Apple Crisp Pie w/ Vanilla Cardamom Cream

Apple season is upon us, so its a good time to make some of those ‘homey’ kind of desserts. During the summer we have an endless array of fresh fruit available in the grocery stores. Apples are often taken for granted because their kind of a staple fruit you could say. We have countless varieties to choose from for fresh eating or cooking. One that is well known is called the Granny Smith apple. Its acidity and strong flavor makes it a frequent choice for both baking and fresh eating. Consistently rated among the top ten apples in popularity, its hard to believe it wasn’t part of the North American experience until the 1970’s.

It turns out there really was a ‘Granny Smith’. As the story goes, Maria Ann (Granny) Smith was cooking with French crab apples and discarded the remains in a compost pile near a creek flowing behind her farmhouse outside Sydney, Australia. From the pile sprouted a seedling unlike any apple she had ever encountered. She was so taken with its bright flavor and versatility, she decided to propagate the trees herself.

In the season from September through November, Granny Smith apples have become a staple of fall baking. Used extensively in seasonal pies, cakes, cobblers and crisps, it all began with a happy accident discovered by its namesake halfway around the world.

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Apple Crumble w/ Vanilla Cardamom Cream
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Crumble Topping
Vanilla Cardamom Cream
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Vanilla Cardamom Cream
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Instructions
Apple Filling
  1. Peel, core & slice apples. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. In a small bowl, toss the apple slices with lemon zest & juice, sugar, cinnamon & salt. Set aside.
Crumble Topping
  1. In a small bowl, mix flour, brown sugar, oats & salt with a fork until uniform. In a glass pie dish, melt the butter in the microwave until about half melts. Pour the butter into the flour mixture & incorporate with a fork. Leaving the excess butter in the pie pan, arrange the apple slices in the pan. Top with the flour-oat mixture.
  2. Bake until apples are cooked through and the topping is golden, about 45 minutes.
Vanilla Cardamom Cream
  1. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, whisk together 'cream' ingredients. Simmer over a medium-low heat, stirring constantly until cooked & custard will coat the back of a spoon.
  2. Remove from heat & cover with plastic wrap, making sure to lightly press it over the custard to avoid a 'skin' forming. Serve over or with crumble.

Chai Spiced Sweet Rolls

Its the fall season, so bring on the chai flavored recipes! Fall can encompass many different flavors including apple, pumpkin, maple, cranberry and ginger just to name a few. To me, baked goods and chai spices are a no-brainer. Traditionally, chai is made into a tea which consists of milk, spices, sweetener and black tea. Chai spices can be used for so much more than just tea. Once you make your basic chai spice recipe, there are so many different ways to utilize it.

Chai can include a number of different spices. Cardamom is the most common ingredient, followed by some mixture of cinnamon, ginger, star anise and cloves. Pepper and coriander, nutmeg and fennel are also used but they are slightly less common.

In the winter of 2011, Brion & I traveled to Turkey for a month. That trip we were meeting up with a Trafalgar tour group in Istanbul. Arriving a day early gave us time to ‘snoop’ around a bit. Next to our hotel was a Starbucks, so we went in. When Brion ordered my coffee, they gave me a ‘Pumpkin Spice Chai Latte’ by mistake. The flavor was so incredible, I have been addicted to it ever since.

A stay in Istanbul would not be complete without a traditional and unforgettable boat excursion up the Bosphorus, that winding strait that separates Europe and Asia. Its shores are a mixture of past and present, grand splendor and simple beauty. Modern hotels stand next to shore-front wooden villas, marble palaces in contrast to rustic stone fortresses and elegant compounds neighbor small fishing villages. Since Turkey actually straddles two separate continents, its culture features strong elements and traditions from both east and west. At that point in time we found Turkey a relaxed country to travel in which made our time there very enjoyable.

This bread is literally like the food version of your favorite chai drink.

