Potato, Mushroom & Caramelized Onion Perogies

As the days get shorter, darker and colder in the winter, many turn to food as a source of internal warmth and comfort. Besides being essential for life, food brings people together and generally just makes us feel good. This is especially true during the chilly winter months we get here in Canada, where tasty comfort food is more than welcome.

 In 1966 when the term ‘comfort food’  was first used, one would turn to foods that were prepared in a traditional way and reminds the person of their childhood, home, family and friends.

Commonly eaten in the Canadian prairie provinces, perogies, pierogi, perogy – (however you spell it) are a delicious filled dumpling with origins from Central and Eastern Europe. They can be stuffed with potato, cheese, bacon, and more, and they taste absolutely perfect with their typical sour cream topping. There’s also a giant perogy statue in Glendon, Alberta, showing you exactly how important the food is viewed in Canada.

The ultimate in comfort, peasant food or gourmet cuisine, as a main event or side, perogies can do no wrong.

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Potato, Mushroom & Caramelized Onion Perogies
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Perogy Dough
  1. In a bowl, beat egg, soft butter & sour cream together. Add flour & salt, combining until smooth. Scrape dough out of bowl onto a lightly floured work surface & knead dough for 5 - 8 minutes. Wrap dough in plastic wrap & refrigerate until ready to use.
Filling
  1. Chop onions. Melt 2 Tbsp butter in a large skillet & sauté onions until caramelized. Remove from skillet & set aside.
  2. In the same skillet, melt another 2 Tbsp butter & add the chopped mushrooms. Salt & pepper the mushrooms & sauté until they are tender & all the liquid excluded by the mushrooms has evaporated, 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
  3. While you are cooking the onions & mushrooms, peel & quarter the potatoes & place in a small pot. Cover with cold water, bring to a boil, then lower heat & simmer until soft enough to mash, 15-20 minutes. Drain & place in a large mixing bowl.
  4. Mash & whip potatoes with grated cheddar cheese until smooth & fluffy. Fold in the cooked mushrooms & caramelized onions until well blended. Salt & pepper to taste.
Assembly
  1. Remove perogy dough from refrigerator & cut into 24 equal pieces. Roll each piece into about a 3-inch round. Place a heaping Tbsp of filling in the middle of pierogi. Dip your finger in a bowl of water & run it along the edge of the dough. Fold perogy in half, carefully pinching together edges to seal it completely.
Cook & Serve
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Carefully drop perogies in & boil until all the perogies float to the surface & dough becomes somewhat translucent, about 3-5 minutes. Remove perogies with a slotted spoon, making sure to let as much of the excess water drip off as possible. In a large skillet, heat a Tbsp of butter. Place drained pierogis in skillet. Do not over-crowd so that they can all lightly brown on both sides.
  2. If you wish , you can make a few extra onions & mushrooms for a garnish. Serve with either sour cream or Ranch dressing.
Recipe Notes
  • When making the pierogis, nothing wrong with rolling out all the dough at the same time & cutting your circles with a cookie cutter. I just personally like dividing the dough so I don't have to do any re-rolling with the scraps. Just personal preference.

Charcuterie Boards

HAPPY NEW YEAR’S EVE!

As we prepare to ring in the new year, it seems food is always involved when it comes to some of our cherished times together. Like many traditional foods that are making a comeback, the culinary art of charcuterie (shahr-koo-tuh-ree) has returned.

Generally, when served in a restaurant, charcuterie is presented as an appetizer on a board alongside artisan cheese and nuts.

The nice thing about serving charcuterie at home is that there are no rules! You can keep it as simple as you like or dress it up with fresh or dried fruits, a variety of artisan breads and crackers, olives, spreads like honey, preserves or jams!

Charcuterie design is arguably just as important as the ingredients you include on your board. Anyone can create a visually impressive charcuterie board by keeping these tips in mind.

Start your board by placing any bowls or jars you want to include. This will include dips, spreads and jellies, as well as olives and pickles. Space out the bowls and jars, leaving plenty of space between them for your meats, cheeses and other items. Include any utensils guests will need to pick up items in bowls or spread jellies and spreads.

