cake pan or a 12 cup muffin pan & line the base with parchment paper or paper cups.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together sugar, oil & eggs then potatoes.
In another bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamom & salt. Alternately add dry ingredients & the buttermilk to the egg mixture, beginning & ending with the dry ingredients; stirring with a spoon or rubber spatula.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until the top springs back when touched lightly, 30-35 minutes.
Invert the cake onto a rack & allow to cool thoroughly. Transfer to a plate & dust with powdered sugar if you wish.
- Don't hesitate to add either some nuts or raisins for some extra flavor.
HAPPY NEW YEAR TO EVERYONE!
As we begin a new chapter in our lives today, it certainly comes with many hopes and expectations for 2021. I thought featuring a ‘Good Luck Pretzel’ would be very appropriate for today. The question is …. do these pretzels really bring good luck? If you believe in the power of positive thinking then I say…. YES!
Because it has such a history as a staple of life, bread has inspired endless traditions in many cultures that tie it to holidays and seasons. The breaking of a Good Luck New Year’s Pretzel is a long time German tradition, thought to bring good luck and prosperity in the New Year when eaten at midnight or at breakfast on New Year’s Day. This particular pretzel is not a lager pretzel accompanying a mug of beer, but rather a sweet dough or a babka dough that goes with a champagne toast as the clock strikes 12:00, or a with a bit of butter eaten first thing at breakfast New Year’s morning.
There are many theories on the origins of the pretzel’s shape. Some say that the pretzel’s shape was derived from the way German monks prayed with their arms crossed over their chests. Others have said that the shape comes from the winter solstice sign that was a circle with a dot in the middle on the old calendar. Still more say that the shape was created from the way the German children used to run through the streets with pretzels around their necks wishing good luck to relatives as the new year approached. No matter what the real reason is for the pretzel’s shape, a little luck for the upcoming year definitely does not hurt.
Unlike traditional pretzels, no boiling is involved before baking the ‘good luck pretzels’ and the dough is a little sweeter. The tops are often sprinkled with pearl sugar instead of coarse salt.
Brion & I wish everyone happiness, health and of course a little good luck in the new year!
New Year's Good Luck Pretzel
In a large mixing bowl, combine warm water with yeast & sugar, Set aside for a few minutes to proof & become bubbly.
Add the egg, salt & oil; blend in. Combine flour & dry milk powder. Slowly start adding flour/milk mixture, stirring until you get a soft, pliable dough. Cover with a tea towel & set in a warm, draft-free place until dough doubles in size.
Once the dough has risen, divide one quarter from the main ball & set aside. Roll the remaining dough into one long 'snake', with the middle being the widest & tapering slightly at the ends. Shape into a pretzel on the prepared baking sheet. Divide the remaining quarter of the dough into three equal pieces & roll into long, even 'snakes'. Braid together.
Whisk together the egg wash & generously brush the entire pretzel. On the bottom part, attach the braid. Brush the braid with more egg wash & sprinkle with pearl sugar & sprinkle with cinnamon if you wish. Place in a warm draft-free place & allow to rise for about 15 minutes.
Bake pretzel for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool slightly on a wire rack before serving.
Among the world’s many artisan breads and cakes, the breakfast bread ‘gibassier’ is one of the most popular in the French tradition. This buttery, textured bread is somewhat like an Italian panettone. What makes gibassier unique, is the use of orange blossom water which gives the bread a distinct flavor that is difficult to replicate with any substitute.
The recipe appears to have originated in the rocky, southeast of France, in Lourmarin Village, Provence. Many believe that this generations-old treat is named after the mountain called Le Gibas, which forms part of the village’s horizon.
Gibassier can be shaped and made as one big round loaf or larger or smaller single serve breads. Whatever size they come in, they are slashed or snipped decoratively before they are baked to give the fleur de lis or snowflake appearance.
It is difficult to say whether gibassier is a biscuit, a pastry, doughnut or a cookie. One thing is for sure …. its taste is unique. Traditionally served at breakfast and is dipped into honey butter while it is still warm.