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Chai Spiced Sweet Rolls
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Instructions
Dough
  1. In a small dish, combine yeast with lukewarm milk (or water) & 1 tsp of the sugar. Allow to sit for a few minutes until frothy.
  2. In a large bowl, slightly melt butter; cool a couple of minutes then whisk in egg. In another bowl, whisk together flour, salt & remaining sugar. Combine yeast mixture with butter mixture; then add flour mixture. Combine then turn onto a floured work surface & knead for about 5 minutes. Dough will be very soft but not sticky.
  3. Lightly grease bowl, place dough ball in it & cover with a tea towel. Place in a draft-free place to rise for about 20 minutes.
  4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a bowl, combine brown sugar & chai spices to make filling.
  5. When dough has risen, place on a lightly floured work surface & roll out into a rectangle about 12 x 16 inches in size. Spread with softened butter & sprinkle with brown sugar/spice mix.
  6. Beginning with one of the long edges, roll the dough up, pulling it first up & over the filling & working it carefully until you've created a tight log. Press/pinch along the seam to seal.
  7. Using a sharp knife, cut roll in a zig-zag fashion about 2-inches apart. Place wedges on prepared baking sheet, spacing to allow room for the buns to spread a bit. With a wooden skewer, press each wedge down across the center to form their unique shape. Cover & allow to rise until oven is ready. If you wish , make a bit of egg wash & gently brush over buns before baking.
  8. Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake rolls for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Place on a wire rack to cool.
Glaze
  1. In a small bowl, combine the powdered sugar, milk & vanilla. Stir to create a smooth glaze. Once the rolls have cooled for about 10 minutes, drizzle with glaze.

Plum Kabobs w/ Cardamom Sugar

While fruit might not be the first thing one thinks of in regards to barbecuing, its a great option that’s often overlooked.

Traditionally, the word ‘kabob’ is reserved for grilled or charred meat. Fruit kabobs take their name from the style of presentation, not their contents or preparation method.

Fruit kabobs are great for numerous reasons. Nearly any variety of fruit can be used including berries, bananas, melons and pineapple. You can make a few or as many as you want to suit your size crowd. Make them as long or short as you choose, no oven required and preparation can be done in advance.

Fruit kabobs make a fascinating presentation, particularly when paired with different dipping sauces.

These plum kabobs could not get any easier to make but they are super good tasting.

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Plum Kabobs w/ Cardamom Sugar
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Instructions
  1. Soak 4 wooden skewers in water for at least 1 hour. After 1 hour of soaking, preheat grill to medium heat.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar & cardamom; set aside.
  3. Cut the plums in half & remove the pits. Cut each half into 3 pieces. Place the plum sections on the skewers & rub the plums with the cardamom sugar.
  4. Place sugared kabobs on grill & cook for 3-4 minutes on 1 side, then turn kabobs & grill for an additional 2-3 minutes.
  5. Remove kabobs from grill & serve warm.

Guacamole Beef Burgers on Portobello ‘Buns’

CELEBRATING HERTIAGE DAY!

In 1974, the first Monday of August was made an official provincial holiday to recognize and celebrate the varied cultural heritage of Albertans. Businesses can choose whether or not to recognize the day as a general holiday, which most do.

Our choice of meal for today are some special beef burgers on Portobello buns. Mushrooms are often cooked and served as a meat substitute in today’s ‘plant based’ society. Large Portobello mushrooms are the general size and shape of hamburger buns so using them to sub for buns seems only logical. I guess you could say they are the earth’s natural burger bun!

I have fond memories of my first introduction to a Portobello ‘burger‘. It was in the quaint little village of Carmel-by-the-Sea, located about 190 km (120 miles) from San Francisco.

