May 2010 Baker's Stash
Happy merry month of May. It’s Mother’s Day (and my birthday on the 5th), end-of-school, and all things pretty, feminine, light and airy. Not feeling light and airy? Well, I get that – spring, as they say, can really hang you up the most. But still – like the daffodils that ended up being walloped by a late April snowfall, one has to smile through inclement weather until the real stuff comes along.
Speaking of real stuff, I am in the midst of baking for the food shoot for my new cookbook, which is due out April 2011. The photography is scheduled for mid May. In preparation, I am writing this missive from my home office but with a rented freezer beside me, as well as 90 pounds of flour, crates of cake boxes, cake doilies, kilos of brown sugar, boxes of raisins and mountains of cinnamon. Such fine company I keep. My newest cookbook is all about baking by the seasons and it contains recipes that will have us all baking in a timely way, by the land and with local ingredients. Ironically, given its theme, and despite the calendar telling me it’s May, I am ensconced in autumnal baking as I do the fall chapter of the book. Instead of strawberries and cream, I am replete with walnuts, spice, pumpkin puree and brown sugar fudge. As I bake 'pretty' for the photo shoot however, I am reminded of my own recipes. In re-doing them for a food shoot, I rediscover and get reacquainted with them. It’s like finding old friends you haven't had time to call and then you do and you remember why you love them. Baking such a variety of recipes all at once is also a good way to remind me where I’ve been – a baking travel-log as it were.
But in May, for this month’s BB Baker’s Stash, for your pleasure here and now, I’ve offer up some tea-time treats – little things to see you through and perk that palate. Nothing soothes like tea and sympathy (or cookies and scones).
To perk my own palate, I’ve been to tango. You must tire of me saying how lovely tango is but it is. It is a romance that doesn’t quit. It’s been 13 years of this website and 13 years of tango and I am still, on both counts, smitten. I've been to tango tired or anxious, upset or pre-occupied and once there, I forget everything but the music and the dance, whether it is a class or soiree. Thank goodness I have a tonic. I've danced with many fine partners over the years but just recently, there were two stand-outs. One disappeared in the night (ok, it was me – I did the Cinderella thing I tend to do with confronted with a true contender), and the other was a man who is in heartbreak. At least, this is what this total stranger told me as he led me to the dance floor . I was a replacement dancer (half tango, will travel) that night since they were missing women. As I introduced myself, the fellow shared with me that he just broke up with someone a day prior to tango class. I’ve never seen heartbreak on a man up close and I thought it wise to tread softly. In the end, it was wonderful dancing and a wonderful class but I concede vulnerable men have a perverse attractiveness. I thought it was only in the movies but there is indeed a strange cachet. Why is when people are down, they are also their most honest?
As if tango wasn’t enough to keep me out of trouble (you would think daily life should be enough to do the trick!), I decided to query a local university, my own alma mater, about teaching food writing, some semester in the future. One thing led to another (they are actually considering it!) and it turns out, one of the professors I queried is a Jane Austen scholar. So on Mother’s Day, I am going to hear a Jane Austen presentation by same said scholar. But it’s like I fell down a time portal and discovered a whole alter world of Jane-ites. I never knew there are Jane Austen clubs and groups all over the world. Moreover, apparently, the Montreal Jane Austen society has also won the equivalent of the Jane Austen Olympics and will be hosting all things Jane in 2014 (I believe). In the meantime, there are local Regency dances, balls, presentations, book clubs, and all sorts of period events. I found all this by yanking on a cord that was really about finding teaching work in my field and the roads led me to dear Jane.
Of course, tango and Jane weren’t enough, so I’ve investigated Ethiopian cuisine at Montreal's Blue Nile Restaurant (outstanding), more meditation groups and enjoyed Susan Piver’s The Wisdom of a Broken Heart speech at the local Shambhala Buddhist Center. I didn’t know that existed. Books also led me to the Montreal Blue Met Literary Festival where I attended a presentation on Ebooks, The Future of Books, wherein I heard the same old: the world is changing and people are still reading but on Kindles, Ipads, and SonyEReaders and more. That’s not news (nor the sky-is-falling sort of stuff) but the showdown at Ok Coral between Apple (Steve Jobs), and Ipad, versus Amazon/Kindle, the major publishers and Google is unbelievably entertaining (if you’ve been following this stuff). To me, all of it is fascinating because if you took away content, some of the most powerful organizations in the world (Apple, Google, Amazon, publishers) would have nothing to produce. Content providers (writers, musicians, artists, dancers, et al) are the fuel of this deux et machinas stand-off. Without us, the big guns in these debates might be at the water cooler asking if they saw the last episode of Lost or who is still on Dancing with the Stars.
