Monthly Archives: December 2012

Christmas time and passion fruit caramels

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It’s that time of the year again. Christmas time. Last year was the first that I’ve been away from home and my family for the holidays. It was a great experience but at the same time a little bittersweet as I was missing my family and the Christmas morning tradition of sitting around the tree in our pyjamas opening presents. This year too will be different. No Christmas mornings together as a family and no Christmas dinner as a family. I guess that’s what happens when you grow up. Things change, traditions change, new people show up at your holiday gatherings and some disappear.

So, this sounds like I’m whining about not having things stay the same anymore. But really I’m thankful for all that I have when so many others cannot. I’m thankful for all those who are in my life and all those who have made my life the way it is today. And I am thankful for the changes in our traditions because that means life goes on.

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A few years ago I read a post by David Lebovitz about Jacques Genin’s passion fruit caramels and since then I have been dreaming about biting into one of those chewy morsels. I really could not get the thought of it out of my head for the longest while. So, a few weeks ago I made it my mission to track down some passion fruit pulp and make the caramels that I couldn’t get my hands on. I managed to find passion fruit puree at one of the latin grocery stores in Kensington Market and set about making the caramels the other day. As well, I made sure to buy a candy thermometer since the texture and taste of candies heavily rely on the correct temperature.

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The end result was tangy, buttery, and sweet. The texture was just right but next time I make them I plan to add a few little changes. Less butter, more pulp, and use a smaller pan for setting as they were a bit on the thin side for my liking. Though that didn’t stop me from eating a few of them as a fast as I could but next time I should slow down as to avoid biting my cheek in the same spot multiple times. Ugh.

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Passion Fruit Caramels
Makes about 60 bite sized caramels
Caramel recipe inspired by Deb Perelman’s recipe

This is the recipe I would use next time

4 tbsp (56g) salted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup plus 2 tbsp (230g) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (110g) packed brown sugar
1/3 cup (80mL) heavy cream
1/2 cup (125 mL) passion fruit puree

Lightly grease an 8″ X 8″ square metal pan (or smaller if you want thicker caramels). Line the pan with 2 sheets of parchment paper so there is over hang to lift up later. Grease the parchment paper as well.

Add all ingredients into a heavy bottomed sauce pan. Cook without stirring (you may swirl the pan) to exactly 252˚F/122˚C. This took me about 15 minutes. Always keep an eye on the temperature as the heat of the candy can jump in a matter of seconds. Carefully pour the hot candy into the prepared pan without scraping the bottom. The bottom will be dark and burnt looking and you DO NOT want this in your caramels. Let it sit out at room temperature for about 8 hours or until it is completely set and cooled.

Lift the caramel out of the pan and cut into small squares or rectangles with a well oiled sharp knife. Or if you have an open flame nearby you can heat your knife to cut clean pieces. Wrap individually with squares of parchment paper.

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Easy Ways To Ruin Your Diet

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I’m trying to be healthy, I really am. Yesterday I had only ONE piece of chocolate, yes just one. One tiny little white chocolate Lindt ball even with my Kinder advent calendar staring at me all day long. I’ve been exercising pretty much daily, eating my fruits and vegetables, and cutting back on dairy and sugar. Yet now I’m blogging about sticky pecan bites…ugh. But how could I not? They’re the cutest, tiniest, most adorable little cinnamon buns ever! Just look at them next to the tea cup. They make me feel like a giant.

The original recipe didn’t call for a glaze of any sort but I decided to make one out of cream cheese because I feel like sweetened cream cheese is one of the best things in the world.

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They seem like fiddly little things to make but are really quite simple. Just the basics of flour, sugar, butter, cream, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. They’re topped with 1 pecan each and the dough comes together in a pinch. No yeast means no waiting, so you can have these little bites in no time.

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Seeing as these can be made in no time at all I’m thinking that maybe I should ditch my health kick for now or at least until the holiday season is over. Because to me it’s really “the most wonderful time of the year” and I don’t want to spoil it with kale chips, protein cookies, and watching my waste line. I can save those for my new years resolution.

I won’t be posting the recipe since I didn’t really change it much from the original.

You can find the recipe for Alice Medrich’s Sticky Pecan Bites from her book Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies here.

Cream Cheese Icing
Makes about 1/2 cup of icing

4 tbsp cream cheese, softened
2 tbsp butter, softened
about 4 tbsp icing sugar (or to taste)
a little bit of milk if you’re planning on piping the icing

Combine cream cheese, butter, and a few tablespoons of icing sugar. Mix until smooth and add more icing sugar if you’d like it sweeter. Mix in a teaspoon of milk if you want it smoother.

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Laugenbrezeln without the Laugen and some culture

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Yes! We finally got around to making german pretzels. I had been waiting a long time to do this and I’m glad that we did. Last Sunday Christoph and I made it a plan to make Laugenbrezeln, traditional German pretzels, made with lye. The only problem was that we didn’t have the lye and therefore they weren’t authentic. But since Christoph is German I guess you can still call these pretzels German…sort of. Though, I guess you could also call them Chinese pretzels since I’m Chinese. German/Chinese pretzels? Chinman pretzels? Germese pretzels? Nevermind.

