I guess I’ll have to take the blame for Brion’s love of dessert. When we were first married years ago, he really didn’t care much about sweets. I, on the other hand, had grown up in a German family where every meal was finished with something sweet. It didn’t have to consist of anything more than a dish of vanilla pudding, but it was sweet and that’s what mattered. Funny how something like that can become so ingrained in your life. Of course, over time Brion has come to like dessert as much as I do, not really a good thing now that we are getting older … hmmm!
But I need to explain today’s decadent blog dessert. I just happens, we are celebrating Brion’s birthday so we are pulling out all the stops and having cheesecake! Of course, some of it will probably end up in the freezer but that works to.
Brion and I have never been much on giving each other ‘gifts’ for special occasions. Our time spent together ‘just living’, whether its at home or on a vacation has always been the best gift. Throughout our married life Brion has always gone above and beyond to look after us. I’m grateful to have the privilege of such a loving and caring husband.
So here we are, celebrating you, my love with rhubarb cheesecake and all the trimmings. Life is good!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY WITH LOVE!
Candied Rhubarb Curls
Make the simple syrup, combining the sugar & water in a small pot and heating until dissolved. Let the syrup cool to room temperature, add gel food coloring stirring to combine. Using a paring knife (or try a vegetable peeler), slice long, thin strips of rhubarb from the outer stalk. Soak the ribbons in the cooled simple syrup for about 5 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200 F. Line or lightly grease a baking sheet. Lay each ribbon on the baking sheet. Bake until the ribbons have dried out. Note: they will still be sticky and flexible from the heat.
If you want to make curls, work with one or two ribbons at a time so the remaining ribbons can stay soft in the oven. Wrap each ribbon loosely around skewers or the handles of cooking utensils, and let dry for around 10 minutes before gently sliding the curled ribbons off.
Cook rhubarb, sugar & water. Simmer for 8 minutes over medium heat. Add in the cornstarch & cook 2 more minutes. Set aside to cool.
Beat together the cream cheese with icing sugar until smooth then add eggs. Try not to overmix at this point. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Line a 9-inch springform pan with foil paper. Crumble together butter, flour, oats, brown sugar & salt. Add two thirds of the mixture to springform pan & press firmly. Add walnuts to the remaining crumbs & set aside.
If using a silver springform pan, bake at 325 F. If using a dark nonstick springform pan, bake at 300 F. Bake bottom layer of crumbs for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, pour cheesecake mixture over the crust & spread with a spoon, being careful not to disturb the crust layer too much.
Spread the rhubarb mixture on top of the cheesecake.
Crumble the remaining crust/crumb mixture evenly over the top & lightly press down.
Bake until topping is golden brown & cheesecake is set, about 50 minutes.
Cool completely, then decorate with fresh strawberries, rhubarb curls, chocolate malt balls & silver sugar pearls or as you wish.
- You will have extra candied rhubarb to nibble on!
Chicken balls aren’t authentic Chinese food but they were probably inspired by Chinese sweet and sour pork. The pork is replaced with chicken, it’s battered instead of breaded and the sauce is sweeter but its in the same ball park. These sweet and sour pineapple chicken balls are a type of modern Chinese food served in Canada, Ireland, United States and the UK as a staple of Chinese take-out. Due to their vast popularity among the masses, they have become linked unwilling to Chinese cuisine, for better or worse. They are largely unheard of in China, depending on the recipe and referred name.
Here in Canada, in our province of Alberta, many of the Chinese dishes that are served in small-town Chinese restaurants have a distinctly Canadian twist. Chinese Canadian food evolved over the decades and has developed into a its own unique cuisine. Some dishes that are unique to Canada and Alberta include ginger beef, cabbage chow mein & sweet and sour chicken balls. Across Canada, Chinese Canadian food has evolved from recipes that were created using the ingredients that were available to the restauranteurs decades ago.
The chicken balls we prefer are dipped in a light batter then baked in the oven as opposed to deep frying them. Brion & I enjoy them served over rice with the tangy pineapple sauce.
