Kuchen (“cake”) and Obstkuchen (“fruit cake”) can refer to many different desserts and pastries in Austria and Germany. By Austrian fruit cake I am referring to a very simple, very common preparation of a dense but tender cake that is topped with seasonal fruit before going in the oven. It’s made throughout the year with whatever fruit happens to be best that day. I was in Austria in May, June, and July, and saw it made first with rhubarb, then cherries, then apricots. The fruit settles into the cake nicely during the bake, but is still visible from the top. I think soft fruits that get a touch jammy when cooked work best for this (as opposed to, say, apples … Continue reading.
Out of hand the flesh of a Japanese plum is so mild you might consider dialling back the sugar for a jam recipe. You definitely should not! First, the sugar is essential for the mixture to actually “jam” or set, but also that generous dose of sweetness balances the acidity that is unleashed during cooking. I ended up using the same ratio I use for raspberry jam: 2:1 fruit to sugar. Even with this high sugar content, the jam is quite tart. We noticed that of our two … Continue reading.
Apple Johnny is a cake from eastern Canada that is baked in apple sauce. This is the third traditional cake from that region I’ve come across that is baked in a sauce or syrup. I think that’s enough to classify this as a family of cakes. I am going to call them drop cakes, because you make a batter and drop it into some manner of delicious sauce or liquid. Not a traditional term by any means but there it is.
Anyways, the most famous drop cake is pouding chômeur, which is a traditional Quebecois cake baked in maple syrup. When I mentioned this to a friend who grew up in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, she said that they … Continue reading.
One of my favourite Italian desserts is simple, elegant, and endlessly adaptable: cookies and sweet wine. In Italy I’ve seen this dish served with every manner of cookie, from amaretti to lady fingers to biscotti, and sweet wines as various as Vin Santo, Recioto, and Pantelleria. You could easily take the dish outside the realm of Italian cuisine and try something like ginger snaps and sweet applejack. A particularly memorable experience was being served s-shaped Buranelli cookies with a glass of sweet Zibbibo in a small restaurant in Venice on a wet, chilly September afternoon.
Originally published December 1, 2013.
The triumph of Scottish baking on the old national lines.
Shortbread is the primordial cookie. It has only three ingredients: sugar, butter, and flour. And I guess salt is a welcome addition. Sometimes there’s caraway. And there are a few variations like Ayrshire shortbread that include eggs and cream. But usually it’s just sugar, butter, and flour, combined in a very simple ratio: 1:2:3.
In other words, butter makes up fully one third of the weight of the dough, so this is indeed a very short dough, “short” referring to fat’s ability to inhibit gluten development, creating a tender, brittle pastry. Some classic recipes will even replace a portion of the wheat … Continue reading.
Originally posted December 19, 2013.
I’ll start by saying that this isn’t a pudding in the North American sense: it’s not a spoonable custard like, say, butterscotch pudding. Sticky toffee pudding is a cake with dates in the batter, covered in butterscotch sauce. In Britain the word “pudding” refers to dessert, generally, or to specific preparations that usually take the form of a moist cake. Figgy pudding and bread pudding are two examples. This is a good article for more info on British puddings.
Anglophiles will excuse me if I refer to sticky toffee pudding as a cake for the remainder of this post.
Sticky toffee pudding is actually a great cake that is nearly fail-proof. Between the dates … Continue reading.
In practice they are usually disappointing. They are often died a garish red. The candy coating is either adamantine, or it sticks to your teeth and threatens to pull out your molars. And usually the fruit is so large that it cannot be eaten comfortably from the end of a stick. You have to unhinge your jaw, which compromises your ability to break the adamantine candy coating.
In theory all these problems can be solved.
Let’s talk apples. Any good eating-apple is a good candy-apple. Firm, crisp, juicy. Apples … Continue reading.
Originally published December 14, 2013.
Pâtes de fruits have a very distinct texture. They are firmer than a spreadable breakfast jelly, but without the persistent chew of a gummy bear or gummy worm or any other fauna from the gummy kingdom. One of my chefs compared the texture to a medium ganache.
Another distinction between true pâte de fruits and inferior industrial candies is flavour. They are very bright, pure expressions of the fruit from which they are made. They tend to be tart, though well-balanced.
The chemistry behind pâtes de fruits is the … Continue reading.
The original strudel, the Viennese strudel, is a different beast entirely.
Austrian strudel is made with a simple dough consisting of flour, salt, water, and vegetable oil. High protein flour is used, and the dough is mixed extensively so that there is intensive gluten development. This allows the baker to stretch the dough until it is so thin it is almost transparent. The expression in Austrian kitchens is that the dough should be thin enough that you could hold the dough over a newspaper and read the text through the dough. … Continue reading.
We are all familiar with maple syrup. And most of us know that maple trees don’t exude syrup, but sap, which is thin, clear, and only faintly sweet. The liquid must be reduced to become syrup, and in fact it can be further reduced to become pure crystalline maple sugar. So while we are all acquainted with a certain concentration of maple syrup – the one on grocery store shelves and brunch tables – there is actually a broad spectrum of products that can be made with maple.
Let’s look at the two extremes of the maple continuum.
Chilled Maple Sap
An amazing but subtle tasting experience, one that I appreciate more in lean years when the sap run … Continue reading.