Once your bowls are on the board, next, you can place the meats and cheeses. Rather than putting all the meats near each other and all the cheeses together, instead, space out the meats and cheeses across the board. For visual variety, try to vary the appearance of your meats and cheeses. For example, some cheeses can remain in a whole wedge while others are sliced or cubed.

Make sure you have an item on hand that offers a bright pop of color. This will help you add some visual interest to your board. Depending on the meats and cheeses you choose, you may find that your charcuterie board has a fairly consistent, earthy color palette that is lacking variety. A pop of color can make all the difference in this situation. Some examples include tomatoes or strawberries for a pop of red or clementine’s or carrots for a pop of orange.

Once your charcuterie board is mostly complete, use any smaller items you want to include, such as fruit and nuts, to fill in the gaps. For large charcuterie boards, rather than put all the nuts together and all the fruits together, be sure to spread them out across the board. Put a little row or pile in one spot and another in a different spot. This helps to create the look of a board that is brimming with variety, like a cornucopia, rather than a compartmentalized platter.

Finally, to give your charcuterie board an extra special touch, use fresh herbs as a garnish. Herbs like rosemary, basil and thyme can add an additional pop of color, can help you fill any remaining bare spots and will also provide some lovely fragrance to elevate the whole sensory experience. Add sprigs of herbs in several spots spread out over the board. You can tuck some sprigs under cheese wedges or bowls to hold them in place.

Since Brion & I are celebrating New Year’s Eve at home this year, we thought it would be nice to have charcuterie to make it special.

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Charcuterie Boards
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Instructions
  1. The following are some suggestions for the most important elements of a charcuterie board:
  2. CHEESES: choose a variety of hard & soft cheeses * Hard Cheeses: manchego, cheddar (white or orange), swiss, gouda, gruyere, parmesan etc. * Soft Cheeses: brie, triple cream, goat cheese, Havarti, cream cheese w/ pepper jelly on top, blue cheese or gorgonzola
  3. MEATS: prosciutto, salami, ham, cured chorizo, capicola, summer sausage, etc.
  4. SAVORY ACCOMPANIMENTS: * Nuts: almonds, candied pecans, pistachio nuts, cashews, macadamia nuts, etc. * Briny, pickled or marinated: olives, cocktail onions, dill pickles, pepperoncini, olive tapenade, bruschetta. * Savory dips & spreads: whole ground mustard, hummus, ranch, balsamic dip.
  5. SWEET ACCOMPANIMENTS: * Fresh fruit & berries: grapes, apples, pears, oranges, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries & strawberries. * Dried fruit: apricots, cherries, figs, pineapple & mango. * Sweet spreads: fig butter, orange marmalade, blackberry jam, etc. * Chocolate: a few pieces of quality chocolate or chocolate covered nuts.
  6. CRACKERS & BREADS: * Choose a variety of crackers, sliced baguettes or mini toasts of different shapes, sizes & flavors.
  7. FRESH HERBS: * Use fresh rosemary, thyme, basil or sage for a nice fragrance as well as a great visual appearance to your charcuterie board.
Recipe Notes
  • These are only suggestions ... remember, your only limited by your imagination!

Benedictine Liqueur Mini Cupcakes

The story of Benedictine dates back to 1510 when a Venetian monk of the Abbey of Fécamp, Dom Bernardo Vincelli, created an elixir intended to support good health. The concoction was so well-received that the Benedictine monks of Fécamp continued the liqueur’s production up until the French Revolution. One of the Benedictine monks had a copy of the recipe for the elixir in a book he gave to a friend for safekeeping during the Revolution. That friend’s grandchild was Alexandre Le Grand.

Over 300 years later in 1863, Alexandre le Grand, a wine trader from Fécamp sought to resurrect it. After a year of attempting to recreate the mysterious brew, le Grand finally succeeded, transforming it into the liqueur it is today. He named it Benedictine, in honor of the monk Dom Bernardo Vincelli, and went on to erect a palace that would house its distillation: the Palais Benedictine in Fécamp.

