Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Sugared Cranberries

red velvet cake

I really enjoy making birthday cakes for my friends. Partially this is because yes, I do like making cakes but when it’s for someone you know you have a chance to think about what that person likes and dream up something special just for them.

This cake was made for a good friend who I’d been told was especially fond of red velvet cake. Truth be told I didn’t have a red velvet cake recipe I liked (most are too oily or taste like a weak chocolate cake…but red), but after scouring the interwebs for a bit I came upon this recipe. The author addressed all my red velvet concerns so I gave it a go.

After trying the cake, the birthday girl told me, “Wow, I actually really like this red velvet cake!” This surprised me because, well, I figured she always liked red velvet cake since it was her favorite. It turns out she thought red velvet cake was interesting because so many western people were fascinated with the flavor, and when she moved to Canada it was something she looked forward to trying. But she didn’t actually really like red velvet in particular. Except for this one!

Anyways, I loved this cake too and I’m not a huge red velvet person either; I thought the texture was perfect and it baked up beautifully. I dressed this simply with my go-to cream cheese frosting and some sugared cranberries, which has been my garnish of choice this season — they’re quick and easy, and they taste good too!

Finally, I got the news yesterday that my instagram account was included in Saveur’s list of 20 Favorite Food Instagrams of 2016! It was quite a surprise and I’m honestly shocked to see my name next to some insta-stars. I’ll admit, I was a bit of a latecomer to the insta-game (Snapchat in 2020, anyone?) but it’s become my favorite form of social media and the source of a lot of my kitchen inspiration. I’m happy to share a little of what I do there, the successes and the failures — and am grateful for the many talented people I’ve met along the way!

Now for some cake!

sugared cranberries

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Sugared Cranberries

Makes 1 3-layer, 6 inch cake | Serves 8-12
Cake recipe adapted from Cake Paper Party

Ingredients:

  • 85 g butter, room temperature
  • 58 g vegetable oil (I used grapeseed)
  • 200 g granulated sugar
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk (or 1.5 eggs — crack the second one, weigh it, and add half), room temperature
  • 85 g AP flour
  • 70 g cake flour
  • 1 T natural cocoa (not dutch process)
  • 3/4 t baking soda
  • 1/2 c buttermilk, room temperature
  • 60 g sour cream, room temperature
  • 1/2 T white vinegar
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 1 T red food coloring (preferably gel) or red velvet essence (I used essence)

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour 3 6-inch pans.
  2. Beat butter, oil and sugar on medium-high speed for 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time and beat until incorporated.
  3. Combine buttermilk, sour cream, vinegar and vanilla and whisk to blend.
    Sift together flours, baking soda, salt and cocoa. Add dry mixture to butter mixture and stir on low until just combined. Add half of buttermilk mixture and stir until it is just incorporated. Add remaining liquids and stir to combine.
  4. Gently stir in red food coloring and mix for about 30 seconds, scraping down once.
  5. Divide batter evenly among prepared pans and bake for about 20-25 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean and the top springs back when lightly pressed. Cool for at least 15 minutes in the pans before turning out onto a wire rack. Cool completely before frosting. (I recommend freezing the cakes, wrapped in plastic, until firm before assembly as this cake is quite tender.)

Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients:

  • 225 g unsalted butter, softened
  • 270 g powdered sugar, sifted
  • 300 g cream cheese, COLD and cubed

Method:

  1. Beat butter until pale, about 2 minutes.
  2. Add powdered sugar and continue beating until frosting is very pale and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.
  3. Add cream cheese and beat until just smooth. Beat on low for a minute or two to get rid of any air bubbles. Best used immediately.

Sugared Cranberries

Ingredients:

  • A couple large handfuls fresh cranberries
  • 1 egg white, beaten (I use pasteurized)
  • 1/2 c sugar, preferably caster (you can grind granulated sugar in a food processor, or just use granulated — caster will give you a more “snowy” effect)

Method:

  1. Spread out a piece of parchment paper big enough to hold all the cranberries in a single layer.
  2. Coat the cranberries with the egg white set them on the paper to soak up some of the excess liquid (if they’re too wet, the sugar will clump).
  3. Toss the cranberries in the sugar and set them back on the parchment to dry completely before using and / or eating!

To Assemble:

  1. Level your cakes (this is easiest to do when they’re completely cool; I like to stick them in the freezer for about 10-15 minutes right before assembly). Choose a layer for the bottom and put bottom-side down on a cake board.
  2. Spread about a 1/2 cup of icing evenly over the first layer. Repeat with the next two layers. Add a thin layer of icing over the entire cake. Refrigerate for 15-20 minutes to set the crumb coat.
  3. When the cake is chilled, add a second, thicker layer of icing over the entire cake. You can keep the sides smooth, or use an offset spatula / butter knife to create the swirl effect. Hole the spatula at a 45-degree angle to the cake while spinning your turntable, slowly, all the while slowly dragging your spatula to the top. Repeat on the top, starting from the outside and drawing your spatula in to the center.
  4. Decorate with sugared cranberries and a few sprigs of rosemary, if desired. Keep the cake refrigerated; bring to room temperature about an hour before serving.

red velvet cake 2

Sourdough Hokkaido Milk Bread Twists

cinnamon raisin twist bread
One of my latest bread obsessions has been the twisty loaf. I’ve been wanting to try making those babka-esque twists that are all the rage these days, because who can resist a little swirly and pretty? Clearly, not me.

Twist breads are great for the holidays. They’re surprisingly easy to shape and faster than making a bunch of rolls; they can be equally appropriate for Christmas brunch or a potluck dinner; they double as decoration. Plus, they’re a chance to flex your culinary creativity — change up the fillings to suit your tastes and/or fridge contents!

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After making a fair share of these guys I’ve learned a few tricks that can really help your twist breads shine in looks and flavor! While I did all my testing using my sourdough hokkaido milk bread recipe below, you should be able to use your favorite enriched bread dough (i.e. babka / challah / cinnamon roll / non-sourdough hokkaido milk bread dough, etc.) to make a twist bread. I would recommend a dough that is soft but sturdy enough to be rolled out fairly easily. My trusty pumpkin version of this bread works equally well as a base, and I’ve included a couple other flavor variations below as well.

Twist bread tips:

  1. Don’t roll your dough too thin.
    I tried rolling my dough various sizes, and finally settled on an oval of about 10″ x 12″ as the ideal size for my loaf pan. I follow a process very similar to this one. You can roll your dough thinner to get more of a swirl, but (at least for my recipe) the bread will be more dense. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; but personally I prefer fluffier bread to more swirl. The nice thing about the oval shape is that the ends don’t get too thick when you tuck them under. (I never bother trimming the ends.) It’s also easy-peasy to fit the loaf into the tin; no double-helixing / multiple criss-crossing required.
  2. Don’t rush the proofing. Enriched breads take extra long to proof, whether or not it’s sourdough. In my room-temperature kitchen, this recipe takes at least 6 hours for the final proof. I’ve tried rushing it and the texture just wasn’t the same. I know mine is ready when the loaf has puffed to fill the pan almost to the top.
  3. Thick, strongly flavored pastes work best for fillings. For ease of rolling and the best swirl effect, a thick paste works better than lots of chopped up ingredients. I tend to not measure my filling ingredients; but in general I use roughly 1/2 a cup of filling per loaf. Again, I opt for a less-is-more approach here: too much filling can weigh the bread down, making it more dense and cakey. You may have to experiment a bit to find your ideal filling-to-bread ratio, but that’s half the fun.