Some 35 years ago, actor Clint Eastwood, was elected mayor of Carmel for a two-year term. During that time he opened a restaurant/bar there called the ‘Hogs Breath Inn’. You had to enter it through a long cobblestone alley/corridor. The outdoor patio was nestled between the restaurant and the bar. A massive wall mural and numerous stone fireplaces all added tremendously to the wonderful ambiance. It was here that I first tasted a Portobello Mushroom Burger.

This version , the Portobello mushroom seemed to have been marinated and then grilled on a barbecue. On top of it were some battered onion rings, lettuce and tomato. All of the came in a grilled ciabatta bun with pickles and a side dish of your choice.

In the case of today’s blog recipe, we are using the mushroom cap as the bun. The guacamole is a great accompaniment to the beef burgers along with smoked Gouda cheese, tomatoes and the mushroom ‘buns’.

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Guacamole Beef Burgers on Portobello 'Buns'
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Guacamole
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Instructions
Portobello Caps
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F. & place rack in the middle. Line a baking sheet with foil paper & set aside.
  2. Brush the mushroom caps (top & bottom) with Italian dressing & place them, gills side up , on the lined baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes then flip them over & bake for an additional 10 minutes.
  3. When mushrooms are ready & the juices have been released, remove them from the baking sheet. Place them on a wire to drip off a bit.
Guacamole
  1. On a piece of plastic wrap, mash avocado with lime juice, salt, garlic, onion & cilantro. Fold plastic wrap over guacamole & set aside in fridge.
Beef Burgers
  1. Preheat barbecue grill (or roast burgers in oven).
  2. In a bowl, combine all burger ingredients & mix well. Divide beef mixture into 4 equal parts & shape into patties. Grill patties 3 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Divide cheese between patties & allow to melt.
Assembly
  1. Top each of the 4 mushroom caps with some guacamole, a burger patty & tomato slices. These are definitely the kind of 'burger' you want to eat with a fork & knife. Of course you could always squeeze the whole thing in a ciabatta bun!

Lime & Guava Cheesecake Truffles

Any season is cheesecake season, but some cheesecake recipes have a bit of an edge. Truffles are the perfect summer dessert, especially when there’s lime and guava involved. You can make these without using your oven and since they are kept in the freezer, perfect for hot days. These truffles have a rich and creamy cheesecake interior with lime undertones, a Maria biscuit base, all topped with some guava cardamom drizzle.

For those who aren’t familiar with Maria biscuits, here’s a bit of food history about them (you might have guessed that was coming). On January 23rd, 1874, Queen Victoria’s second son, Alfred, married the Russian Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna Romanova. Peek Frean, a London bakery, released a biscuit to honor this, naming it after Marie. They imprinted the name Marie right on the cookie and in a nod to architectural styling at the time, put a beaded border on the cookie’s edges. They also had docker holes in them. The biscuit is made from wheat flour, sugar, palm oil or sunflower seed oil and has a vanilla flavor.

That’s how this very international cookie was created. From England to Russia, to the Philippines, India, Mexico and Puerto Rico, today half of the globe considers Maria biscuits a household staple. They are manufactured and sold by multiple companies around the world.

How this biscuit has travelled the whole world and kept its original look and recipe almost intact for over a century is somewhat of a mystery. Maria Brand is well-known in Canada under the President’s Choice biscuit manufacturer.

Marie biscuit crumbs are a nice trade off for the usual graham wafer crumbs used in so many cheesecake bases. It helps that they aren’t to sweet, so they offer a counter to the other sweet ingredients used and even broken they don’t become complete ‘mush’.