Yes, spring is here. And with thoughts of tea, Jane, tango, Buddhism and electronic publishing making this another sort of brave new world, it’s a good time to catch my breath and simply wish you the joy of fresh starts, sweet and light baking, and rediscovering what makes you feel young and new.
With warm wishes from my kitchen to yours and from my world to yours,
Author & Master Baker
White Chocolate Frosted Lemon Layer Cake
What could be more light and springy than a gorgeous lemon layer cake with a smack of white chocolate. This is pretty, feminine but wonderfully flavourful; it suits cake lovers and lemon addicts both. An easy layer cake, fortified with lemon flavour and a divine lemon buttercream.
Apricot Crumb Cake
A tender coffee cake, dotted with my favorite fruit. Light, sweet, moist and perfect for a spring tea.
Amish Country Apple Butter Muffins
Once I discovered them, I fell in love with various apple butters, as well as other fruit butters such as cherry, pumpkin, cranberry and cherry from Pastor’s Chuck’s. Eden Foods, and American Spoon Foods. I’ve been using apple butter on toast with almond butter and in recipes such as these splendid, oh-so-Amish little muffins. Fruit butters are very intensely flavored spreads that are like apple sauce but far more dense and thick. If you don’t have apple butter, you can substitute old-fashioned apple sauce. The recipe will still be good but a wee bit less flavorful (and less Amish).These are sweet and rustic as is but sometimes, I drizzle them with maple cinnamon fondant, which is less Amish and more......me.
After Eight Mint Sandwich Cookies
Tiny butter cookies sandwiched together with a peppermint patty or an After Eight Mint. These are better than anything Pepperidge Farm offers. Make them ultra thin or just thin enough – they are amazing either way.
Banana Bread Biscotti
The pure buttery taste of this loaf is quite satisfying. This pound cake is traditionally glazed with a thin pink fondant but you can omit it or use a white or chocolate fondant glaze topping. You may wish to substitute chocolate chips for the currants if you prefer but only use one cup of chocolate chips (not two). This is just one buttery, solid poundcake from Australia that begs for a big pot of tea and a fluffy, vapid magazine or a great read-it-at-one-shot novel.
Swiss Chocolate and Oatmeal Caramel Scones
Like a big ol’ oatmeal cookie but in a crusty scone. Coarsely chopped, Swiss milk chocolate is ideal in this recipe, melting into the golden, buttery, caramel-touched crevices of this wonderful scone batter. Demerara is coarse brown sugar and is gorgeous as a finishing touch, adding sweetness and crunch.
French Lemon Tart
This easy to whip up fresh lemon tart is light, sweet and tart. Offer it with mashed berries or just a dusting of confectioners’ sugar. A pre-baked, frozen pie shell is fine here or use a tart of sugar cookie dough to make a sweet tart shell instead.
Pastel Butter Cupcakes
Doesn’t everyone need a bit of fun? Baby cupcakes, pastel icings, sprinkles. Take three, pop em in your mouth, rinse with ice-cold lemonade. Just the tonic for any time of year but especially nice with tea. These taste like cupcakes and are as easy as cupcakes should be but as delightful in looks as a pastry shop petit fours. Don't forget to check on the chocolate variation in the recipe method.
Old Fashioned Sweet Yeast Rolls
Not everyone likes things ultra sweet; sometimes, a simple, sweet, yeasted bun, with Darjeeling tea, plus a pot of strawberry jam, butter, is the best. This is one of the first yeast recipes I ever made and I've been perfecting it ever since. I like this plain but a butter crumb streusel topping (as for bubka) also works well or simply coarse sugar.
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