Sweet & Sour Pineapple Chicken Balls
Preheat oven to 400 F. In a food processor, chop chicken meat with seasoning, JUST until it is a roughly ground texture. Divide into 12-16 portions. Wet hands & roll into balls. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Do not overbake. Remove from oven & cool slightly on paper towels until batter is ready.
In a medium saucepan, combine brown sugar & cornstarch. Stir in pineapple with juice, Zesty Italian dressing, (soy sauce), & minced garlic. Cook & stir over low heat until thickened. Set aside & keep warm.
In a bowl, combine all batter ingredients; beat until smooth. Add chicken balls; stir until covered well with batter.
When chicken balls are cooked in your preferred choice; pour pineapple sauce over them & serve with steamed rice.
There’s just something incredibly refreshing about pineapple tarts with their tangy, bright, acidic flavor nestled in shortbread crusts. Adding meringue puts a tropical twist on the classic meringue pie making them a perfect summer treat.
When it comes to making meringue, simple ingredients and instructions can lull you into thinking preparation is quick and easy. Make it once under the wrong conditions, however, and you may quickly change your mind.
Meringue is temperamental. Getting it right can be a tricky process. Weeping meringues aren’t very pretty. The meringue pulls back from the crust, moisture beads on the topping, and a clear liquid forms below the crust. It doesn’t hurt the pie but it’s not presentable.
Years ago, when I worked in the commercial food industry, I started using the idea of adding cornstarch to meringue to help stabilize it. Cornstarch is especially helpful in hot, humid weather when a meringue is most likely to absorb extra moisture.
The science behind this ‘secret ingredient‘ is that cornstarch is composed of long molecules that it is believed insert themselves between egg white proteins to prevent them from clotting too much while meringue is baking. Corn starch molecules also provide more hold for meringue. It will be easier to cut and is less likely to weep.
Brion & I are not crazy about meringue but do enjoy it for a treat once in a while.
Pineapple Meringue Tarts
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. 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 & allow to cool.
In a saucepan, combine cornstarch & sugar. Gradually add water, stirring until mixture is smooth. Add lemon zest & undrained pineapple. Stir constantly over medium heat until mixture starts to boil. Reduce heat, boil 2 minutes while continuing to stir. Remove from heat, quickly stir in butter & egg yolks blending well. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature.
In a small saucepan, combine water & cornstarch. Heat & stir until it boils & thickens. Cool thoroughly.
Beat egg whites & salt until a stiff froth. Add sugar gradually, beating until stiff & sugar is dissolved. Add vanilla & cornstarch mixture. Beat until blended & stiff.
Divide pineapple filling between tart shells. Pipe meringue over tarts sealing to edges. If not sealed well, meringue will shrink when cool. Bake in 350 F. oven about 10 minutes until golden. Cool away from drafts.
Glazed fresh fruit tart looks so elegant and summer-ish. They are the perfect dessert, whether your meal is casual or formal. In some ways, I guess its a version of a fruit pizza.
Apart from the fresh fruit and glaze, pastry cream adds a nice base to the tart. A custard pudding hybrid, pastry cream is used for ‘filling’, in the cold form, not as a pudding. Widely used to fill desserts like napoleons, cakes, cream puffs, tarts, etc.
To define, pastry cream is basically custard thickened with cornstarch and has a higher stability as compared to custard puddings which use just eggs to achieve their creamy texture. Vanilla is the classic flavor because it has to complete other flavors of the dessert. Pure vanilla is always best as the artificial flavorings add bitter taste profiles. In addition, some alcoholic desserts use pastry cream mixed with rum.
This tart has a layer of vanilla pastry cream, topped with raspberries and blueberries then brushed with an apricot glaze.
Berry Custard Tart
In a heavy saucepan, stir together the milk & 1/4 cup sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks & egg. Stir together the remaining sugar & cornstarch; then stir them into the egg until smooth. When the milk comes to a boil, drizzle it into the bowl in a thin stream while mixing so that you don't cook the eggs. Return the mixture to the saucepan; slowly bring to a boil, stirring constantly so the eggs don't curdle or scorch on the bottom.
