Tag Archives: dessert

White Wine Poached Pear and Chocolate Ganache Tart with Almond Sweet Pastry

Yield: 1 10” tart or 12 individual (1 ¾ oz each)

Almond sweet pastry crust

250 g flour
75 g sugar
pinch salt
50 g ground almonds
170 g butter, cubed and chilled
1 egg
1 tsp rum

Combine flour, sugar, salt, and almonds in food processor
Add butter cubes and process until mealy
Add egg, yolks, and rum and process until dough comes together
Turn out and knead lightly
Pat into disc
Wrap and chill for 1/2 hour
Roll out into a 12 inch circle and line a 10 inch tart shell with a removable bottom
Chill thoroughly

Preheat oven to 350 F

Dock and blind bake for 35 minutes, until fully cooked and golden brown
Set aside until needed

White wine poached pears

2 cups white wine
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 inch piece ginger, sliced
1 lemon, sliced
2 star anise
6 peppercorns
1 tbsp fennel seed
4 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
6 pears, peeled, halved, and cored

Bring all ingredients except pears up to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes to develop flavour
Add pears and simmer until tender, 20-40 minutes, depending on the ripeness of the fruit
Remove with a slotted spoon, and place in a shallow dish
Pour poaching liquid over and allow to cool to room temperature
(pears may be poached and refrigerated for a few days in advance)

Ganache filling

2 cups pear poaching liquid
1 cup whipping cream
250 g dark chocolate, chopped

Reduce poaching liquid until it measures 1/2 cup and is thickened slightly (it should look like liquid honey in colour and viscosity) Keep warm
Place chocolate in a medium bowl
Scald cream and pour over chocolate, mixing well to melt.
Add reduced pear liquid and whisk well, making sure there are no lumps (you can set the bowl over a pan with a small amount of hot water if necessary to aid in the melting process)
Pour filling into prepared tart shell and set in fridge to set.
Once filling is firm, remove pears from liquid and pat dry ( I usually blot them lightly on a clean kitchen towel or paper towel)
Slice thinly almost all the way to the stem end and fan around tart (stem end should point towards the centre)
Allow to chill for at least 4 hours before serving.
If you like, you can reduce the remaining poaching liquid as before and use the glaze to either brush over or use as a sauce

Snow day, Martha, and more

The weekend started out normal enough for this time of year. Being the first of December it was decided that it was the weekend to venture into the realm of “Holiday Baking” We quite often are entertaining a few times over the next few weeks, so it is always easiest to dedicate a day to the production of several sweets and assorted other “building blocks” for future soirées.

A thorough inspection of the cupboard revealed a need for a full complement of supplies so off we toddled early Saturday to pick up the assortment of various sugars, fats, nuts and candies that would be making their way into the oven. As the month had greeted us with the first snap of winter, the air was crisp and cold, with the threat of snowfall hovering in the west. A good day to bake by any account, and with a little luck the snow would hold off until we could get the tree later in the afternoon. Armed with the usual suspects: molasses, brown, icing, and superfine sugars, butter, cashews, walnuts, baking soda, a fresh bottle of vanilla, I headed to the till. Normally the magazine rack at the Supermarket counter, (as enthralling as it can be to most) doesn’t bear much of a second glance from me, but as it’s December, the latest Martha mag sat perched front and centre, complete with a cute little gingerbread village on the cover. Nice idea, I thought, and since I had already planned to commit to a large batch, figured I’d pilfer the idea if time allowed.

By the time we had made our way home and started thinking about the baking projects, the snow had started to fall, making the decision for us that the tree would have to wait until tomorrow at the earliest. I settled into my planned activities for the day: Biscotti, Shortbread, Gingerbread, Oatmeal Coconut cookies, Cashew caramels, and a batch of Danish pastry for the freezer. One by one I made the doughs in order of priority: first the gingerbread as it had to rest overnight, Scottish shortbread (my friend Harry Greenwood’s recipe, of course) was next, as it needed at least a half day of a chill before baking, followed by the danish pastry process (about a 2 hour investment, off and on with all the turns) Squeezed out the biscotti dough in between folds of danish and set the dough to chill on the porch, put the caramels on between the next fold, third fold made the oatmeal cookie dough, then baked the biscotti, removed them to cool for slicing and the second bake, and finally got the oatmeal cookies in the oven by about 3. Around 4 I had 80 oatmeal cookies and 80 biscotti out of the oven and cooling, managed to poke a pork roast in for dinner and at long last had a chance to have a biscotti and a cup of coffee.

The snow had abated for the day, and although there was more scheduled to fall overnight, we figure to let Sunday’s schedule determine itself. After dinner I baked the shortbread, and inspected the caramels, which were delicious but a tad too soft, so were wrapped and put in the fridge destined to be dipped in chocolate at a later date. With the bulk of the baking done, I figured that a good night’s rest was in order, and should have time to tinker with the gingerbread the next day.

Overnight, a few more inches fell, not a great deal, but enough that the neighbourhood was covered with a thorough blanket. We went out for a morning walk, up the hill by the elementary school, and as we approached could hear an eerily interesting mix of sounds. The giggle of a dozen kids on sleds could be heard over the sonic backdrop of a piper, the bagpipes cutting though the morning air. With the snow and the big trees it was easy to imagine being a world away from Suburbia.