Each Christmas I enjoy to try making a Christmas bread from another culture. Of course, that means as an extra bonus, researching the food history behind it.
French Christmas Bread/ Gibassier
In a small bowl, combine water, yeast & 2 Tbsp sugar. Allow to sit until foamy, about 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, 1/4 cup sugar & aniseed. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture & add eggs, butter, orange blossom water, orange zest & candied orange peel. Whisk to form a slurry, pulling in a little flour from the sides of the bowl.
Pour the yeast mixture over the egg slurry. Mix to make a 'shaggy' dough. Turn out on a floured surface & knead until a smooth, elastic dough forms, about 10 minutes.
Place the dough into a lightly buttered bowl, cover with a tea towel & allow to rise in a draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 - 2 hours.
Punch down the risen dough & turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into two equal pieces & shape each one into a ball. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Flatten each ball of dough into a disc about 1.5 cm thick & place each one on one of the baking sheets. Cut the disc into 6 sections, leaving them connected at the center.
Make a cut through the center of each section without cutting all the way through to the edge. Best to use something you can press straight down as opposed to dragging a knife through the dough. Pull the sections outward to separate & elongate them a little. Using your fingers, open out the slits & form a V-shape in the top of each section.
Cover each loaf loosely with buttered plastic wrap. Set aside to rise in a draft-free place for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Brush each loaf with a little egg wash. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden & baked through. Slide the loaves onto a wire rack & brush with honey butter while still warm or dust with sugar.
‘Speculaas‘ is actually not just a flavor that’s known in the Netherlands. In Germany & Austria its called ‘spekulatius’ and in Belgium & France it s called ‘speculoos’.
I love spices and everything about them …. their history, their applications and how they can add such a depth of flavor to cooking and baking. I first became aware of this Dutch spice mix (speculaaskruiden) some years ago. It isn’t the same as British Mixed Spice or American Pumpkin Pie Spice but they are similar as they share many of the same ingredients. The smell of speculaaskruiden is amazing …. a deliciously warm and woody aroma. Making your own is not difficult but it does require about nine different spices.
In the mid 18th century, the recipe for ‘spekulatius’ made its way to Germany from Holland. The origin of the cookies name may have derived from the Latin word ‘spekulum’, signifying ‘mirror image’, which alludes to the wooden mold whose mirror image appears on the cookie.
In the course of time, many recipes using speculaas spices have been created. For many German folk, spekulatius are as much a part of Christmas as are Christmas trees. Sometimes bakers make dough three months in advance so the flavor will permeate the dough thoroughly.
As the holiday season approaches, I thought it would be nice to try incorporating the speculaas spice into some breakfast scones. I didn’t have any wooden molds so I baked them in those little sandbakkel tins I had spoke of in a blog at the end of November (Fig, Pear & Gorgonzola Tartlets). The flavor and tenderness of the scones is just amazing.
German Spekulatius Scones
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine orange zest, sugar & spice mix. Set aside 1 Tbsp. of sugar mixture reserving it for the tops.
To the remaining orange/sugar, add flour, oat flour, baking powder, baking soda & salt; mix well. Add butter, cutting in until mixture forms fine crumbs.
In a small bowl, whisk together sour cream, eggs & vanilla, blending well. Add to flour mixture; stir ONLY until soft dough forms.
Drop by heaping 1/4 cupful's, 2-inches apart on to baking sheet. Sprinkle with reserved sugar mixture & sprinkle with almonds. Alternately you can use some baking tins as I did in which case only use a couple of Tbsp per scone.
Bake 15-20 minutes (for the larger size) or until scones are golden on top. Remove to wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.
HOMEMADE SPECULAAS SPICE MIX: (yield: 6 Tbsp)
- 5 Tbsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp EACH nutmeg & cloves
- 1/2 tsp EACH ground aniseed, white pepper, ground coriander, ginger, cardamom & mace
- Mix spices together & either use right away or store in an airtight jar.