    A few ideas for fillings: fruit and nut butters, thick jams/compotes, cream cheese + fruit curd, pesto, grated cheese, etc. This is a great place to use up some of those half-eaten jars of jams and spreads. If I want to do a fruit filling (such as cinnamon raisin), I’ll rehydrate dried fruit in boiling water for an hour or so, drain, then pulse in a food processor with a healthy amount of cinnamon sugar and softened butter. I do find it helps to incorporate the butter into the paste rather than layer it, especially if you are doing a sweet loaf. Otherwise the sugar can turn into syrup and leak out, resulting in a sticky bun situation.

  4. Bake and cool fully. It can be a bit tricky to judge when these loaves are finished, as the filling can hide bits of uncooked dough. Your best bet is to check the internal temperature: it should register at least 195F. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out cleanly. Also keep in mind that if you’ve rolled out your dough thinner to start with and/or used a lot of filling, your bread will take longer to fully cook. When in doubt, let it go a few minutes longer, and tent with foil to keep the top from burning.

    Also, cool your bread fully to room temperature before serving. This helps the bread fully set and avoids that icky gummy taste that comes from slicing too early. Better to fully cool, then gently rewarm for 5-10 minutes than cut too soon.

  5. Glaze it! A healthy dose of simple syrup (1 part sugar dissolved in 1 part water) applied to your loaf right after baking adds an attractive shine and keeps your bread tasting fresher for longer. Be generous — about a 1/4 cup for sweet loaves, a little less for savory. Warmed jelly or honey also works (you won’t need as much), but if you’re planning on having your loaf around for more than one day simple syrup is your best option. Right after glazing is also a good time to add any garnishes: toasted seeds / nuts, finely chopped herbs, pearl sugar, etc.

Time to get twisting!

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Sourdough Hokkaido Milk Bread

Adapted from The Fresh Loaf | Makes one 8.5″ x 4.5″ / 9″ x 5″ loaf

Levain Ingredients

  • 18 g mature sourdough starter (100% hydration)
  • 30 g milk
  • 56 g bread flour

Mix and ferment at room temp (73F) for 10-12 hours. When ready it should be puffy and domed and you should see large bubbles if you pull back the top.

Final dough ingredients

  • 276g bread or AP flour (I used half bread flour and half AP flour for a balance of chewiness and volume)
  • 45g granulated sugar
  • 34g softened unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 6g fine grain sea salt
  • 101g whole milk, room temperature
  • 86g cream, room temperature
  • 20g milk powder
  • All of the levain

To Finish

  • Egg wash (1 egg, whisked with 1 tsp water or milk), for brushing
  • Filling of choice, approximately 1/2 a cup
  • Simple syrup, for glaze
  • Optional garnishes (toasted nuts, seeds, herbs, etc.)

Method:

  1. Mix together all final dough ingredients except the salt and butter until just combined. Cover and autolyse (rest) for 30-60 minutes.
  2. Add salt, and knead dough until gluten is moderately developed. The dough will start out sticky and rough but should gradually come together and feel quite smooth and stretchy. Add butter in two batches, mixing the first completely before adding the second. Continue kneading until the gluten is very well developed and the dough passes the windowpane test as demonstrated here. The dough should be smooth and supple (and quite lovely to handle!). This will take quite some time, especially if done by hand. Consider it your arm workout for the day!
  3. Transfer to a clean bowl, cover, and bulk rise at room temp (73F) for 2 hours. The dough will be noticeably expanded, but not doubled. Fold, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
  4. The next day, take the dough out and transfer to a lightly floured surface. Rest for one hour, covered by lightly oiled plastic.
  5. Grease and line a 9×5 loaf pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang of at least 2 inches on the long sides (for easy removal later).
  6. On a lightly floured surface (I prefer a Silpat), roll out the dough into an oval roughly 10 x 12 in. Spread your filling evenly over the surface, leaving a 1/2 inch border along one short edge. Turn the dough so the short end without the border is facing you. Brush the opposite end with water, and gently but tightly roll up like a jelly roll. Once rolled up, roll gently back and forth a few times to seal. Transfer the log to the fridge or freezer for about 10 minutes to firm up (optional).
  7. If desired, trim about 1/2 an inch off each end (I don’t bother because I don’t mind if the ends don’t have filling; but if you do, trim them). Using a bench scraper or sharp knife, cut the dough in half lengthwise. Place the two sides next to each other, cut side up. Gently pinch the tops together and twist the two together, keeping the cut sides up. Transfer twist to the prepared pan. (See here for a some helpful pictures.)
  8. Cover with plastic and proof for about 6 hours at room temperature. When ready, the dough should look very puffy and have risen to the top of the loaf pan.
  9. When the loaf is nearly finished rising, preheat the oven to 400F and prepare the egg wash. Just before baking, brush the surface lightly with egg wash.
  10. Bake for 20 minutes at 400F, then turn the oven down to 375F, rotate the pan, and bake for about 15 more minutes or until the loaf is well browned and registers at least 195F in the center. If the loaf is browning quickly, tent with foil. (I cover mine for the last 10 minutes or so.)
  11. Immediately after taking the loaf out, brush all over with simple syrup and top with garnishes, if desired. Cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Dough Variations

  • Matcha: replace 10g of flour with 10g culinary grade matcha powder. Pairs well with chocolate and black sesame fillings.
  • Eggnog: replace the milk with full-fat eggnog, decrease the sugar to 34g, and add some freshly grated nutmeg to the dough. Pairs well with cinnamon sugar and cranberry fillings.

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DIY Christmas Tree Forest: Treats for Toys

full christmas tree forest

As cliche as it sounds, I love Christmas. I have many fond memories of driving around looking at lights (with McDonald’s hot chocolate and apple pies, which were the real highlight), dousing sugar cookies with red and green sprinkles, and playing for candlelight services. Nowadays, Christmastime is even more special for me because it means traveling back to Seattle to see family, friends, and all my old haunts. I don’t know how long this tradition will last, but I definitely will enjoy it while I can.

full christmas tree forest 2

When Gastropost asked me to help create something with Rice Krispies for the Treats for Toys campaign, I jumped at the opportunity because playing with food for a good cause is totally something I can get behind. My treat was inspired by a couple of things: first, those little miniature Christmas scenes that stores set up during the holidays; and second, one of my favorite childhood Christmas activities: picking out a Christmas tree. This year is the first I can remember NOT having a tree — between having a destructive busy toddler and traveling it doesn’t make sense (sniff sniff) — so in lieu of that I made an edible forest. And of course I had to add my favorite mountain pillows, Bambi, one of Marcus’ cars, and a little snow to jazz it up a little. Honestly, it was so fun. AND easy. The hardest part was trying to find decent light during naptime to photograph it!