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Lime & Guava Cheesecake Truffles
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Instructions
Base
  1. In a food processor, pulse Maria biscuit cookies until crushed slightly. Remove from processor & set aside.
Cheesecake Truffles
  1. Zest the lime & set aside half the zest for sprinkling on top of truffles for garnish.
  2. In the food processor, place the other half of the zest with the cream cheese, sugar & vanilla. Juice the lime to obtain 3 Tbsp of juice & add to processor. Combine until smooth.
  3. Using a Tbsp or a mini cookie scoop, scoop small balls of cream cheese mixture onto a sheet of parchment paper. Place balls in freezer.
  4. After about 20 minutes, remove balls from freezer & roll in crushed Maria crumbs. Place back in freezer.
Guava Drizzle
  1. Place guava paste, water & cardamom spice in a small microwave bowl. Heat carefully, mixing well. Set aside to cool then drizzle over cheesecake truffles. Sprinkle with remaining lime zest. Keep frozen in a covered container until ready to serve.

Lemon Cardamom Crinkle Cookies

The flavor of lemon always seems to give such a refreshing taste to everything its used in. I think these lemon crinkle cookies are just perfect for celebrating spring.

Many of us recall the original chocolate crinkle cookies from the 1960’s ….fudgy & sweet with such a unique look. Most cookies have top crusts that remain relatively soft and flexible as the cookies set during baking. However, if the top surface dries out before the cookie is finished spreading and rising, it hardens, cracks and pulls apart, producing an attractive crinkly, cracked exterior.

Historically these were a wintertime or Christmas holiday cookie. A women by the name of Helen Fredell of St. Paul, Minnesota, USA is believed to have created the first actual crinkle cookie. The original recipe contained molasses and spices such as cloves, cinnamon and ginger. The recipe was later published in Betty Crocker’s ‘Cooky Carnival Cookbook’. I have also seen a reference to the crinkle cookie having originated in the Philippines.

Whatever the origin, they have definitely evolved over the years. Once you’ve got the hang of the basic recipe your flavor options are endless. For example, a few suggestions are Kahlua, pumpkin, ginger, mocha, peppermint, sesame, cinnamon, peanut butter, matcha, orange, red velvet, egg nog & purple ube etc. etc. Amazing!!

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Lemon Cardamom Crinkle Cookies
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cardamom, baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, lemon & orange zest; set aside. Sift powdered sugar into another dish to ensure there are no lumps; set aside.
  3. In another bowl, cream together butter & granulated sugar on medium speed for about 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl with a spatula, add the eggs one at a time until incorporated. Add vanilla & beat until blended. With a spatula, fold in flour mixture.
  4. Divide batter into 24 pieces (about 1 1/2 Tbsp each), then roll the portioned dough into balls. Roll the balls in the sifted powdered sugar & place on baking pan at least 2-inches apart.
  5. Bake 12-14 minutes, until the surface of the cookies has cracked & puffed up. The cookies will not be browned. Cool on a wire rack.
Recipe Notes
  • Creaming the butter & sugar together is such an important step because you are cutting little holes in the butter with the abrasive sugar. Those little holes will expand from the leavening properties of the baking powder during baking ensuring that the cakey, tender texture characteristic of this cookie is achieved.

Cardamom Lime Easter ‘Bunnies’

Although we may change the way we celebrate Easter this year, we can still enjoy some great food. One of the special things about any holiday is the brunch that seems to come with it and Easter is no different. The word itself sounds like coziness.

The practice of creating special breads to celebrate holidays, harvests, religious rites and other occasions worldwide, dates back thousands of years. In some cases, breads aren’t symbolic as much as traditional, baked as a reminder of family, togetherness and celebration. They often contain warm spices like cinnamon or cardamom. Some have a touch of liqueur added to them while others are created in special shapes or have little surprises baked in them.

Cardamom may not get the acclaim of cinnamon, nor does it pop up in recipes as often as ginger, but its flavor pairing capabilities are extensive. This is a flavor that you may love or hate, but for me it is very addictive. Warm, subtly spicy, exotically aromatic, a flavor that transforms both sweet and savory recipes into heavenly dishes.

With some simple snipping and shaping, this cardamom sweet dough turns into adorable bunnies for Easter brunch. Edible table d├ęcor!