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Instead of the lye we used a baking soda bath to simmer the pretzels in before they were sprinkled with pretzel salt. Which by the way, is pretty much impossible to find in Toronto and instead we resorted to buying a frozen pack of New York style pretzels at the local FreshCo. and took the pack of pretzel salt from there. I really wanted that salt. If I could have somehow acquired the lye in a similar fashion I would have done it but no luck, food grade lye isn’t easy to come by in Canada and now that I think about it it probably wouldn’t have been a good idea for me to use it. Caustic solutions don’t go well with my skin or any person’s skin for that matter.

First, make the dough. It’s a stiff dough so it’s best to knead by hand. IMG_1144

Then pass it to your partner, if you have one, so they can do some of the work,

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portion the dough into 12 equal pieces,

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let the dough rest for 5 minutes

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roll into 22 inch long ropes, making the ends skinnier,

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twist,

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shape,

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and press ends.

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We then had to let our pretzels rest for an hour outside in the cold since we didn’t have enough room in our fridge. Make sure no squirrels or other furry animals run off with your dough! Once a skin had formed we simmered the pretzels one by one in a baking soda solution and sprinkled with pretzel salt and baked them for 15 minutes.

Pretzels, finally!

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So, what is that picture of that yellow lumpy stuff at the top? It’s cultured butter actually. Yes, I made butter and it was easy. I’ve been wanting to make cultured butter for a while now and never knew where to buy good cream. The cream we get at the grocery store happens to have additives such as carrageenan, gums, colours, and a whole bunch of other nasty stuff. This wouldn’t do for my butter so I ended up at the health food store in Kensington Market where I picked up a few cartons of Hewitt’s 35% whipping cream. Pure cream. The other addition to this butter was yoghurt which you add to the cream and let it sit in a warm place for 12-18 hours. This time allows the good bacteria in the yoghurt to grow and essentially sour the cream. It sounds weird but I’ve been culturing foods for the past few months and it really is quite simple. The culturing gives the cream a slight tang which is exactly what you want to elevate the flavour of the cream. Next step is just to whip the cream until it breaks and the fat separates from the buttermilk. Mix it up a few times with cold water, salt it and you’ve got delicious, fresh, homemade cultured butter.

Starting to get grainy,

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the whipped cream will split and look just as unappetizing as this,

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strain off the buttermilk and save it for another use, then wash the butter with ice cold water

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the butter will come together into one hard lump.

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Then what do you do with the fresh pretzels? You slather them with as much cultured butter as you possibly can. It’s the holiday season after all and there’s really no point in watching your diet now. At least that’s what I tell myself to make myself feel better for all the butter and sugar I’ve been consuming over the past month…year…years.

German Pretzels (Soft Pretzels)
Makes 12 large pretzels
Adapted from this version by Luisa Weiss of The Wednesday Chef

2 tbsp butter or margarine (I used Becel Vegan margarine)
2 tbsp instant yeast
1 tbsp brown sugar
5 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp vital wheat gluten
1 tbsp coarse sea salt
1/2 cup baking soda
Pretzel salt or coarse sea salt for sprinkling

Mix the yeast, sugar, and margarine in a large bowl with 2 cups of warm water. Add in half the flour  and the wheat gluten and combine. Add in the salt and the rest of the flour minus 1/2 cup of the flour. The amount of flour you will need depends on the humidity of your kitchen. You may need more, you may need less. The dough I made ended up being a little too stiff and dry so I recommend using less at first. Knead for about 10 minutes until the dough is smooth. Cut into 12 portions. I used a scale to get my pieces equal in weight. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes, covered with a tea towel.

Next, roll the dough into 22 inch long ropes, wetting your hands if the dough is too dry to roll. I would recommend rolling the dough out longer than 22 inches. Shape into a pretzel shape and press the ends down to stick to the dough. Let rest for 30 minutes uncovered at room temperature then 1 hour below 4˚C. I set them outside since I had no room in my refrigerator.

Bring a large pot filled with 1.5 litres of water to a simmer and add the baking soda. Be careful as the baking soda tends to sputter.

Preheat the oven to 425˚F.

Carefully drop one pretzel at a time into the baking soda bath and simmer gently on each side for about 10 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon or spatula and place onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with pretzel salt. Once you have simmered and salted 4 of the pretzels, place into the preheated oven and bake for about 15 minutes or until the pretzels are a rich dark brown colour. Transfer to a cooling rack and eat slathered with butter and spicy mustard while still warm.