Its recipe remains a secret, known by a select few and with only three copies in existence, each kept safe in a different locale. It includes a combination of 27 herbs and spices derived from plants from around the globe, including juniper, myrrh, saffron, vanilla, thyme, coriander and more. The ingredients are carefully combined and slowly distilled several times in copper stills that date back to the time of Alexandre le Grand. The liquid is then aged in oak casks for approximately two years and always stored at the Palais Benedictine. With an ABV of 40%, it is classified as a brandy and often served as a digestif after meals or used in cocktail recipes.

During the Middle Ages, about 90% of the population of Europe was the non-landowning laboring class, with the remainder split between the nobility and church. The monks were the keepers of most scientific and medical knowledge, as they were literate and often spent time copying important texts from one monastery to the next. Some monasteries operated hospitals and probably all had medicinal herb gardens and apothecaries (pharmacists) on site to make medicines for themselves and the surrounding community.

The liqueur tastes primarily of honey and baking spices, with citrus peel, herb, and stone fruit notes.

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Benedictine Liqueur Mini Cupcakes
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Cupcakes
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Cupcakes
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Cupcakes
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 2 mini cupcake pans ( 2-inch diameter) with paper liners.
  2. Place sugar & zest in the mixer bowl & blend until moist & fragrant. Add butter & beat until white. Add eggs, one at a time; beating well after each one.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt & baking powder. With mixer on low speed, add the flour, milk & liqueur alternately, scraping down sides of the bowl. Divide cake batter between the 24 paper lined cups.
  4. Bake 16-18 minutes, or until risen & baked through, testing with a toothpick in the center of the cupcake. Remove from baking pan & allow to cool.
Frosting
  1. Combine butter & cream cheese with a mixer until smooth & creamy. Blend in Benedictine liqueur. Slowly add the powdered sugar until you reach the right consistency. If you are using a pastry bag ensure that you have a medium consistency.
  2. Pipe the frosting onto each cupcake then garnish as you wish.

Mushroom Barley Soup w/ Mini Meatballs

Beef barley soup is a classic old-world dish, and it’s been simmering away in pots for centuries, probably as long as people have been making soup. It just makes sense ~ the little white pearls of barley add lovely texture, as well as extra nutrition and satisfying bulk, all important things when you’re trying to make dinner out of a pot of soup. For an added bonus, barley’s natural starch thickens the soup as it cooks.

Beef Barley Soup is classic comfort food that you can make on the stove or in the crock pot. The soup has roots in the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe. Mushrooms were popular in these cold-weather countries because they could be harvested, dried, and stored for later use.

Barley was also plentiful and easy to grow in the Eastern European climate, making it a common addition to hearty winter dishes like soup. Barley’s history goes back even further; in fact, it is arguably the world’s first and most ancient, cultivated grain.

As far as the meatballs, texture can be an issue. If the meatball is too wet, it will disintegrate when cooking in soups. If it is too dry, it will lose its flavor and potentially break up into pieces. Using the right amount of liquid or eggs for the mix to keep them moist, but equally so, enough breadcrumbs or flour to bind them adequately. Remember, you can never get enough seasoning, so don’t be gentle with it, and use spices and herbs liberally.

One of Brion’s favorite soups has always been mushroom beef barley, so now seems a good time to make some.

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Mushroom Barley Soup w/ Mini Meatballs
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Instructions
  1. In a large saucepan, combine the broth, water, barley & thyme. Season with salt & pepper; bring to a boil. Cover & cook over low heat until the barley is nearly tender, about 18 minutes.
  2. In a large skillet, heat oil. Add the mushrooms & shallot, season with salt & pepper; cook over high heat until tender and browned, about 8 minutes.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the ground beef, egg, bread crumbs, cheese, 1/2 teaspoon of salt & 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Knead the mixture until blended, then roll it into sixteen 1-inch balls.
  4. Add the meatballs & mushrooms to the soup. Simmer over moderate heat until the meatballs are cooked through & the barley is tender, about 8 minutes. Discard the thyme. Stir the parsley into the soup & serve in bowls with sour cream.

