Category Archives: Sweets

Hot Chocolate

Chopping dark chocolate to make hot chocolateToday I made hot chocolate using chocolate.  It was the first time I had ever done that.

I grew up drinking hot chocolate made from prepared powder that came in little packets.  The baggies had tiny, desiccated marshmallows in them that rehydrated when combined with hot milk.  There was usually a portion of the talc that failed to dissolve and accumulated on the bottom of the mug.  (Yum!)  The drink tasted mildly of bad chocolate, but mostly it tasted like milk.

It first occurred to me that one could make hot chocolate from chocolate when I read The Polar Express, in which children are served hot chocolate “as thick and rich as melted chocolate bars.”  That caught my attention.  … Continue reading.

Whipped Cream

Attendez la crème![1]

-Col. Hans Landa

 

A bowl of whipped creamThough whipped cream has been around for hundreds of years, it took two relatively modern inventions for it to become as common as it is now.

One is the wire whisk.  Before this tool was invented, cooks used cumbersome bundles of sticks or straw.  More important for the future of whipped cream, though, was the invention of the mechanical cream separator.  The traditional way to separate cream from milk is to let the fresh milk stand for several hours.  Fattier bits will float to the top, and the cream skimmed from the surface will typically be about 25% fat.  Mechanical separators use centrifugal forces and are able to produce cream with a … Continue reading.

Really Good Apple Pie

Apple pie, cooling on the deckSome detailed notes on a North American staple.

The Dough.  I take for granted that you already know how to make a superlative, flaky pie dough.  If you don’t, this pie dough is a good start, but you should probably add a handful of sugar to the mix.

The Filling.  The first important consideration for the filling is the variety of apple to be used.  High acidity and firm, crisp texture are key.  Of the common commercial varieties, Granny Smith is probably the best, but there are lots of varieties growing within the Edmonton city limits that make good pie.  Sweetness, of course, is also desirable, but we can balance the tartness of the apples with sugar.  Look … Continue reading.

Saskatoon Pie and Crumble

A casserole of Saskatoon crumbleWhen it comes to pies and crumbles, I’m usually a purist: I prefer to use only one type of fruit.  Saskatoon pie and crumble, however, pose two problems.  First, the berries are relatively low-moisture, with pronounced pips and skins.  When you cook them down with sugar they don’t ooze moisture like most other fruits, so they don’t produce cohesive pastry fillings without the addition of water, which simply dilutes the flavour of the berries.  Second, they are low-acid when ripe, and on their own don’t make well-balanced fillings.

Rhubarb solves both of these problems.  When cooked down, most rhubarb varieties are fluid, and help make saskatoons into a cohesive pastry filling.  Rhubarb is also crazy tart, balancing the sweetness of … Continue reading.

Rhubarb Pie

Rhubarb pieSome quick notes on a springtime specialty.

The most difficult part about using rhubarb as a pastry filling is that once it’s cooked it has almost no structure.  Actually it’s entirely liquid.  For this reason rhubarb is often mixed with other fruit like strawberries or apples.  Right now I have lots of rhubarb, hardly any fruit in the freezer, and berries and apples are still months off.  In other words I have to set my rhubarb filling with gelatin or cornstarch.

We like rhubarb because it is tart, but oftentimes it is too tart.  To make sure the acidity isn’t overpowering, I make rhubarb pie in a shallow, French tart pan instead of a classic North American pie pan; this … Continue reading.

Crumble, or Crisp (but not Cobbler…)

Rhubarb crumble with ice creamI just nailed down a solid ratio of ingredients for a classic crumble.  If you’re not from around here, let me tell you about crumbles.

A crumble is a casserole filled with some manner of stewed or baked fruit, topped with a crispy layer made from flour, sugar, and butter, usually with the addition of other grains or nuts.  It is baked in a casserole, and often served with ice cream.

Crumble and crisp are two words for the same thing, though crumble seems to be the more common term in the UK, while crisp is more common in North America.  As usual, Canadians comfortably elide the British and American vernaculars.

Crumble should not to be confused with cobbler, which … Continue reading.

Rhubarb Brown Butter Tart

Brown butterPossibly my favourite application for rhubarb.  Almost any tart fruit can be used, but the sour flavour of rhubarb marries beautifully with the nutty character of the brown butter.

Every time I brown butter I ask myself why I don’t do it more often.  It’s quick, more or less foolproof, and one of the great, complex flavours of the kitchen.  Simply put butter in a heavy pot over medium high heat, then remove once the moisture has boiled off and the milk solids have browned.  If you need more guidance, you can think of browning butter like making syrup: as more and more water evaporates, the boiling point of the liquid rises.  Use a candy thermometer and pull the brown … Continue reading.

Tourtière – Pork Pie

A traditional tourtière made for a NewYear's Eve réveillonTourtière is made differently in every home, and can incite intense feelings of loyalty to ones mother.  I will proceed cautiously with a definition, but I warn you: there are lots of qualifiers in this post.

Tourtière is meat pie.  It is often based on pork, though veal and game are also common.  If anyone tells you that it was traditionally made with pigeon, you can politely dismiss their story as folklore.  A false etymology has developed because of the similarity between the words for the pie tourtière and the Quebecois word for the now-extinct passenger pigeon, tourte.  Certainly many a pigeon has been baked into pie, but the similarity between the two words is entirely coincidental.  Tourte also … Continue reading.

Sugar Plums

Sugar plums, rank and file on a drying traySugar plums are one of those items that are common in Christmas carols and stories and yet are basically unknown to modern revelers. (Other examples: wassail, yule, and figgy pudding. Furthermore, I’ve never seen mistletoe before, and I just saw real holly for the first time a few weeks ago, at the farmers’ market. I got excited, grabbed the leaves, and stabbed myself.)

My dictionary defines a sugar plum as a small ball of candy, and nothing more. There are not necessarily any plums in sugar plums.  The word “plum” is associated with dried fruit, and good modern dictionaries still give one of the many meanings of “plum” as “a raisin.”  The most common manifestation of sugar plums is Continue reading.

Tart Dough

A rhubarb custard tartIn North America, this style of dough is called tart dough, or possibly short dough.  In France it’s known as pâte brisée.[1]

Pie dough has clumps of butter that separate the sheets of flour and water, creating a tender, flaky crust.  Tart dough is not flaky.  It has a very fine, even texture, and a delicate crispiness.  Actually it’s kind of like a thin shortbread cookie.  The butter is incorporated as tiny uniform pieces, instead of the irregular chunks in pie dough.  The cook also has to be careful not to develop too much gluten, otherwise the cooked tart will be tough.

Besides being the base for classic tarts, this dough could also be used for custard-type … Continue reading.