When the going gets tough………

……..the tough get baking.

I’ve been in a bit of a mood lately. So that’s a good time for me to head to the kitchen and lose myself in following recipes for baked goods. I am not by nature a baker – I’m not one of those people who can eyeball the ingredients for making a cake or pie, or even bread. I make really good bread, but I have to use a recipe every time. So I have to focus. In the past few days I’ve made a Rosemary Olive Focaccia, a “no knead” country loaf (it’s round), and croissants. Yes! Croissants!

I have to say, my heart was in my throat the whole time (i.e., almost 24 hours!) and I didn’t sleep that well either. I must have read half a dozen recipes for the dough and another 6 blogs regarding technique and baking. Each is a little bit different – eggs, no eggs; more butter, less butter; cream or milk; sugar or no sugar; 4 folds, book folds; baking temps between 325F and 425F………..you get the idea. In the end I settled more or less on the recipe linked here because I had seen this recipe in a couple of other places, and this blog (Willow Bird Baking) also includes photos and a cutting diagram!

Unfortunately, all the things that she warns can be problems, were. But I persevered. I started yesterday by preparing the dough and giving it its first rise. Piece o’cake! The next step was turning 3/4 of a pound of cold butter into a 5″x8″ rectangle. The trick is to keep it cold but malleable. Uh huh. Long story short, I did the rolling of the dough and the folding/turning with butter (4 times with 1 hour between each fold) and put it in the fridge overnight.

By this time I had decided that I was probably going to get a lot of buttery biscuits that bore little resemblance to croissants. The butter looked pebbly and was poking though the dough in places. Apparently that is not a good thing. I had probably used too much flour while rolling. Also can be a problem. Oh, and I neglected to mention earlier that during the first folding, the handle of my rolling pin broke and left a little puff of rust dust on my dough. A trip to WalMart ensued.

This morning I prepared the dough for shaping and baking. That included another 2-1/2 hour rise. And it turns out that I am not better with diagrams after all; I misread them and my first dozen croissants were half-sized. Then I got fed up and cut 6 normal sized triangles and the rest of the dough into rectangles for pain au chocolat.

Okay, here is the reveal: IMG_3171


Not bad hey? We ate 3 regular croissants and a pain au chocolat for lunch. Not buttery biscuits after all! The twisty thing is a couple of scraps of dough filled with Nutella. And I froze another 6 unbaked pains because the recipe says you can and I was done with baking. For now.

My mood is better though.


Aquafaba Meringue PS

First, 2 meringues sandwiched together with Nutella tastes AWESOME!

Second, I took the leftover meringue out of the fridge today, so 2 days later. It looked kind of foamy and there was liquid in the bottom of the container. Well, nothing ventured…………I poured it all into a bowl and used a hand held whisk on it. In a few minutes it all came together again and after a while I was able to get soft peaks. Good enough. I divided the mixture to top 4 lemon curd tarts and baked them for several minutes. Very tasty and look not bad too!


(I ate the other one.) 

A culinary conundrum.

I haven’t posted in a while because a lot of what I have been making are variations on themes I have written about before. I have tried a few different recipes for Okonomiyaki; I am back to making ice cream and sorbet: I still make bread; and lots of noodle dishes.

Today I come with something different – meringues. “But”, you may say, “You already talked about meringue when you posted about Macarons and Pavlova!” Yes! But not about meringues made from ‘aquafaba’! So here’s the conundrum: meringue is defined as being made with well-beaten egg whites and sugar. What do you call it when it’s NOT made with egg whites?

And WHAT, you might ask, is aquafaba? First I have to admit that when my dear friend “A” told me about it maybe a year or more ago, I was less than enthusiastic. (Sorry, “A”!) The idea that I would make meringues with WATER LEFT OVER FROM CANNED CHICKPEAS seemed ridiculous. I lumped it in with the other trending foodstuffs I find “meh”, like quinoa, popped sorghum and, well, you get the idea.