car with tree

This little forest scene would make a great centerpiece for a holiday party, or a fun craft project for the family. (My husband and I did it as a little date night activity; I probably had more fun than he did but he’s a good sport, lol.) Of course, you don’t need to make a forest scene. Individual trees would make great gifts or stocking stuffers — just be sure to make them soon before gifting (like the day of or night before) and keep them in an airtight container/wrapping so they don’t dry out. You should get about 18 small trees from one recipe (about 1/3 c mixture for each tree).

bambi with tree

Want to join in the fun? Create a toy-inspired Rice Krispies treat, upload it to the Treats for Toys site or social media (using the #treatsfortoys hashtag), and Kellogg’s will donate $20 to the Salvation Army to buy real toys for children in need.

christmas trees

DIY Christmas Tree Forest

Recipe adapted from Kelloggs Canada / Treats for Toys | Makes about 18 small trees

Ingredients:

For the trees:

  • 56 g / 1/4 c unsalted butter
  • 250 g marshmallows (I used mini)
  • 168 g / 6 c Rice Krispies (or other rice puff cereal)
  • Green food coloring (I used gel, a couple drops each of Wilton Moss Green and Americolor Leaf Green)
  • Sprinkles / mini M&M’s / small candies for decorating
  • Small chocolates (such as Snickers’ bites or Rolos) for the trunks

For the rest of the scene:

  • 56 g / 1/4 c unsalted butter
  • 250 g marshmallows (I used mini)
  • 168 g / 6 c Rice Krispies (or other rice puff cereal)
  • Graham crackers
  • Icing sugar
  • Toy car
  • Baker’s twine

Method:

  1. First, make the trees. Melt the butter over low heat in a large pot (big enough to hold the Rice Krispies). When the butter is melted, add the marshmallows, stirring frequently to avoid sticking. When the marshmallows are almost melted, stir the food coloring a drop at a time until you reach your desired shade of green (go a little bolder than you want as the color will be slightly muted by the cereal). When the marshmallows are melted and the color is evenly dispersed, turn off the heat, add the cereal, and stir to coat evenly. Allow to cool for a minute or so (it’s hot!), then, using well-greased hands, take a small handful at a time and form into pyramids or cones, whatever your preference. Pack firmly but not so hard as to crush the cereal. Place on a piece of parchment paper to set. If you’re making a forest, try to vary the shapes / sizes a little for a more realistic effect; and if you want a tree for the top of the car, make sure to form a tree that will fit properly (for my car this was quite small). The mixture is most pliable within the first 5-8 minutes after mixing, so try to work quickly (or have a couple people help).
  2. When the trees are still a little pliable but not so hot as to melt your sprinkles, decorate. Press the candies / sprinkles into the sides of the trees. (I just pushed them in and they stuck fine, though if your sprinkles are flat you may need to use some royal icing to glue them on.) Press a chocolate into the bottom for the trunk. (You can also glue with icing / cut a toothpick in half, poke one end into your chocolate, and poke the other end into the tree for more security.)
  3. Once your trees are decorated, make your snow scene. Make another batch of Rice Krispies as above, but omit the food coloring. Press into a greased quarter-sheet pan. To make a road, break your graham crackers along the perforations and line them up through the center of the pan. Press the trees into the Rice Krispies along either side of the road, staggering the sizes. Tie the small tree to the top of the car using baker’s twine. When the Rice Krispies are totally cool, dust some icing sugar over the top for a snow-like effect. Enjoy!

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Turkey and Sage Pot Pie

When it comes to pies, I’ve definitely been more on team sweet than team savory. But after watching Great British Bake Off and seeing those hand-raised hot water crusts, picnic pies, and pasties, I was itching to make some kind of savory pie. We ended up having a family Thanksmas dinner a bit early this year because a few of us are traveling over the holidays, so a fridge full of turkey leftovers presented the perfect opportunity for some pie-experimenting.

Pie fillings are quite adaptable; I think as long as you have the right consistency and amount, you can play around with the ingredients and flavorings. I really wanted to make a pot pie filling that didn’t contain milk or cream sort-of-not-really for health reasons (I’m lactose intolerant; I can handle butter and small amounts of dairy, but cream sauces generally don’t go over well). Originally I was going to use some leftover mashed potatoes for thickener, but someone ate them…so pureed squash it was! My family enjoyed this gravy, but if you prefer something more traditional you can sub some of the stock for whole milk or cream. Also, I know peas usually show up in these sort of pies but I am NOT a peas fan so none here! If you don’t have such aversions, feel free to stir some in with the sage at the very end.

I used this sourdough crust adapted from Maurizio (subbing buttermilk for the vinegar and omitting the sugar; I also added a few healthy grinds of black pepper and the leaves of one thyme sprig), and it was perfect for this — sturdy yet flaky and packed with flavor! If you’ve got starter on hand I definitely recommend this route, but if you don’t your favorite pie crust recipe will do nicely. I added a couple of turns to the pastry which gives it extra flake and makes it easier to roll out, IMO — also totally optional. The filling is the perfect amount for my deep-ish pie dish; if you use a normal pie plate you’ll probably have some leftover for a baby pie or to eat over rice.

A few notes:

  • See this post for some general pie baking tips.
  • I think the trick to avoiding a soggy bottom crust is starting with chilled pastry AND filling. If you add the filling when it’s still warm, you’ll melt the butter in the bottom crust and likely end up with goop. I also baked the pie on a preheated stone in the lower third of the oven the entire time. If you don’t have a stone, preheat a sheet pan in your oven and bake your pie on that.
  • A few weeks ago I made a small batch of apple jelly and have been using it as a secret flavor ingredient in stews and marinades — I love it! That being said, I know it’s not a common ingredient to have around; so you could probably substitute 1/4 c of apple juice or cider for stock for a similar effect.

Turkey and Sage Pot Pie

Makes one deepish 9-inch pie

Ingredients

  • 1 recipe of your favorite double pie crust
  • 3 cups cooked turkey, shredded or diced
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 c mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 c flour
  • 1/4 c butter
  • 1 1/2 c turkey or chicken stock (I used low-sodium)
  • 1/2 c squash puree
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 T apple jelly (optional, see notes above)
  • 1/2 c leftover gravy
  • 2 T finely minced fresh sage leaves
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tsp water or milk, for egg wash

Method

  1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, saute the onion and garlic in olive oil until slightly softened, 2-3 minutes. Add the carrots and celery, season with salt and pepper, and saute until carrots are slightly softened but not mushy, about 5-7 minutes. Remove vegetables from saucepan and set aside.
  2. In the same saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour all at once, stirring constantly, and cook for 1-2 minutes until a golden paste forms. Slowly pour in the stock, stirring constantly to avoid clumping. When the gravy is slightly thickened, stir in the leftover gravy, squash, and optional jelly, followed by the bay leaf and mushrooms. Turn down to medium low and simmer for 3-4 minutes, or until the mushrooms are mostly cooked. Add the reserved vegetables and turkey. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the turkey is heated through, then remove from the heat and stir in the sage. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes, then cover and refrigerate until cooled completely (about an hour).
  3. Preheat your oven to 400F with a rack (and baking stone, if you have one) in the bottom third of the oven.
  4. While the filling is cooling, prepare the pie crusts. Roll out your bottom crust and transfer it to a greased pie plate. Trim crust so you have an overhang of about 1 inch. Cover with plastic and refrigerate while you roll out your top crust. Cut into strips for a lattice, if desired, or keep whole. Transfer to a sheet pan and refrigerate until ready to assemble.
  5. When your filling is chilled and oven is ready, spoon the filling evenly into the bottom crust (remove the bay leaf). Top as desired (with a lattice or not), and crimp the edges to seal. Refrigerate for about 10-15 minutes, or until the pastry is firm.
  6. When ready to bake your pie, gently brush the egg wash over the top, being careful not to drag the filling onto the crust. Cut a few steam vents in the top if baking a non-lattice pie. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the oven down to 375F and bake for another 30-45 minutes, rotating halfway through for even baking. The filling should be bubbling and the pastry golden brown. (Note: if your pastry is browning too quickly, tent with foil.) Allow to cool slightly before serving.