- This recipe can easily be incorporated into many recipes or just make the amount you need.
As if the flavor alone didn’t make these tartlets special, I decided to make them in some unique, little Scandinavian cookie molds. I’m not sure where and when I actually acquired these vintage tins, but since I have them, it seems a shame not to use them.
The molds are traditionally used to make a Scandinavian cookie known as ‘Mandelmusslor’ in Swedish or ‘Sandbakkels‘ in Norwegian. Some are simple fluted round molds while others are more decorative shapes. The trick is to make sure the dough is pressed down thinly and evenly into the individual tins. This will ensure even baking.
These cookies are traditionally served as a shell tipped upside down on a pretty plate. Alternately they can be filled with fresh fruit or a baked filling.
Fig, Pear & Gorgonzola Tartlets
In a bowl, whisk together flour, sugar & salt. Add cold butter, vanilla & lemon zest. Cut into flour mixture with a pastry blender until dough starts to come together & form clumps.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Divide pastry between 12 mini tartlet pans. Using your fingertips, evenly press the dough into pans. Place on a baking sheet & bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven & place on a wire rack until you have your filling ingredients prepared.
Quarter the pear & remove core. Halve each quarter & then thinly slice each one. Finely dice or crumble Gorgonzola cheese.
Place about a teaspoon of fig jam in the bottom of each tart shell. Top with pear slices, laying them in a fan shape, then divide Gorgonzola cheese between the 12 tartlets.
Place in the oven & bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven & place on a wire rack until cool enough to remove tartlet pans. Serve warm or cold.
- Put a small ball of dough into the center of the cookie mold then using your thumb, press the dough down, working it up to the upper rim of the mold.
- It should be fairly consistent on the sides & bottom.
When most people mention biscotti, they actually mean a specific type of Italian cookie called ‘cantuccini’. Italians use the term biscotti to refer to any type of crunchy cookie, round, square and otherwise as the British use the word biscuit. Here in North America, biscotti refers to a specific type of Italian cookie, derived from the ‘Tuscan cantuccini‘, which is a hard, almond flavored cookie that is baked twice and usually served with the sweet Italian dessert wine, Vino Santo. This wine is loved for its intense flavors of hazelnut and caramel. When paired with biscotti, Vino Santo is inarguably Italy’s most famous welcoming tradition. What makes this wine truly special is the natural winemaking process which gives it a unique taste.
The word biscotti derives from ‘bis’, Latin for twice, and ‘coctum’ or baked (which became ‘cotto’, or cooked).
The original biscotti was created by a bakery in Prato, Italy. Cantuccini became a staple in the Tuscan cities of Florence and Prato then spread throughout the Italian peninsula. Tuscan biscotti are flavored with almonds from the plentiful almond groves of Prato. From the original recipe it expanded to lemon flavored dough as well as other flavors and spices with additions such as raisins, dried fruits and peels to chocolate morsels and nuts.
Biscotti have been baked for centuries and its iconic texture was the perfect for for sailors who were at sea for months. In modern times, biscotti range in texture from very hard to somewhat spongy and more cake-like. First, the sticky dough is shaped into a log and baked until firm. After a short cooling period, the log is sliced into diagonal pieces and baked again to cook out the moisture and produce the crisp, dry-textured cookie with a longer shelf life. The classic recipe has no butter or oil, using only eggs to bind the ingredients together. They are typically made in a 3, 5 or 7-inch size.
I have to be honest, biscotti has never been one of my ‘go-to’ cookie recipes. But, for something quick and easy, I decided to make a small recipe using two of my favorite ingredients …. anise seed & citron peel. Brion & I tried dipping them in wine and we realized we have been missing out on something real good!!
Anise Citron Biscotti
In a bowl, combine oil & sugar followed by vanilla & eggs.
In another bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder & anise seed then gradually stir this mixture into the egg mixture. Lastly, fold in citron peel.
Divide dough in half & form into two logs (about 6"x 2"). Place logs on a parchment lined baking sheet.