Flammekueche – Alsatian Pizza w/ Onions & Bacon

Nestled on the border of France and Germany is a little area known as the Alsatian (All-Say-Shun) region. There, cultures have collided, blended, and meshed to create some of the most unique culinary experiences. One such specialty is the Flammekueche, also known as the Alsatian Pizza, or Tarte Flambée. A combination of baked flat dough topped with fresh cheese known as fromage blanc, bacon, and onions. All of this is baked to a crisp perfection.

The most underrated and underused topping in every pizzeria is the onion. The flavor potential of this glorious root can be either bold or a sublime succulent whisper, but it is usually taken for granted.

Known as flammekueche in Alsatian and flammkuchen in German, tarte flambée is pure and uncomplicated. Typically made on a piece of thin, rolled-out bread dough, it has only three or four other main ingredients: the sour cream, cheese, onion and the bacon.

But don’t let the few ingredients fool you because they’re wonderfully paired. The creamy, slightly sharp sour cream is tamed by the sweet onions and salty bacon.

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Flammekueche - Alsatian Pizza w/ Onions & Bacon
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Potato Pizza Crust
Caramelized Onions
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Potato Pizza Crust
Caramelized Onions
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Instructions
Pizza Crust
  1. Cook potato, peel & mash. Combine yeast with lukewarm water; whisk until yeast is dissolved. Let stand about 3 minutes until foamy. Add butter, salt, sour cream & potato; mix well. Stir in flour, one cup at a time. When dough is completely blended, turn onto a lightly floured surface. Knead dough about 10 minutes, until smooth & elastic. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a tea towel & allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Caramelized Onions
  1. In a large skillet, heat oil. Add onion & sprinkle with salt. Cook & stir about 15 minutes or until moisture is evaporated & onion is soft. Reduce heat, sprinkle with vinegar. Cook & stir until golden. Stir in brown sugar; cook & stir until caramel brown in color. Remove from skillet & set aside.
Bacon / Cheese
  1. In skillet, sauté bacon until it is halfway to crisp, 2-4 minutes. Remove bacon to drain on paper towel. Break or cut bacon into small pieces. Grate cheese.
Assembly
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. On a large sheet of parchment paper, roll or press dough into 4 ovals. Transfer with paper to a baking sheet.
  3. Add minced garlic to sour cream & spread over crust, leaving a small border. Distribute onions & bacon evenly over sour cream. Top all with grated cheese & a sprinkling of black pepper.
  4. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven & slice.

Pear & Gorgonzola Pastries

The fall season seems to orchestrate a return to the kitchen, to lure us who enjoy to cook, back to the stove. With the cooler days and nights, heating up the oven and cooking or baking becomes conceivable once more.

Autumn fruits are everywhere and pears are definitely in season. Pears & Gorgonzola are such a great pairing. The crisp, sweet, sometimes-earthy, sometimes-citrusy flavor of pears is naturally enhanced by the unique rich flavor of this Italian blue cheese.

Gorgonzola is named after a town outside of Milan, Italy where it was originally made. This soft, creamy cheese with blue-green marbling has a slightly pungent, savory flavor. The main difference between the different types of blue cheeses, is the region or country that they are made in or what type of milk is used in them.

Neither Brion or I like the strong flavored blue cheeses, but we sure wouldn’t pass up Gorgonzola used in either a sweet or savory recipe. These little pastries are a great fall/winter dessert. A bit more fidgety than making a larger tart or pie but as always, I love individual desserts …. there just so special!