How music taught me to bake bread

November 17th is Homemade Bread Day, so in honor of that I thought I’d share a bit about my bread-baking journey and offer some tips for those of you wanting to get started. I love learning new culinary skills, particularly those involving flour — but bread-baking, particularly with sourdough, is the first I consciously decided to take seriously. After being an occasional bread baker for several years, I took the plunge this past summer and made it my goal to be able to consistently turn out decent loaves by winter. I revived my two year old starter that had been hanging out in the fridge, and haven’t looked back since.

Although there have been failures and frustrations, I’ve definitely seen improvement in just a few short months; and bread baking has become something my family and I truly enjoy and make a part of normal daily life.

I’m a harpist and pianist by training and was for several years a private music teacher. In retrospect, I approached learning to bake bread much the same way I’d start a student or myself on a new piece of music.

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Practice.

One of the skills you obtain in music training is how to sit in a room by yourself for hours, concentrating on minute details. No joke, I’d have hour and a half lessons on a single page of music. Nothing can replace consistent and well-informed practice as a musician, and the same is true for any other skill you want to learn. In the context of bread baking, this first meant taking out my starter and feeding it twice daily at room temperature. This forced me to learn how my starter behaved and just the act of discarding and feeding made me more eager and likely to plan bakes. Are there ways of baking with sourdough that include less “wasting”? Sure, but for me the daily interaction was a key element to learning quickly and, I think, worth the price of a little flour.

Then there is also the practice of actually baking. You just have to start doing it. Once a week, twice a week — just do it consistently. You will have failures and bricks and you’ll probably drop a loaf here and there; dust the flour off your pants (and everywhere else in your kitchen) and try again.

Finally, the practice has to be informed. I spent way too much time in music school “massaging the strings” (i.e. aimlessly playing things over and over again hoping it’d get better). Turns out you can get a lot more done in a lot less time if you know what you’re striving for and tackle that problem head-on. Because I only bake once or twice a week as opposed to 40 hours / week of practicing while in school, the practice has to be that much more informed if I want to see improvement between loaves.

One thing I wish I’d started sooner is taking better notes on each bake — how long did I autolyse? How many folds? How long did the bench rest go? What temperature did I bake this at? This may seem a little obsessive, but it’s a lot easier to diagnose problems if you have some hard data and see where things may have gone wrong. It’ll also help others help you if you have that information ready — there are a lot of really generous, talented bakers out there who are more than willing to answer questions and help us newbies out!

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Know the terms.

One of the first things I would make my students do was look up all the unfamiliar terms in their music. It’s an easy way to get the gist of how a piece should sound without even putting your fingers on the strings. Same thing with baking — a little technical knowledge helps a ton! Get a couple of good books on bread (I’ve listed a few at the end of this post) and familiarize yourself with the basic terms of bread baking. You’ll be able to understand recipes a lot faster; and again, when you ask people for help you’ll get a lot more out of their advice. I was never great at math or science; so if I can learn baker’s math so can you.

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Work within your abilities, but don’t forget to challenge yourself.

One of the fine balancing acts as a music teacher was keeping students motivated and challenged by choosing the right mix of music. If the pieces are too easy, everyone’s yawning through the lesson. If they’re too hard, everyone’s crying.

The fastest way to get frustrated with bread-baking? Start with a difficult recipe and fail hard at the get go. And/or don’t follow the recipe and wonder why your bread didn’t turn out. Choose a good, basic recipe and follow it as closely as possible. Once you’re fairly comfortable with that, then pick something harder and/or start changing the flours around in some tried-and-true formulas to make things your own. Personally I like to alternate between “easy” (breads I’ve successfully made before) and “challenging” bakes (my own creations / new flours / high hydration doughs), which keeps both my stomach and brain pretty happy.

Love and share.

In the end, both music-making and bread-baking have this in common: you have to love it. If you truly enjoy doing either, whether or not your end product is picture-perfect is less important — you’ll have gained something in the process. The process of both can seem boring and slow; to endure at either you need to learn to love the little things: the sound of a brand new string, the smell of fresh flour, the feeling of nailing a tough arpeggio, the sound of crust crackling. It takes five minutes to perform a piece that takes months to learn. That loaf of bread you spent 48 hours making is devoured in three minutes. The journey matters.

Finally, the love is augmented by sharing. The simple act of sharing a piece of music or a loaf of bread can do wonders for a person’s day; and seeing people enjoy my music or food makes mine.

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A few recommended sites / resources:

  • The Fresh Loaf — A great forum where you can ask questions and learn from some very talented amateur bakers. I’ve started posting some of my loaves there as a bread journal of sorts.
  • The Perfect Loaf — Maurizio’s sourdough posts are incredibly detailed and helpful, and he’s great at responding to questions. I’ve tried several of his recipes with good success (though the breads are a little on the more technically difficult side). Definitely recommend reading through his tutorials on sourdough creation / maintenance if you’re new to the game!
  • My Daily Sourdough Bread — Natasa’s blog is lovely and practical. She is a very sweet and generous person too!
  • Wild Yeast Blog — Not updated anymore, but there’s a lot of good information if you dig around the archives.
  • The Bread Baker’s Apprentice — the book that first got me hooked on bread baking several years ago.
  • Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes — a classic; lots of interesting technical information.
  • Tartine Bread — a modern classic; the photography and storytelling are inspiring. Tartine-style bread is quite popular (though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend starting there…) and this is the original.
  • Sourdough: Recipes for Rustic Fermented Breads, Sweets, Savories, and More — I recently bought this book and have had good success with the breads. The flavor combinations are unique and I’m looking forward to trying some of the sweet recipes as well!

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Pork and Apple Sausage Rolls

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Both my husband and I are food nerds in our own ways. I’m into baking and he’s into meat. (For the past year he’s been curing his own bacon and once you’ve had that, there’s no going back.) The ultimate dream is to collaborate on some from-scratch charcuterie boards — he’ll provide the sausages and cheeses and I’ll do the breads/crackers/dips. We’ll get there eventually. But in the meantime, these tasty little sausage rolls are a team effort that will be showing up on our appetizer tables for the years to come — he made the sausage, and I wrapped them in pastry.