Bake for about 30-35 minutes; remove from oven & set aside to cool for about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 275 F.
Cut logs on the diagonal into 3/4-inch thick slices. Lay the slices on their sides on lined baking sheet.
Bake for another 20-25 minutes, turning halfway through baking time.
Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then carefully transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Store in an airtight container.
Butter tarts were a staple of pioneer cooking with the first known recipe dating back to 1915, becoming extremely popular during the twenties and thirties.
If you’re Canadian, chances are you have eaten a butter tart. They are part of our DNA! As a croissant is to France, the butter tart is to Canada.
Chatelaine Magazine printed its first butter tart recipe in April 1931. By the 1950’s, butter tarts were part of the picnic lunch boxes sold at Eaton’s Department Store in Toronto, Canada.
Tarts have continued along this commercial journey and now are pretty much in every cafe, bakery, at your nearest grocery store and even Tim Horton’s has them.
Overtime, the recipe for our ‘national treasure’ has been adapted to suit many different applications. Today’s recipe is a good example of that. I’ve swapped out the regular pastry for a shortbread crust and pumpkin seeds and cranberries for the raisins. Take note, that the one constant in butter tarts …. that syrupy, buttery filling remains in tact.
Pumpkin Seed Butter Tart Squares
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line an 8 X 8-inch baking pan with parchment paper using only one piece so none of the filling leaks out during the baking process.
In a bowl, whisk together flour, sugar & salt to combine. With a pastry cutter, cut in cold butter, adding vanilla & lemon zest. Transfer dough to prepared baking pan. Using your finger tips, evenly press the dough onto the bottom of the pan.
Carefully prick the bottom of the crust with the tines of a fork making sure not to make any holes in the parchment. Bake for about 20 minutes or just until a pale golden color. Remove from oven & place on a wire rack to cool while you prepare the filling.
In a bowl, beat together butter & sugar with a hand mixer until light & fluffy. Beat in eggs until incorporated then the corn syrup & vanilla. Stir in flour, salt & baking powder.
Sprinkle 100 gm of the pumpkin seeds & all of the dried cranberries over the baked shortbread base. Then pour the filling over this mixture & bake for about 20-25 minutes or until filling is set. Remove from oven & place on a wire rack to cool. Sprinkle remaining 20 gm of pumpkin seeds on top for decoration. Serve at room temperature or chilled (or straight from the freezer).
I never fail to get drawn in by the sight of fresh persimmons at the grocery store. Not only do they have a wonderful flavor but you can use them in so many ways.
Their strangely tropical characteristics pair nicely with many spices, such as cinnamon and cardamom. With a little imagination, cakes, cookies, pies and even some ‘persimmon brioche’ can be made from the persimmon fruit.
In reading about this fruit, I came upon some interesting weather folklore. I’m unsure if its true or not, but it said you can predict winter weather with a persimmon seed.
The first thing was to find a locally grown persimmon, which of course, is not possible for us in our location. You wait to pick and cut into the persimmon after it gets a bit soft … almost mushy. Then you open the fruit and cut open the seed.
Look at the shape of the kernel inside:
- If the kernel is spoon-shaped, expect plenty of snow to shovel.
- If it is fork-shaped, plan on a mild winter with powdery, light snow.
- If the kernel is knife-shaped, expect fridgid winds that will ‘cut’ like a blade.
Persimmon & Almond Brioche Buns
Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add milk & heat until lukewarm, but not hot. Stir in yeast. Allow yeast mixture to proof for about 10 minutes.
In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar & salt; add both eggs & combine. Add the yeast/milk/butter mixture. Continue to mix until the dough forms a ball & there is no dough sticking to the sides of the bowl.
Turn dough out onto a floured surface & knead well until dough is smooth (about 10 minutes). Form dough into a ball. Grease mixing bowl with butter. Place dough in the bowl, cover & allow to rise until its roughly doubled in size (about 1 hour).