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Pear & Gorgonzola Pastries
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Unfold puff pastry sheet & cut into 3 long rectangles. Cut each rectangle into 3 equal size squares.
  3. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet. Placing tarts about an inch apart. Score a crust about 1/2-inch from edge of each tart. Using a pastry brush, paint the egg wash just across the outer crust of each tart.
  4. Divide fig jam between pastries. Spread jam across the center of each pastry, keeping it within the scored lines.
  5. Place 3-4 slices of pear in the center of the pastry, overlapping them. Sprinkle with walnuts.
  6. Divide the Gorgonzola between the pastries, gently pressing it into pears/walnuts.
  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until edges are golden brown & pastry is baked through.

Baked/Stuffed Picnic Loaf

Bread, cheese, bacon & leeks all baked together in the ultimate picnic loaf! This recipe idea derives from a Portuguese traditional stuffed bread made in the North of Portugal called ‘Bola’. This was made by the farmers wives for their husbands to take to work when they were out working the fields. It consists of bread dough enriched with ‘lard’ or butter and then put in layers in a baking tray, filled in the middle with meat leftovers like roast pork, veal, chicken or chourico (smoked pork sausage).

This kind of reminds me of Pan Bagnat, the traditional Nice ‘sandwich’, in which the top of a round loaf would be sliced off and some of the crumbs hollowed out, mixed with tuna, olives, anchovies, etc. then spooned back in and the ‘lid’ put on top. Later variations are often made with ham and cheese and sometimes peppers are added.

In September 2017, I posted a blog on Pan Bagnat. Once the flavors all meld together the taste was incredible. I thought this stuffed bread would be perfect for an outdoor summer meal or picnic.

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Baked Stuffed Picnic Loaf
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Instructions
  1. Very lightly grease a skillet with olive oil, put in the bacon & sauté until browned. Add the chopped shallot; sauté until softened, then add the leek. Stir together and remove from the heat – you want the leeks to keep their color so don't overcook.
  2. In a bowl, whisk sour cream, eggs, mustard & spices together. Don’t overmix: keep the mixture a little lumpy.
  3. Preheat the oven to 375 F.
  4. Slice into the bread, but not all the way through. You need to cut deep enough into the bread to open out the loaf and fill between the “slices, while leaving the loaf connected at the base. Place the bread on a sheet of parchment paper.
  5. Into each slot in the bread, place a slice of potato, followed by some of the bacon, shallot and leeks.
  6. Use the paper to lift the bread onto a baking tray. Spoon some of the sour cream/egg mixture into each slot, so that the bread absorbs as much as possible.
  7. Finally insert the slices of cheese. Enclose the loaf fully in the baking paper and then wrap it in foil to make a tight parcel.
  8. Put the wrapped bread into the preheated oven and bake for 30-40 minutes, then remove the tray and open the foil and parchment paper. Return to the oven until the top of the bread and its filling is golden brown. Remove and serve!

Beef Cabbage Rolls – Reconstructed

Some years ago I acquired a great little book from the Lea & Perrins Company. The main focus of the book was to promote their Worcestershire Sauce.

Worcestershire sauce was created in the heyday of the great English table sauces. In 1838, the commercial Worcestershire sauce was ‘born’. The story of the origins of the recipe for the sauce is entangled in a web of legends, but the common thread is that its place of origin was India. Versions of how the recipe came to England usually credit a member or members of the prominent Sandys and/or Grey families. Typically the stories indicate an effort to reproduce a Bengali recipe for a sauce with the assistance of chemists (pharmacists) John Wheeley Lea & William Henry Perrins of Worcester. In most editions of the tale, the first attempt is a failure, but the results are stored away; fermentation occurs and a later tasting reveals the delightful concoction now enjoyed all over the world.

The exact recipe is ‘secret’, but it is known to include both common and exotic ingredients: anchovies, shallots, chilies, cloves, tamarinds (brown pods from a tropical tree), garlic, sugar, molasses, vinegar and salt. There are about as many ways to incorrectly pronounce Worcestershire as there are ingredients in the sauce. The tremendous depth of flavor of the sauce is the result of many different ingredients being fermented individually, blended and fermented again.

Worcestershire sauce contains something for everyone …. sweetness, acidity and saltiness. This probably explains the reason we still see it on our grocery shelves 184 years after it was first created.