When the mixture comes to a boil & thickens, remove from the heat. Stir the butter & vanilla, mixing until the butter is completely blended in. Pour into a heat proof container & place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled then beat until smooth with an electric mixer before using.
Other Prep Work
Line an oblong tart pan with thawed puff pastry. The short ends of the pastry should be even with the bottom of the pan but the long sides should come up to the top of pan sides. With a sharp knife, score the long sides where the sides meet the bottom of pan. Do not cut all the way through. Pierce the center of the pastry with a fork. Whisk together the egg and milk. Brush the edges of the pastry shell with the egg wash.
Bake the pastry shell for 15-20 minutes or until puffed and golden brown. Remove to a rack to cool completely. If needed, press the center down lightly to create an indentation. Cool while preparing filling.
Rinse & carefully dry fruit on paper towels. In a small blender, puree apricot preserves with water or liqueur until smooth.
Place smooth pastry cream in a piping bag with a large flat tip. Carefully pipe pastry cream in long strips to cover the bottom ONLY of the puff pastry shell.
Arrange a row of raspberries down both sides of the tart; close to the edge & close to each other. Using a long straight edge helps to place the fruit in an even line.
To 1/3 of the apricot glaze add some red food coloring to help accent the natural color of the raspberries. Apply a couple of light coats of the glaze carefully to the raspberries.
Fill the center of the area with blueberries, being careful to distribute evenly in rows. Using the remainder of the un-colored apricot glaze, give several light coats to blueberries. Chill until ready to serve.
Its probably a bit too early for butterflies in our part of the country but these spring cookies are so special. Who could resist them when they’re naturally flavored with orange juice and zest and decorated with mandarin orange segments?
I have always loved cookies of all shapes, sizes and flavors. Today there are hundreds of cookie recipes throughout the world. Often geographic development was reflected in popular cookie recipes. It gave homemakers access to items not available previously. Around the turn of the century, the Kellogg brothers in the USA, invented cornflakes and cookies were made with cereal products. In the 1930’s, with the advent of electric refrigerators, icebox cookie recipes reached new heights of popularity. I’m sure that no one book could ever hold the recipes for all the various types of cookies that have been created.
These little filled cookies might seem quite basic but the flavor is amazing!
Mandarin Butterfly Cookie Bites
In a saucepan, combine filling ingredients. Cook over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, or until thickened and translucent, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Cool completely. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Shape dough into 1-inch balls & place on lined baking sheet 2-inches apart. Flatten balls with the bottom of a glass; dipping glass in granulated sugar to prevent sticking. Using a fork, prick top of each cookie making 3 rows.
Bake for 10-12 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. Cool completely.
Fill & Decorate
Spread about 1/2 tsp filling on bottoms of half of the cookies. Gently press bottoms of remaining cookies against filling to for 'sandwiches'. On the top of each sandwich put a drop of remaining filling. Carefully lay two (towel dried) mandarin orange segments on it to form a butterfly.
- We found these just got better after a few days.
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.
Amaretto Cherries w/ Dumplings
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.
In a small bowl, whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, lemon zest & salt.
In another bowl, whisk together milk & melted butter. Add to flour mixture; stir until moistened.
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.
If desired, serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.
The Caramilk chocolate bar is a Canadian creation that has been around since 1968. First produced at the Cadbury factory in Montreal then production moved to the Gladstone factory in Toronto in 1978 and has been made there ever since.
The general name for the candy confection is actually Cadbury Caramilk, but in the USA, this candy bar is more familiarly known as Caramello. The entire styling of the bar is different depending on where it is sold and this can lead to confusion that these are different candy bars when they are actually the same product. There are some variations in the recipe in different countries but the overall taste is remarkably similar.
There have been countless theories and debates about how Caramilk gets the soft flowing caramel inside the Caramilk bar. To date, it is still one of those Canadian enduring mysteries as Cadbury has guarded the Caramilk ‘secret’ for over 50 years.