I’ve made sausage rolls in the past using store bought puff pastry and that works perfectly well. But lately I’ve been into making my own rough puff. I use this pastry recipe for the base and simply add 2-4 turns to the process, resting the pastry in the fridge as needed (for me this is typically for 10 minutes after the initial mixing and after the first two turns). For or this savory application, I reduce the sugar to 1 teaspoon.

Also, the filling is very adaptable — skip the apple if you want and add in some sauteed onion and garlic; and feel free to play with the spices. You can also use regular ground pork, seasoned to taste — in this case I would add a few tablespoons of breadcrumbs and an egg to help bind the mixture together.

Pork and Apple Sausage Rolls

Makes 24 two-bite rolls or 40-48 one-bite canapes

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound puff pastry, thawed (1 store bought box or homemade)
  • 1 pound pork sausage, casings removed
  • 1 baking apple, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 scallion, finely diced
  • 4 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1 egg, whisked with 1 tbsp water
  • Flaky salt, to finish (optional)

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Mix sausage, apple, and scallion in a medium bowl.
  3. In a small bowl, beat egg with 1 tbsp water.
  4. Roll out each sheet of puff pastry into a large square or rectangle (about 12″ x 12″ or 9″ x 13″) and cut each in half (for a total of four pieces).
  5. Spread a tablespoon of mustard down the center of each rectangle lengthwise.
  6. Divide the pork mixture into 4 equal parts and arrange on top of the mustard.
  7. Fold the bottom half of the pastry over the meat.
  8. Brush the top part of the pastry with egg wash and roll the puff pastry so the seam is facing down. Repeat with the other sheets. Refrigerate for about 10 minutes, or until pastry is firm.
  9. Cut each roll into the number of pieces desired (I like 6 per roll for a 2-bite snack — top photo or 10-12 for a one-bite canape — lower left photo). If making larger rolls, cut a couple steam vents on top; if making the one-biters, no vent is needed.
  10. Arrange about an inch apart on two parchment-lined baking sheets.
    Brush with remaining egg wash, followed by a pinch of flaky salt if desired.
  11. Bake 20-25 minutes, rotating halfway through, or until golden brown and cooked through.
  12. Serve warm or cold with ketchup and/or mustard.

sausage rolls

Fall Cliche Cake for a Virtual Pumpkin Party!

fall cliche cake

About this cake.

We were faced with a fridge full of stuff people enamored with fall buy: canned pumpkin, apple cider, cream cheese. Meanwhile, I was in a baking mood but couldn’t decide what to make: apple cider donuts? Pumpkin bundt cake? Cream cheese danishes? Well, yes to all, but my waistline doth protest.

So one evening, in a rare burst of spontaneous baking, I set out to make a cake using only what we had in our fridge. Normally my layer cake baking is a 2+ day affair, mainly because I have an active toddler who only naps once a day. But fueled by coffee and inspiration from a little too much Great British Baking Show, I was determined to churn something out.

The result? I present to you the Fall Cliche Cake: pumpkin spice cake layers glued together with maple cream cheese frosting, drizzled with mulled apple cider caramel sauce. This is the cake version of what you order when you can’t decide between a Pumpkin Spice Latte and a Caramel Apple Cider and you hope your significant other orders one so you can actually have a bit of both. This is what you want to eat while admiring the fall foliage and wearing your boots and chunky sweater. All in all, this took me about 4 hours start to finish (not including the scrub-down of the kitchen, sadly), and I couldn’t be more pleased with the result. In fact, this cliche may become our new tradition.

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This cake was also created with a party in mind — a Virtual Pumpkin Party hosted by bloggers Sara at Cake Over Steak and Aimee at Twigg Studios. It’s an honor to be able to participate in this take-over-the-internet-with-all-things-pumpkin recipe extravaganza with so many talented bloggers. I just wish the party were in person so I could try all the amazing dishes. Please check out the entire recipe list at the bottom of this post!

A few recipe notes:

  1. If you don’t have mulled cider sitting around in the fridge, you can make this with regular apple cider. Or, steep your cider with a cinnamon stick, a few cloves, a couple star anise, a few cardamom pods, and a chunk of nutmeg for as long as you can, then proceed with the recipe. Alternatively, you could add a pinch of cinnamon to the caramel when you add the vanilla.
  2. Use COLD cream cheese for the frosting. I know, I thought the same thing…room temperature everything! But the cold cream cheese actually doesn’t take that much longer to incorporate, plus it helps the frosting keep its body a bit better instead of becoming a soft, unworkable mess.
  3. Layer cakes are much easier to assemble when the cake is completely cooled, preferably chilled. Normally I make the layers a day ahead and chill them overnight, but in this case I just stuck them, uncovered, in the freezer for about 10 minutes after they’d come to room temperature. Worked great.
  4. There is enough frosting here to scantily ice a 3-layer, six inch cake. If you want to go fully frosted, double the recipe.

Fall Cliche Cake

Makes one 6-inch, 3-layer cake | Cake adapted from Sweetapolita / Frosting adapted from Call Me Cupcake

Ingredients

For the pumpkin spice cake:

  • 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (100 g) packed light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (180 ml) grapeseed oil
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups (300 ml) pumpkin puree (I used canned)
  • 2 cups (260 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

For the maple cream cheese icing:

  • 150 g unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 c (180g) powdered sugar
  • 200 g cream cheese, COLD and cubed
  • 1-2 Tbsp maple syrup

For the apple cider caramel sauce:

  • 2 cups apple cider (preferably mulled)
  • 1 cup (200 g) light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 Tbsp corn syrup
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 generous pinch sea salt

To finish:

  • Chopped pecans
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Fresh thyme branches

Method

For the Pumpkin Spice Cake Layers:

  1. Spray three 6-inch round cake pans with cooking spray and line the bottoms with parchment paper rounds. Spray and flour the pans.
  2. In the large bowl, beat the sugar and eggs together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the oil and vanilla and beat on medium until combined, about 30 seconds.
  3. Add the pumpkin and mix until combined, about another 30 seconds.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and salt, and with the mixer on the lowest speed, gradually add to pumpkin/egg mixture.
  5. Evenly distribute batter into the prepared pans (weigh them if possible with digital kitchen scale for about 370 g per pan), smooth with a small offset palette knife and place in the center of the middle rack of the oven, about 2 inches apart. Bake until a knife or skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes.
  6. Let pans cool on a wire rack 10 minutes. Invert cakes onto rack and cool them completely.

For the Maple Cream Cheese Icing:

  1. Beat butter until pale, about 2 minutes.
  2. Add powdered sugar and continue beating until frosting is very pale and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.
  3. Add cream cheese and beat until just smooth. Beat in maple syrup a tablespoon at a time, tasting after the first to check the flavor. Add the second if necessary. Use immediately.

For the Apple Cider Caramel Sauce:

  1. Add the apple cider to a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat and bring to boil. Allow the apple cider to cook down to about 1/3 cup.
  2. Add the brown sugar and corn syrup and stir just until the sugar is dissolved. Heat without stirring until the mixture reaches 240F on a candy thermometer.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in butter, heavy cream, and vanilla. Return to cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the caramel thickens and coats the back of a wooden spoon.
  4. Remove from heat and add a pinch of sea salt; stir to combine. Allow to cool for about 15 minutes before transferring to a heat-safe jar.
  5. Store at room temperature for 3 days or in the fridge for several weeks.