However, I recently read that aquafaba meringues are now being produced commercially and people are liking them! So I thought, “What’s to lose?” There are probably many recipes, but a basic one is:

  • 1/2 cup liquid from a can of chickpeas (aquafaba)
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp vanilla or other flavouring
  • 3/4 cup of sugar


Preheat your oven to 200F. Put the first 3 ingredients in a large bowl and whisk, preferably with a Kitchen Aid or other electric mixer. Start on low and work up to highest speed, occasionally stopping to scrape the bowl and release the “lump o’ meringue” from the whisk. Once you have soft peaks during whisking, add the sugar 1 tablespoon at a time and incorporate completely until the mixture is glossy with stiff peaks.


Close to done.

When the meringue is ready, after about 15 minutes altogether, pipe or spoon onto parchment lined baking trays (I used 2 large cookie trays). From what I have read, you should keep the meringues small; the author of the recipe above says that she got 81 meringues from her recipe. I stopped piping at about 50. I had mixture left over for maybe another dozen or so, but no more room on my trays. It’s in the fridge now. But since no eggs were sacrificed for this recipe, I’m okay to toss the rest if I can’t use it later.  (By the way, it does not taste ‘bean-y’ at this point.)


These were the meringues going in.

The idea is to dry out the meringues, not really to bake them. When they are dry to the touch and lift easily off the parchment, after about 2 hours, turn off your oven. But leave the meringues where they are until the oven is completely cool, maybe another 2-3 hours. Go for a walk, do errands, whatever…….they’ll be fine.


This is what they looked like after they were done.

As to the taste and texture, they are like eating spun sugar. They are so crisp that they shatter in your mouth, then melt into nothing! Because this was my first attempt, I made them as written. But it would be fun to flavour and/or colour them differently, and to try making different sizes. I think I might make some of these into “sandwiches” with Nutella or ganache!




“Grilled As You Like It”

Okonomiyaki is a Japanese dish sometimes referred to as Japanese Pizza (although I had never heard of it as that). Actually I wasn’t familiar with Okonomiyaki at all; the name literally means “grilled as you like it” or “whatever you like, grilled”.

I ran across the recipe in an issue of Food&Wine (appropriated during a very long wait at the doctor’s office!) and was immediately intrigued. The dish was called Red Cabbage and Fried Mortadella Okonomiyaki. Mortadella! What’s not to love?! (I know. It’s just Italian Bologna with added fat. Again, what’s not to love?) Also, it gets topped with bacon, Kewpie Mayo, Sriracha sauce and Hoisin. Whaaaat?

Here is the photo from the magazine: img_6828

Here’s my version: img_2572

Not bad, right? The only change I made was that (here’s the irony), since I couldn’t find Mortadella at my local grocery store and I didn’t feel like driving to another store, I had to substitute fried Spam. Yeah, you read that right.

The Spam was for another Asian recipe that actually calls for it, that I made the night before.  But that’s for another post. I had the rest of my “Japanese Pizza” for lunch today and it reheats very well. Now I just have to figure out how to use half a leftover red cabbage. And the rest of the Spam.

An old favourite rediscovered.

Recently there was an article in MacLean’s magazine about the UBC cinnamon bun. It was first created by Grace Hasz who worked in the UBC kitchens from the mid 50s to 1970, making 120 dozen cinnamon buns every day. After she retired, others at UBC started making the buns, and in 2010 they were “down-sized” to what people were calling “cinnamon snails”.

I never attended UBC, but in the 80s I did sometimes have to be there, and I did sample the buns from time to time. They were good but were soon eclipsed (I thought) by Cinnabon-style buns. I made a batch at home a few times from the “original recipe”, so it said, in the Vancouver Sun,  but they just seemed to be big bready things with some cinnamon in them. My best childhood friend’s mother used to make cinnamon buns that could have rivaled Cinnabon, but I never had that recipe.