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Cardamom Lime Easter 'Bunnies'
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Instructions
Sweet Dough
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together yeast , 1 tsp sugar & lukewarm milk. Set aside until yeast mixture begins to form a frothy foam, about 5 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, remaining sugar & salt. Add yeast mixture, melted butter & egg. Knead until dough comes together in a ball & no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. Transfer dough to a greased bowl & cover with a tea towel. Set aside in a draft free place until dough doubles in size, about an 1 hour.
Filling
  1. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, lime zest, cardamom & butter. Mix well. Set aside.
Glaze
  1. In a small bowl, beat together cream cheese, butter & lime juice. Add powdered sugar & mix until glaze consistency. Set aside until buns are baked.
Assemble & Bake
  1. Turn dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide in half; roll each half into a rectangle about 12x10-inches. Sprinkle filling evenly over one of the rectangles. Place the second sheet of pastry on top. Lay a piece of plastic wrap over the pastry & lightly roll with a rolling pin.
  2. With a pizza cutter cut 14 strips. You will use 12 of the strips for 'bunnies' & 2 strips for their tails. To form bunnies, overlap one end of strip over the other to form a loop; bring the end that's underneath up over the top end, letting one end extend on each side to make ears.
  3. Place the shaped 'bunnies' on a parchment lined baking sheet, leaving about 2-3-inches between them as they will expand a bit. Cut each of the remaining strips into 6 equal pieces. Roll each into a ball & place it in the loop to form the tail. Loosely cover the 'bunnies' & let them rise for about 15 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 F. Brush bunnies with egg wash & bake for about 15 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven & allow to cool slightly on a cooling rack.
  5. While still slightly warm, brush bunnies with glaze. Sprinkle with lime zest & top tails with whites candies.
Recipe Notes
  • If you prefer your bunnies to be a bit more plump, instead of making 12, just make 8 or 10.

Fig Bread

Today, March 28th, marks the date of my mothers birth. Although she left this earth 43 years ago, her memory remains crystal clear. She was a wonderful mother who made our lives so much better in ways we never realized. She set a good example just by the way she lived the ‘best version of herself’.

When this date rolls around each year, I like to post something on the blog that I think she would have enjoyed to make. Baking was a ‘job’ she really seemed to enjoy and our family certainly reaped the benefits of that.

Since Easter is only a week away, I thought a fig bread would be nice. Fruit appears in myths from around the world with figs being regarded as a sacred symbol by many.

Velvety soft on the outside with sweet crimson flesh within, the fig is a captivating food. Widespread and abundant throughout the Mediterranean region, figs have been eaten fresh and dried for storage for thousands of years. The fig found its way to America with Spanish missionaries who brought the fruit to Southern California (USA), in the 1700’s. The variety became known as ‘Mission’ figs.

Easter and Good Friday inspire a particularly rich array of decorative breads and buns that make some of the nicest edible centerpieces.

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Fig Bread Wreath
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Course Brunch, dessert
Cuisine American, European
Keyword Fig bread
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Course Brunch, dessert
Cuisine American, European
Keyword Fig bread
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Instructions
Bread Dough
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together yeast, 1 tsp sugar & warm milk. Set aside for about 5 minutes until frothy
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, remaining sugar & salt. Add yeast mixture, melted butter & egg. Knead until dough comes together in a ball & no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. Transfer dough to a greased bowl & cover with a tea towel. Allow to rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.
Fig Filling
  1. Coarsely chop figs. In a bowl, cream together butter, sugar, cinnamon & cardamom; add figs. Stir to combine & set aside.
Assemble & Bake
  1. Fit a piece of parchment paper to cover bottom & sides of a 10-inch round springform baking pan. Deflate dough & divide into 6 parts. One small part of the dough will be used to for the middle. Roll out in a round circle & place a scoop of filling in the center. Pull sides up around filling & pinch together. Place the 'bun' in the middle of the pan, seam down. Roll out another small piece of the dough into a circle. Cut it into parallel strips then place strips over bun in a weave pattern.
  2. Next roll each of the remaining 4 strips into long rectangles (about 6" x 16" each). Divide filling between 2 of the strips, placing a row down the center of each one. Bring sides together over filling & pinch to seal.
  3. Lay one filled strip over each of the 2 remaining rectangles of pastry (seam side down). Cut angled strips on either side of filled pastry. Using these strips, form a braid over top.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 F. Transfer braids to baking pan forming 2 circles around the center ball. Beat egg wash together & brush over surface of bread wreath. Allow to rise for about 15 minutes in a draft-free place.
  5. Bake until golden brown about 30 minutes. Remove from oven & place on a wire rack to cool.
Cream Cheese Glaze
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together cream cheese, butter, vanilla & powdered sugar until smooth. Drizzle or pipe over fig bread. Decorate with fresh figs if desired.