Cultured Butter
Makes about 1 cup of tangy salted butter
Adapted from this recipe from the Traveler’s Lunchbox

500 mL of good quality heavy cream (35% fat or higher)
3 tbsp full fat good quality plain yoghurt
Ice cold water
Salt, to taste

First, combine the cream with the yoghurt in a glass or metal container. Cover with a piece of paper towel or a tea towel and let sit in a warm place for 12-20 hours. My batch took about 20 hours to get to where I wanted it. If you live in a warm region then this should only take about 12 hours. The cream will be slightly thicker and will smell like yoghurt and should taste slightly tangy. You can now refrigerate the cream until it’s cold, up to 24 hours if you will not be churning that day.

Either whip the chilled cream with a stand mixer, hand mixer, by hand if you feel like it, or with a real butter churner if you have one. Mix on medium speed until the cream holds stiff peaks. Turn the speed down to low and keep mixing until it starts to go lumpy and the fat separates from the buttermilk. Scrape down the sides and mix for another 10 seconds or so. Using a large spatula or slotted spoon, press the fat clumps to the side of the bowl and carefully drain off the buttermilk and save for another use. Keep pressing the butter to get the milk out and drain as much off as possible. Next, add some cold water to the butter and mix and knead the butter with a fork. The water will turn a milky colour, drain this off. Keep adding cold water to the butter while mixing, kneading, and draining until the water runs clear. Drain off all the water and knead the butter again to squeeze out any water inside the butter. The butter will now be quite hard and cold. I let it sit, covered, for about 2 hours until it softened up a bit. Then add your salt of choice to taste and scoop into a ramekin, roll into parchment, or shape into moulds.

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Fixing things with Pain D’amande

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The past week has NOT been filled with many successes. Last Sunday I had planned to make soft pretzels with my boyfriend Christoph but instead it ended up being a boring day and we literally just sat for hours trying to think of what to do. We sat for so long that I almost started to cry, I was so bored out of my mind and couldn’t think of one single fun or productive thing to do. We wanted to go out for dinner but all the restaurants and shops we wanted to go to were closed (why must everything close so early on Sundays?!). So, we got hot dogs from a street vendor for dinner instead.

Just yesterday I decided to bake three different recipes and I’m not really sure what came over me that day. First, I started with a loaf of the famous no knead bread. I had made it a few times before with great results until this time I tried the recipe with all bread flour. The bread flour I bought actually ended up being whole wheat bread flour and not thinking anything of it I used it for the whole recipe. What a disaster! The bread smelled horrible, tasted horrible, and I ended up stabbing it with my fork. Yes, I was mad and again I almost started to cry.

Next up was a batch of sticky pecan bites, a recipe by Alice Medrich. These were good however, not great. That was probably due to my lack of interest after the bread disaster and also because I’m not a big fan of cinnamon. I guess I was drawn to the recipe just because of how adorable they look. So, this one wasn’t actually a failure and I didn’t almost start to cry but what I made after would make up for all the rest.

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Pain d’amande cookies are not the sort of thing you expect to make you happy. Usually when I’m down, all I want is a big, fat, chewy, chocolate chip cookie or anything fatty, really. These pain d’amande are thin, light, crisp, buttery, and nutty wafers that are surprisingly delicious. I had wanted to try this recipe for a while but never had the right ingredients as the recipe calls for Hawaiian washed raw sugar. I actually didn’t have the right sugar still but I wanted to make them for my grandmother’s birthday since she loves anything with almonds. I’m glad I did because these are exactly the sort of thing you want around, to keep nibbling on long after you’re full, and to make up for all those things that can bring you down.

Pain D’amande

Adapted very slightly from Flo Braker’s Recipe from Sweet Miniatures
Makes about 70 – 90 thin almond cookies

1 stick (115g) of salted butter
1 1/3 cups (300g) of coarse raw sugar
1/4 tsp of ground cinnamon (optional)
1/3 cup (85g) of water
2 1/3 cups (325g) of all purpose flour
1/4 tsp of baking soda
1 cup (85g) of sliced almonds
Coarse sea salt for sprinkling (optional but I highly recommend it)

In a medium sized heavy bottomed pot combine the butter, cinnamon, and water. Heat on medium until the butter has melted. Remove from heat and stir in the coarse sugar. Add the flour, baking soda, and sliced almonds and stir until all is moistened and just until combined.

Line a 9 inch loaf pan with plastic wrap and press the dough into the pan until the top is flat. Chill in the freezer for about an hour or until the dough is firm.

Preheat oven to 325˚F. Remove dough from the pan and unwrap. Using a very sharp knife, slice the dough cross wise into very thin slices (about 1-2mm or the thickness of a coin). Lay out onto a baking sheet, lined with parchment paper, at least 1 cm apart. Sprinkle each sheet of cookies with a pinch of coarse sea salt. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, remove, flip each cookie over, and return to oven for another 10 – 15 minutes or until they are golden on the tops and bottoms. Let cool for a few minutes then transfer to a cooling rack to cool to room temperature.

Store cookies in an airtight container.

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