The article in last month in MacLean’s cited Grace Hasz’s grandson, Eric Leyland, who said that Ms. Hasz never wrote down a recipe, that they were made “by instinct”. However, he has a blog in which he describes his attempts to recreate the buns that he remembers his grandmother making. After several attempts he seems to have nailed it. His own review of the buns is that they have the look, taste and texture that he remembers.

So how could I resist? Using his recipe I made a batch last night. Unfortunately I could not eat one because by the time they were done, I was fasting for morning blood work!  But my “other half”, who DID attend UBC for many years, declared them as close to what he remembers from way back when. And I must say, the bun I had this morning (after my blood work) was not just a big bready thing with some cinnamon in it!



And I admit to “gilding the lily” by putting frosting on top of the gooey tops once I flipped the buns. They didn’t need it, but I did!

(P.S. If you do decide to use Leyland’s final recipe, I have one suggestion. For the glaze he advises to melt the brown sugar first, then add the melted butter and cinnamon. I did that and ended up with a lump o’ rock candy. I would not melt the butter before adding, so when I redid the glaze, I melted the sugar and butter together. Then added the cinnamon. Came out perfectly.)

In Praise of Rice Noodles

What is it about noodles? Almost every culture has them; that must mean something, that they have universal appeal. If I have a choice between steamed rice and rice noodles, I’ll take the noodles every time. Why? They are both made with rice and water. But somehow I find noodles more appealing, tastier even. Go figure!

Mostly I use the flat noodles for Pad Thai, usually dried because the fresh ones are not easily available. I have also used rice macaroni and fusilli, although I guess strictly they are not noodles. Are they? Lately, though, I have been using rice vermicelli in this, my new favourite recipe: Cold Rice Noodle Salad with Chicken and Peanut Sauce . I’ve made it 3 times in the past 2 weeks: doubled it once for a potluck, and halved it once for a dinner for one. This is the photo from the recipe in the New York Times:


Isn’t is beautiful? Mine did not look like that but I can’t imagine that it didn’t taste as good. The recipe says that it takes 45 minutes, but that doesn’t take into account prep time, like making the sauces and marinating the chicken. But if you do that ahead of time (earlier in the day, say) it comes together pretty quickly. I think that it also lends itself to using shrimp or a non- meat alternative like firm tofu. As long as it has rice noodles!


Icy Treats continued:

Here’s some useful information. A little bit of lavender flavour goes a long way! The Honey Lavender ice cream was yummy and interesting. So was the Honey Lavender Earl Grey ice cream (Earl Grey tea bags infused with lavender). But for 2 people who don’t eat a lot of ice cream, they last a LONG time. Makes smaller batches you say? But most recipes are calibrated for a quart, which seems SO little…….until you have 4 different kinds of ice cream in your freezer, and now it’s a gallon. Sigh.

So I suspect that I will be taking an hiatus from making frozen treats. BUT, exciting for me: I scored a second hand compressor ice cream maker! Yes, an ice cream maker that has built in refrigeration! And it works! No need to remember to put a canister in the freezer (or take up room there!) Unfortunately it weighs almost 45 pounds and has to stay stable, so it has a permanent home in the laundry room.


The first batch I made in it, a salted caramel, was awesome. We kept a tiny bit and gave most of it to a neighbour (no room in the freezer(s)! The texture was amazingly different from my previous products, way softer and more scoopable. This apparently means that the ice crystals in the ice cream were either fewer or smaller than my usual, or both. For everything you ever wanted to know about making ice cream (and WAY more), check out icecreamscience.com.

The second batch, which I made today, is a preserved ginger  and chocolate stracchiatella (means with bits of chocolate), and is completely yummy and not leaving this house! image

So that’s pretty much it for the icy treats theme, unless something else amazing comes along – recipe to die for or have-to-have equipment. There’s a cold noodle dish I’ve been making lately, so I’ll post about that soon.