To assemble:

  1. Level your cakes (this is easiest to do when they’re completely cool; I like to stick them in the freezer for about 10-15 minutes right before assembly). Choose a layer for the bottom and put bottom-side down on a cake board.
  2. Spread about a 1/2 cup of icing evenly over the layer, followed by a generous drizzle of caramel sauce. Repeat with the next two layers, ending with just a layer of frosting on the top. Add a thin layer of icing over the entire cake. Refrigerate for 15-20 minutes to set.
  3. When the cake is chilled and the caramel is your desired drizzle consistency (test a drip on the side to see), drizzle the caramel on the sides and spread a layer on top. I like to use a squirt bottle for the side drips, but you can use a spoon or just pour over the top and nudge it to the edges with a palette knife if you’re brave.
  4. Decorate with chopped pecans, pepitas, and thyme branches, if desired.

Virtual Pumpkin Party!

Cake Over Steak • Quick Pumpkin and Kale Risotto + Arancini

Twigg Studios • Sausage Stuffing Baked in a Pumpkin

Donuts, Dresses and Dirt • Pumpkin Spice Latte Popsicles

Cloudy Kitchen • Pumpkin Cake with Vanilla German Buttercream

Vegetarian Ventures • Smoky Pumpkin & Black Sesame Hummus

Eat Boutique • Pumpkin Scallion Dumplings

A Little Saffron • Pumpkin Stuffed Shells

Two Red Bowls • Pumpkin & Maple Caramel Baked French Toast

Wallflower Kitchen • Mini Pumpkin & Cinnamon Sugar Donuts

Wit & Vinegar • Pumpkin Butterscotch Banana Split

Style Sweet CA • Pumpkin Creme Brulee Cake

Nommable • Pumpkin Biscuits with Mushroom Thyme Gravy

With Food + Love • Cinnamon Raisin Pumpkin Seed Bread

Hortus • Creamy Roasted Squash Soup + Pumpkin Risotto

Sevengrams • Vegan Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream

Jojotastic • 1 Pumpkin, 2 Ways: Pumpkin Trail Mix & Dog Treats

Grain Changer • Pumpkin Spice Baked Oatmeal

Girl Versus Dough • Pumpkin Cranberry Flax Crisps

Earthy Feast • Pumpkin Grits + Pumpkin Home Fries + a Fried Egg

Harvest and Honey • Truffled Pumpkin Papardelle Alfredo with Frizzled Sage

Tasty Seasons • Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cake

Broma Bakery • Pumpkin Butter Pop Tarts

Tending the Table • Roasted Pumpkin and Barley Salad

The Sugar Hit • Super Soft Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

Delicious Not Gorgeous • Waffles with Spiced Pumpkin Butter and Brown Sugar Walnut Crumble

Taste Love and Nourish • Pumpkin Bread Pudding

The Green Life • Pumpkin Spice Chocolate Chunk & Hazelnut Skillet Cookie (Vegan)

Foolproof Living • Pumpkin Creme Fraiche Pasta with Sage

The Monday Box • Pumpkin Mini Bundt Cakes

Design Crush • Pumpkin Bourbon Hot Toddy

The Road to Honey • Pumpkin Pie & Chocolate Layer Cake

My Name is Yeh • Roasted Pumpkin with Yogurt and Hazelnut Dukkah

Give Recipe • Orange Chocolate Pumpkin Bread

Heartbeet Kitchen • Magic Vegan Pumpkin Pie Fudge

Beard and Bonnet • Marbled Pumpkin Muffins

Eat Within Your Means • Vegan Pumpkin Blender Muffins

Snixy Kitchen • Pumpkin Tapioca Pudding with Candied Pumpkin Seeds

Ruby Josephine • Moroccan Sweet Pumpkin + Beef Tagine

Lab Noon • Pasta Bake with Roasted Pumpkin and Saffron Sauce, Pistachio and Goat Cheese

An Edible Mosaic • Pumpkin Spice Chia Seed Pudding

Hey Modest Marce • Mascarpone Pumpkin Pie

Inspired By the Seasons • Pumpkin Applesauce Smoothie

CaliGirl Cooking • Pumpkin Praline Cinnamon Rolls with Spiked Cream Cheese Glaze

Sally’s Baking Addiction • Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bundt Cake

Well and Full • Spicy Chipotle Pumpkin Hummus

Appeasing a Food Geek • Cheese Fondue Stuffed Roasted Pumpkin

SweetPhi • Pumpkin Chili Biscuit Bake

Warm Vanilla Sugar • Buttermilk Pumpkin Doughnuts

Mademoiselle Poirot • Cinnamon-Pumpkin Mousse on Honey Panna Cotta topped with Hazelnut Brittle

Heart of a Baker • Pumpkin Sticky Buns with Vanilla Bean Frosting

Flourishing Foodie • Massaman Curry with Pumpkin and Chickpeas

Ginger & Toasted Sesame • Pumpkin Jeon

Lindsay Jang • Best Ever DIY Pumpkin Spiced Latte

Fix Feast Flair • Hokkaido Pumpkin + Sage Mac and Gouda

Will Frolic for Food • Pumpkin Kale Patties with Coconut Cilantro Rice

A Couple Cooks • Pumpkin Pecan Baked Steel Cut Oats

Vermilion Red • Pumpkin Pie Souffle

  1. Britnell • Vegan Pumpkin Pie

Displaced Housewife • Brown Butter Pumpkin Donuts

Sweet Gula • Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

La Pêche Fraîche • Pumpkin and Condensed Milk Cakes

Kitchen Konfidence • Pumpkin Ricotta Gnocchi with Rosemary Brown Butter Sauce

Loves Food, Loves to Eat • Savory Pumpkin Bread Pudding

Kale & Caramel • Goat Cheese & Sage-Stuffed Pumpkin Challah

Okie Dokie Artichokie • Pumpkin Chorizo Chili with Sweet Potatoes + Pinto Beans

Salted Plains • Easy Pumpkin Bread

Liliahna • Chicken Legs with Pumpkin and Tortellini

TermiNatetor Kitchen • Whole Wheat, Pumpkin & Brown Sugar Brioche

Vermilion Roots • Sweet Rice Dumplings with Pumpkin

Celebrate Creativity • Pumpkin Mini Cheesecake Tarts

Serendipity Bakes • Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake

So Much Yum • Vegan Maple-Glazed Pumpkin Spice Doughnuts

The Brick Kitchen • Pumpkin, Pecan & White Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwiches

Lisli • Pumpkin Pie Cake

Cookie Dough and Oven Mitt • Pumpkin Pie Dip

Fig+Bleu • Pumpkin Granola

The Speckled Palate • Pumpkin Caramel Cream Cheese Swirl Blondies

Cook Til Delicious • Fall Cliche Cake (Pumpkin Spice Cake / Maple Cream Cheese Frosting / Apple Cider Caramel Sauce)