These apple tart/baskets are certainly taken up a notch by simply adding a piece of Caramilk chocolate to the center. Who knew …. what’s old is new again!
Caramilk Apple 'Baskets'
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. Divide 2/3 of pastry between 10 tart/muffin cups. Using fingertips, evenly press the dough into each cup. With remaining pastry, divide it into 10 balls & flatten each to form a top for each tart. Place pastry in refrigerator until filling is prepared.
In a saucepan, whisk together 1 1/4 cups water, both sugars, spices, salt & lemon juice. Add the diced apples & simmer for 10-12 minutes to soften apples, stirring occasionally. Combine remaining 1/4 cup water with cornstarch & add to apple mixture; continuing to cook until thickened. Remove from heat & allow to cool.
Place a Tbsp of apple filling in each tart shell. Divide the Caramilk bar into 10 pieces. Place one piece in the center of each tart. Divide remaining apple filling between the 10 tarts. Top each with a pastry round & bake for about 35 minutes or until golden.
Serve inverted on a serving plate, either as is or with your choice of topping.
Cream puffs start with choux pastry, a heady mixture of butter, milk, water, eggs & flour. When you combine these ingredients, they become so dense and sticky that it seems impossible they’ll come together as soft, puffy, light, tender. Heat is what initiates the expansion of the dense paste. Steam from the milk and water expands the pastry’s edges, puffing up its capacity until the oven heat provides just enough crispness and structure to hold the puffs’ boundaries. A cream puff expands so dramatically in the oven that it creates a cavern inside to hold any number of things—whipped cream, pastry cream, ice cream or savory fillings.
Cream puff pastry (or choux pastry) is the base for profiteroles (smaller puffs filled with ice cream), éclairs (elongated puffs filled with pastry cream and glazed), croquembouche (a tower of cream puffs held together and drizzled with caramel) and savory appetizer puffs called gougeres with cheese and herbs.
Craquelin (pronounced kra-ke-lan) is a thin biscuit layer that can be added over choux pastries before baking them. It is used to create a crackly appearance, crunchy texture and a buttery sweet taste as well as helping the choux pastry bake evenly to form hollow rounds. This topping reminded me of a similar cookie-like topping used on Mexican sweet bread called ‘conchas’. It certainly dresses up ordinary cream puffs.
Mandarin Orange Cream Puffs w/ Craquelin Topping
Mandarin Orange Pastry Cream
In a food processor, process sugar & butter pieces until it forms large crumbs. Add flour, salt & vanilla; process until a dough forms. Bring the dough together to form a disk.
Roll the dough between 2 pieces of parchment paper until 1/16-inch thickness. Place covered in the freezer for at least an hour then cut the dough into (18) 2-inch circles & keep circles in the freezer until ready to use.
In a bowl, whisk together egg yolks, sugar & cornstarch until it turns pale yellow. In a saucepan, combine milk & orange zest; bring to a boil. Remove from heat, slowly add the egg mixture a little at a time, whisking well until fully incorporated.
Return mixture to heat & keep whisking over medium heat until it thickens. Stir in orange juice. Transfer to a bowl & cover with plastic wrap, making sure the wrap touches the surface of the pastry cream. When it comes to room temperature, refrigerate.
When cooled & you are ready to use the pastry cream, whisk with an electric mixer for 15-20 seconds to a smooth texture.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a couple of cookie sheets with parchment paper.
In a saucepan, combine milk, water, butter & salt; bring to boiling. Add flour, all at once, stirring vigorously. Cook & stir until mixture forms a ball. Remove from heat & add eggs & egg white, one at a time, beating well with a wooden spoon after each addition.
Place dough in a piping bag fitted with a large round tip. Pipe (18) 1 1/2-inch circles. Cover each with a frozen craquelin round circle.
Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden & firm. Transfer to a wire rack & allow to cool.
Carefully slice puffs. Fill a pastry bag with mandarin orange pastry cream & gently fill each puff. Place on serving platter & sprinkle with powdered sugar if you wish.