I’ve used this simple little recipe from the Lea & Perrins book numerous times and it always tastes great.

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Beef Cabbage Rolls - Reconstructed
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Instructions
  1. Cook cabbage & rice: set aside. Sauté chopped onions; set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, combine beef, cooked rice, salt, Worcestershire sauce, egg & catsup (or BBQ sauce).
  3. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  4. Roll out meat mixture between 2 sheets of parchment or foil paper into an oblong 1/2-inch thick. Spread meat with cabbage & onions & sprinkle with Italian seasoning.
  5. Using the help of the bottom sheet of paper, roll up in jelly-roll fashion. Place on greased shallow baking pan.
  6. Bake for 40-50 minutes. Slice & serve as is or with a sauce of your own choice.

Amaretto Cherries w/ Dumplings

It may seem hard to believe, but the importation of amaretto liqueur to North America did not occur until the 1960’s. The almond flavored cordial quickly became a hit in cocktails and food preparation. By the 1980’s, it was second in sales only to Kahlua.

While its known that the drink was made in Italy, pinning down its exact origin story can be tricky. Two different families claim responsibility for the cordial with both having equally interesting stories to back up their claim.

Although, amaretto liqueur has an almond flavor, surprisingly, it may not contain almonds. The standard base of the liqueur is primarily made from either apricot pits or almonds or both. The drink like many other alcohols may contain any number of added spices and flavorings.

While amaretto cookies are probably the best known recipe made with this liqueur, its actually got many uses in the kitchen. You can add it to pancake batter for a richer flavor or to ice cream and is a common ingredient found in tiramisu cakes. You can even use it to add a touch of an almond kick to savory meats like poultry and fish.

These Amaretto Cherries w/ Dumplings are such a nice ‘homey’ dessert for this time of year.

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Amaretto Cherries w/ Dumplings
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Amaretto Cherries
Dumplings
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Amaretto Cherries
Dumplings
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Instructions
Amaretto Cherries
  1. In a saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch & salt. Stir in the reserved cherry juice; bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking until thickened. Remove from heat & fold in the cherries. Pour cherry mixture into a 8 X 8-inch baking dish. Drizzle amaretto over cherry mixture. Cover & keep hot until dumplings are mixed.
Dumplings
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, lemon zest & salt.
  3. In another bowl, whisk together milk & melted butter. Add to flour mixture; stir until moistened.
  4. Drop by tablespoons on top of hot cherry mixture. Bake for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center of dumplings comes out clean.
  5. If desired, serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.

Blackberry Roly Poly Pudding

Roly poly pudding also known as shirt sleeve pudding is a traditional British pudding. It was probably created in the early 19th century. The dessert was traditionally made with a ‘suet’ (hard animal fat) dough that was spread with jam and then rolled up and steamed or baked. It got the name ‘shirt sleeve‘ as it was steamed in an actual shirt sleeve.

The pudding is a nostalgic one for many British adults, as it was very popular 30-40 years ago as part of British school dinners, topped with a custard.

Today, roly poly is not only made with a jam filling but also with fresh fruit and served when one needs a comforting ‘retro‘ dessert.

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Blackberry Roly Poly Pudding
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Dough
Filling
Topping
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Dough
Filling
Topping
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Instructions
Dough/Filling
  1. In a bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder & salt. Cut in shortening & butter until crumbly. Add sour cream & blend until ball forms. Roll out on a floured surface into a 15" x 10" rectangle. Spread with 1/4 cup softened butter, sprinkle with remaining filling ingredients. Roll up, jelly-roll style, starting with the long side. Cut into 10 slices. Place slices, cut side down, in a 13" x 9" baking pan.
Topping
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. In a saucepan, combine water, brown sugar & cinnamon. Bring to a boil; remove from heat & stir in cream. Carefully pour hot topping over filled slices.
  3. Bake, uncovered for 35 minutes or until bubbly. The center will jiggle when dessert is hot out of the oven but will set as it sits for a few minutes. Serve warm.