Floating Kitchen • Chicken and Pumpkin Chili

The Wood and Spoon • Pumpkin Pecan Cake with Burnt Sugar Frosting

Fork Vs Spoon • Pumpkin Streusel Muffins

Lemon & Vanilla • Pumpkin and Coconut Caramel Flan

Dunk & Crumble • Pumpkin Chocolate Icebox Cake

Chicano Eats • Pumpkin Butter Pan de Muerto

On the Plate • Pumpkin Pancakes, Salted Caramel & Pecans

Rough Measures • Cosy Pumpkin Spice Latte (Caffeine and Dairy Free)

Brewing Happiness • Pumpkin Ginger Breakfast Cookies

A Butterful Mind • Pumpkin Cheesecake with Vanilla Whipped Cream

The Little Loaf • Pumpkin Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Fork to Belly • Pumpkin Gnocchi

The Little Epicurean • Chocolate Hazelnut Pumpkin Pie

Bourbon and Honey • Spicy Roasted Pumpkin with Honey and Feta

What to Cook Today • Spicy Pumpkin Noodle Soup

Food by Mars • Pumpkin Pie (Grain-Free, Diary-Free)

The Bojon Gourmet • Pumpkin Butterscotch Pudding

Oh Honey Bakes • Pumpkin Cake with Gingersnap Toffee

Long Distance Baking • Layered Pumpkin Cheesecake

The Jam Lab • Pumpkin Madeleines Dipped in White Chocolate

The Lemon Apron • Pumpkin Gingerbread Loaf with an Olive Oil Glaze

Sun Diego Eats • Thai Pumpkin & Sticky Rice Cakes

A Cozy Kitchen • Pumpkin Chai Scones with Black Tea Glaze

A Cookie Named Desire • Pumpkin Shrubs

Eating Clean Recipes • Vegan Pumpkin Chia Pudding

Kingfield Kitchen • Vegan Fresh Pumpkin Soup

Drink and Cocktail Recipes • Pumpkin Dirty Chai

The Pig & Quill • Pumpkin Sage Cannelloni (Dairy-Free)

My Lavender Blues • Pumpkin, Banana & Olive Oil Bundt Cake

Betty Liu • Pumpkin + Pear Butter Baked Melty Cheese

Happy Hearted Kitchen • Cinnamon Roasted Pumpkin with Tahini Yogurt + Hazelnut Dukkah

InHappenstance • Pumpkin Scones with Maple Butter

Live Eat Learn • Pumpkin Gingerbread Hot Cocoa

Pumpkin and Corn Seafood Congee

congeeinsteamer

Congee, or rice porridge, is my cultural version of chicken noodle soup. It’s a light, soothing meal that is perfect for chilly evenings and those days when you’re feeling under the weather. I’d guess that every Chinese family has their own version of congee. At the root congee is extremely simple: just rice simmered with a lot of liquid until it gets creamy. But you can jazz it up any way you like — by changing the stock base (we favor homemade chicken stock), adding in some whole grains, or popping in some seasonal produce as this version does.

I first had pumpkin congee when I moved back to Toronto a few years ago. As much as I love my hometown of Seattle, I have to give Toronto the edge in the Chinese food department. There’s just a lot more of it here, and the quality and variety is extremely high. I’ve seen this at a few dim sum restaurants in the area, and I order it whenever it’s available. This is our best attempt to recreate it at home.

congeealone

A few notes:

  • At least four hours before you make this, wash, rinse, and drain your rice; put it in a ziplock; and stick it in the freezer. This helps break down the rice faster and your congee will cook in less time. You can definitely make this with non-frozen rice; you will just need to increase the simmering time by at least 45 minutes or so. You can also use brown, red, or black rice — just note that the simmering time will be a bit longer.
  • You can certainly roast and puree your own pumpkin; I had a partial can hanging out in the fridge so I used that. You can also add in chunks of pumpkin during the rice simmering stage if you prefer more texture.
  • People vary wildly on how thick / thin they prefer their congee. I usually start out with about 8 cups of liquid and adjust towards the end of cooking time by adding more stock / water if needed. If it’s too liquidy, just keep cooking it until it reaches your desired consistency.
  • If you don’t like seafood, feel free to sub in chicken or leave it out completely.

Pumpkin and Corn Seafood Congee

Serves 4

  • 3/4 cup uncooked white rice, rinsed and frozen for at least four hours (see note above)
  • 7-10 cups chicken or vegetable stock, preferably homemade, or water
  • 4 slices fresh ginger
  • 2 Tbsp dried scallops (optional)
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree, canned or homemade
  • 1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
  • 1/2 lb firm white fish, cut into 1 inch chunks, seasoned with salt and white pepper
  • 1/4 lb bay scallops

To serve:

  • Salt and white pepper, to taste
  • Finely chopped green onion
  • Fresh ginger, cut in thin matchsticks
  • Sesame oil
  • Soy sauce
  • Chili oil

Method

  1. In a large pot with a lid, add your stock/water, pumpkin puree, and ginger slices. Bring to a boil over medium high heat.
  2. When the liquid is boiling, add your rice straight from the freezer. Keep at a boil, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes. Then turn down to low, add the dried scallops if using, and cover.
  3. Simmer, stirring occasionally (make sure to stir from the bottom to keep the rice from sticking), for about 15 minutes or until the rice has broken down and a creamy consistency is achieved. Add liquid a 1/4 cup at a time if you prefer a thinner consistency.
  4. Add the fish, scallops, and corn, and cook just until seafood is opaque (2-3 minutes). Taste and adjust seasonings.
  5. Serve topped with desired accoutrements. Enjoy!

DIY Raincoast Crisps

raincoast crisps 1

When I was in college, my closest grocery store was a Whole Foods. This was convenient and dangerous, considering it’s nicknamed Whole Paycheck for a reason and I didn’t have a paycheck. For my bank account and waistline’s sakes I limited myself to one “browsing” trip a week, on Saturday mornings. This “yay, you made it to the weekend!” treat conveniently lined up with the best sample day of the week. See, this is how Whole Foods lures you in. They may be pricey, but they do samples right. Steak? Pie? Artisan bread? French cheese? Check, check, check, and oui.

raincoast crisps 2One of my favorite samples were (are) Raincoast Crisps. If you’ve never tried them, well, maybe don’t because they are addicting. They’re little squares of sweet / salty / nutty / crunchy goodness that supposedly go well with cheese but are perfectly delectable on their own. They also cost a pretty penny for a measly little box.