Roasted Tropical Fruit Tarts

If you can’t have a tropical vacation at this time, why not enjoy some of the tropics in the form of dessert!

You may never have thought fruits were destined for you’re roasting pan. Although it does demand a bit of time and work, the return is worth it. Try it once and you will do it over and over again.

Fruit is a highly versatile item and its uses go far beyond a mere snack. During the summer months, grilled fruit is often a tasty end to a barbeque. Grilling caramelizes the fruits natural sugars and brings out the sweetness. During winter or colder months, continue the same process indoors by roasting and broiling fruit in the oven.

For the tarts on this blog, I roasted the fruit in the oven with a bit of extra butter and brown sugar as well as some spices to enhance the flavor. Another idea would be to arrange fruit slices on the filled tarts and sprinkle them with a bit of sugar. Then place tarts under the broiler until sugar bubbles and browns …. your choice!

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Roasted Tropical Fruit Tarts
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Shortbread Pastry
Vanilla Cream Custard
Roasted Tropical Fruit
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Shortbread Pastry
Vanilla Cream Custard
Roasted Tropical Fruit
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Instructions
Shortbread Pastry
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. In a bowl combine butter & sugar, beat until light & fluffy. In another bowl whisk together flour & baking powder & add to butter/sugar mixture. Blend together.
  3. Divide pastry between 6 individual tart pans. Using your fingertips, evenly press the dough into pans. Place on a baking sheet & blind bake for 10 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven & prepare custard & fruit.
Vanilla Cream Custard
  1. In a small saucepan, bring milk to a simmer. In a bowl, whisk together sugar, cornstarch & salt. Add egg; whisk until blended.
  2. Gradually whisk hot milk mixture into egg mixture. Return to same saucepan; whisk over medium heat until sauce thickens & boils, about 5 minutes. Whisk in vanilla & remove from heat to cool.
Roasted Tropical Fruit
  1. Preheat oven to 450 F. Peel & thinly slice fruit.
  2. In a small saucepan, melt butter & add brown sugar, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom & vanilla; mix well.
  3. Line a baking sheet with foil paper. Place sliced fruit on it & pour butter/sugar mixture over it. Gently turn fruit over to make sure all is evenly coated.
  4. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, flipping over about half way through. The fruit is done when it turns a rich golden & begins to brown BEFORE it starts to blacken.
Assembly
  1. Place pastry shells on a serving platter. Divide vanilla custard between tart shells. Top with roasted tropical fruit & serve. Any extra fruit can be enjoyed just as a dish of fruit or with yogurt.

Vintage Chocolate Potato Cake

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.

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Vintage Chocolate Potato Cake
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Instructions
  1. 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.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together sugar, oil & eggs then potatoes.
  3. 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.
  4. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until the top springs back when touched lightly, 30-35 minutes.
  5. Invert the cake onto a rack & allow to cool thoroughly. Transfer to a plate & dust with powdered sugar if you wish.
Recipe Notes
  • Don't hesitate to add either some nuts or raisins for some extra flavor.