Peel, halve & slice persimmons into 1/4-inch thick slices. Place in a shallow dish with sugar & cardamom; toss gently to evenly coat slices. Set aside.
Cream Cheese Filling
In a bowl, whisk together softened cream cheese with milk. Gradually add in the powdered sugar, beating until mixture is smooth. Add lemon juice & set aside.
Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a floured surface & punch down. Divide it into 12 equal parts. Roll the dough balls into discs 4-5-inches in diameter & about 1/4-inch thick. Place the discs onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover with a buttered piece of plastic wrap. & allow the dough to rise again in a draft-free place for about 25 minutes.
When dough has risen, using your fingers, press the center of each disc down, leaving about a 1/2-inch rim. If necessary, you can dip your fingers in egg wash to keep the dough from sticking during this process.
Assembly & Baking
Spread about a teaspoon of the cream cheese filling in a thin layer in the depression of each disc. Press some persimmon slices in the center over the cream cheese. Brush the outer edges of the discs with egg wash mixture. Place buns in the oven & bake for about 20-25 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven & transfer to a wire rack, keeping them on the parchment paper.
Combine the apricot jam & warm water. Microwave to thin the jam to a liquid consistency. Brush buns LIGHTLY with glaze & garnish with almond slices & pearl sugar.
I have always found the sweet, earthy flavor of figs so unique. Their high sugar content pairs perfectly with similarly intense flavors, adding a burst of sweetness to a savory dishes and a distinctive texture and aroma to sweet treats.
Figs are surprisingly easy to work and have endless ways to prepare them. Just to name a few ….
Pies & Tarts * Cakes * Puddings * Fig Rolls * With Cheese * On Pizza & Breads * With Meat * Salads * Stuffing * Or just let the natural beauty and taste of figs take center stage to end a dinner party.
Today, I chose to use some to decorate our lemon tart.
LEMON + FIGS = AMAZING!
Lemon Fig Tart
In a food processor, combine flour, sugar & salt. Process for a few seconds then add butter. Pulse until mixture becomes crumbly and resembles coarse meal, about 15 pulses. Add egg & vanilla; pulse until dough is no longer dry & starts to clump together, about 10-15 seconds. Dough should be quite crumbly with large clumps.
Place dough on a lightly floured surface & form into a ball. Flatten slightly to form a disc. Wrap with plastic wrap & refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
In the top of a double boiler saucepan, place eggs, sugar, lemon zest & cream (if using). Whisk to combine. Place top saucepan over boiling water (in the bottom of double boiler saucepan). Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture becomes thick, about 10-20 minutes. The filling will thicken more once cooled.
Remove from heat & immediately strain mixture through a sieve. Add butter, a few cubes at a time, whisking until completely melted & incorporated. Mixture should be smooth. Allow to cool to room temperature before filling the tart shell.
Remove dough from refrigerator & allow it sit on the counter for a few minutes to soften slightly for easy rolling. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a rectangle. Gently place into a tart pan (preferably with a removable bottom). Brush away any excess flour on the surface. With a sharp knife, trim the edges of the pastry to fit tart pan. Cover pan with plastic wrap & place in the freezer until firm, about 30 minutes to prevent it from shrinking.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Place rack in center of oven. Remove tart shell from freezer; press some parchment paper or foil tightly against the crust. Cover edges to prevent from burning. Fill with pie weights, distributing them evenly over entire surface.
Bake crust for 20 minutes, until paper no longer sticks to dough. Transfer crust to a wire rack & remove weights & paper. Return to oven & bake about 10 minutes longer until golden brown. Transfer to wire rack to cool.
Glaze & Assemble
In a saucepan, cook 1/4 cup sugar with 1/4 cup water over moderate heat. Stir occasionally, until sugar is dissolved & syrup is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Allow to cool.
Fill the baked tart shell with the lemon filling. Decorate with sliced figs. Brush the syrup lightly over the figs. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours until well chilled before serving.
- An alternate glaze you could use would be heated orange or apricot preserves.