The good/dangerous news is, you can make your own. It isn’t hard, and at the end you are rewarded with a nice stash of Raincoast Hacks that easily pass as store-bought. (A stack of these would make the perfect hostess or holiday gift!) Note that the whole process takes a bit of time from start to finish (the chilling time is important if you want thin crackers), but can be easily spread over a couple of evenings. When you finish, congratulate yourself on saving money on crackers and use it to buy fancy imported cheese to go with them.

raincoast crisps 3

DIY Raincoast Crisps

Makes 8-9 dozen crisps | Adapted from Seven Spoons

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pistachios
  • 1/4 cup pepitas (green pumpkin seeds)
  • 185g / 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 60g / 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 cups buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, light or dark
  • 85g / 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 cup raisins or coarsely chopped dried figs
  • 1/4 cup millet
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup ground flax seed
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme or rosemary, chopped

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Lightly grease two 8-by-4-inch loaf pans or four mini loaf pans (I use these).
  2. In a nonstick pan over medium heat, lightly toast the nuts and pumpkin seeds. When they are fragrant, transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Add the buttermilk, brown sugar, and honey and stir until combined. Add the reserved nuts and remaining ingredients and stir until just blended.
  4. Divide the batter between the prepared pans (roughly 305g per tin for the mini pans). Bake until golden and puffed, about 30 minutes for mini loaf pans or 45 minutes for 8×4 loaf pans. They are finished when a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean and the loaves are springy to the touch. Immediately turn the loaves out of their pans to cool completely on a wire rack.
  5. For easiest slicing, chill the loaves. Once they’ve cooled to room temperature, I like to stick them, uncovered, in the fridge for a couple hours and that does the trick nicely. (You can also freeze the loaves whole and slice and bake straight from the freezer. You may need to add a couple minutes to the baking time.) Using a serrated knife, slice the loaves as thinly as you can (I aim for 24-30 slices per mini loaf) and place the slices in a single layer on an ungreased cookie sheet. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 300° F.
  6. Bake slices for about 15 minutes, then flip them over and bake for another 10-15 minutes, until crisp and deep golden. If the slices are not quite crisp at this point (but are already deeply colored), turn off the heat and leave in the oven for an extra 10-15 minutes to dry, checking every 5 minutes or so. Cool crisps completely on a wire rack, then store in an airtight container.

Apple Pie with a Cinnamon Roll Crust

apple pie cinnamon roll crust

Every fall for the past four years, my husband and I have gone apple picking. And each year the first culinary priority is a proper apple pie.

With apologies to salted caramel and brown butter, I like my apple pie plain and simple. Sounds straighforward enough, but it’s taken me a few tries to get this apple pie right to where I like it. I like lots of apples — lightly and classically spiced, tender but not mushy, sliced and not chunky, and not too sweet.

Normally with fruit pies I spring for a fun lattice top; but this time around, inspired by a photo I saw from dessert artist Linda Lomelino, I decided to gild the lily with a cinnamon roll crust. I used my favorite partially whole grain, all butter crust, but this technique should work with your crust of choice.

A few notes:

  1. Although I’ve written out this recipe as if I were doing this in one day, my current pie procedure is a 2-day process. This is mostly because the scheduling is easier for me (having an active kiddy-kins makes it hard to do all at once), but I actually think my crusts have turned out better with the extra chilling and relaxing. Here’s my process: the night before baking, I roll out my crusts. I line the pie plate with the bottom one. I roll out the top one onto a piece of parchment and transfer that parchment to a sheet pan. I also peel and slice the apples and start the maceration process. Then I wrap everything in plastic and chill in the fridge overnight.
  2. The cinnamon roll crust is quite easy to put together, but it can get soft with the extra handling and rolling. Just stick it in the fridge if it starts feeling soft at any point.
  3. My pie plate is on the deep side so this is the right amount of apples for me. If you have extra, just cook them on the stovetop and add to your oatmeal; or sprinkle some granola on top for a tasty snack! Or make a baby pie using your dough scraps!

Apple Pie with a Cinnamon Roll Crust

Makes one 9-inch pie

Crust Ingredients:

  • One recipe of your favorite 9-inch double pie crust, divided in 2 (this is mine)
  • 1.5 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 50g / 1/4 c granulated sugar mixed with 1 tsp cinnamon

Filling Ingredients:

  • 3.5 lbs apples (about 6-8 medium-sized), peeled and thinly sliced (I like a combination of tart and sweet apples such as Gala, Northern Spy, Mutsu, and Cortland)
  • Juice and zest of 1/2 a lemon
  • 50g / 1/4 c dark brown sugar
  • 50g / 1/4 c granulated sugar
  • A couple handfuls of coarse sugar
  • 2 Tbsp tapioca flour
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • A few gratings of fresh nutmeg
  • 1/4 t allspice
  • 1/2 t coarse kosher salt
  • A few dashes of Angostura bitters, optional

To finish:

  • 1 egg, beaten with 1 tbsp cream or milk and a pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp coarse or pearl sugar

Method:

  1. Combine the sliced apples with the lemon juice, dark brown sugar, and granulated sugar. Allow to macerate for at least one hour at room temperature (or up to overnight in the fridge).
  2. Roll out the bottom half of your pie crust and transfer to a greased pie plate. Trim the edges, leaving a 1/2 to 1 inch border all around. Cover with plastic wrap and chill while preparing the rest of your pie.
  3. Drain the macerated apples into a colander set over a small saucepan to catch the juices. Bring the juices to a boil over medium heat and cook until reduced by half, stirring occasionally. It should be thick and syrupy. Set aside to cool.
  4. Roll out your top crust into a 12 inch round. Brush the melted butter evenly over the whole surface and sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar mixture on top. Gently but tightly roll up the pastry into a log. (If the pastry is soft at this point, transfer to the fridge for a few minutes to firm up before proceeding.) Using a serrated knife, trim off the ends and cut the pastry into 1/2″ slices. On a piece of lightly floured parchment paper or Silpat, arrange the remaining slices into a tight circle. The slices should be touching but not overlapping. Gently roll out into a 10-inch circle (or large enough to fit your pie plate — it should be about 1/8-1/4″ thick). Transfer the parchment with your crust to a sheet pan and refrigerate while you prepare the rest of the pie.
  5. Combine the spices, salt, lemon zest, and tapioca flour in a large bowl. Add the drained apples and stir to coat evenly. Add bitters if using, and stir again to combine.
  6. Remove the pie plate from the fridge. Scatter a handful of coarse sugar over the bottom of the crust. Arrange the apple slices inside, trying to pack them in as tightly as possible and mounding slightly in the center. (I find if you take the time to layer the apples neatly and carefully with no big gaps, you won’t have the problem of a big gap between the filling and the top crust. It’s worth the extra few minutes.) Drizzle the reduced juices and scatter another handful of coarse sugar over the apples.
  7. Invert the cinnamon roll crust over the top and gently peel off the parchment / Silpat. Trim the top crust and crimp the edges with a fork to seal. It’s ok if there is a little separation of the rolls — they will serve as your steam vents. Chill the entire pie until the pastry is firm, at least 20 minutes.
  8. While the pie is chilling, preheat the oven to 425F with racks in the middle and bottom and a baking sheet on the bottom rack. Prepare the egg wash by whisking the egg and cream/milk together.
  9. When you are ready to bake, gently brush the egg wash all over the surface of the pie, followed with a generous handful of coarse or pearl sugar. Transfer to the bottom rack of the oven, on the preheated baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes. Turn down the oven to 375F, rotate and move the pie on its baking sheet to the middle rack, and bake another 30-45 minutes or until the crust is a deep golden brown and the filling is bubbling. Allow to cool on a wire rack for at least 3 hours before slicing.

I couldn’t resist making a lil’ baby pie with the scraps…
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