Once home and warmed up, I grabbed my graph paper and began calculating the size of the gingerbread cookies to make a decent sized circle, and made a few quick templates. I had decided that I would make the cookies and then ice them onto a platter to use as a serving dish over the holidays. The dough was perfect for rolling after its overnight rest, and I used the first pressing to make the people and trees for consumption. I figured the re-rolled dough, which is usually a bit tough, would be preferable for making the town, anyway. Once I had two trays each of people and trees, it was apparent that there would be enough left over for a couple of dozen buildings, so I decided I would make enough that I could take one to work to decorate the office.

I decorated the houses once cool, and set them aside for the icing to harden. The assembly was actually quite painless once I cut out a cardboard template with the correct angles on it, and the results I’m glad to report are really lovely. If anyone’s feeling industrious or snowed in this weekend, 12 cookies measuring 2 1/2 by 4 inches make a 10 inch circle (it’s actually a 12 sided polygon if you want to get picky, but you get the drift) Happy Baking!

Ultimate Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have become a steadfast believer in direct ratios in cooking, as I find all of the best recipes seem to be based on some direct correlation in measures or weights of ingredients. I now use that methodology when writing a new recipe, and usually end up with good results. These cookies are no different. They are extremely satisfying, although with the large number of whole peanuts in the batter they tend to be a bit delicate, so eat them quickly. I’m sure it won’t be a problem, it never is in our house.

1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup natural peanut butter
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup chocolate chips
2 cups salted peanuts

Preheat oven to 350
Cream together butter and brown sugar until fluffy
Add peanut butter and mix until well combined
Add eggs and vanilla and mix until smooth
Mix flour, baking soda, and salt, and add to peanut butter mixture
Stir until just incorporated
Add peanuts and chocolate chips and stir until just combined
Scoop into 3 tbsp (45 mL) balls and place on baking sheets lined with parchment
Flatten lightly with a fork
Bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown on the bottom
Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then remove and place on a rack to cool completely

Coconut Oatmeal Cookies

These oatmeal cookies don’t last very long in our house. A bit crispy, a bit chewy, they are perfect with a cup of coffee or a cold glass of milk, just the way an oatmeal cookie should be.

1 cup butter
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch ground ginger
pinch nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
2 cups rolled oats
2 cups shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350
Cream together butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy
Add eggs and mix well
Combine flour, baking soda, spices, and salt and add to butter mixture
Mix well
Add coconut and oats and stir until well combined
Drop 2 tbsp (30mL) of dough for each cookie onto baking sheets lined with parchment
Bake for 15 minutes, until golden brown.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely

Let Us Give Thanks….

Growing up Catholic always meant a fair amount of pageantry over a holiday or season with any kind of a message or virtuous overtone. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, and as Thanksgiving passes (even though my days of acceptance of organized religion in any form are long behind me) I always look at it as a time to reflect on the good fortune that we have here, and share that celebration with those close to us. Seeing as we had just celebrated birthdays a few weeks ago with the family, we decided that this year (still reeling from the reality of actual weekends off, and a long weekend to boot) we would have some good friends over for dinner Thanksgiving weekend.

The menu ingredients were quite predictable: turkey, cranberry, pumpkin, etc.
Some things are meant to be honoured with tradition, and the palette from which to cook Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner are among the most sacred. I have a long standing agreement with my wife: Christmas dinner will involve a strict menu of: A whole roasted stuffed turkey, mashed potatoes, mashed carrots and parsnips, brussel sprouts, cranberry sauce and gravy. Nothing More. Nothing Less. Thanksgiving on the other hand, there is some latitude allowed in the preparation of said sacred foodstuffs. A few years back, I had brought home some turkey confit and a brined turkey breast from the restaurant for a quick dinner for just the four of us. My son, the younger, declared turkey confit to be the finest food on the planet and henceforth a necessity whenever possible.

So, that brings us to the menu for the Thanksgiving dinner, Chez Green:

Turkey confit: of course

Brined roasted turkey breast: ditto

Mashed potatoes, parsnips and carrots, brussel sprouts: easy accompaniments

Stuffing (made in a casserole dish, but traditional ingredients) and gravy: must haves

Dessert: pumpkin pie (alright, this is sounding like a traditional dinner, but at least we’re having the confit!!!)

For something to start, I figured I would make something to nibble on, and settled on making a wheel of brie baked in pastry with cranberry chutney. Great sliced and smeared on fresh baguette.

The turkey was in the fridge the day before, as the process of confit and brining is a 2 day affair, so I set out to transform the humble bird into a duo of exquisite proportions. Legs off and deboned, I ran out to the garden for a sachet of herbs, and along with some coarse salt and pepper set the legs on their way marinating overnight in a colander. This allows the leg to cure slightly, draw out some moisture, and seasons it well. (The colander is placed inside a second bowl which catches any liquid that comes out.) That accomplished, I prepared the brine, and once cooled thoroughly, place the turkey breast in a large bag and poured the brine over, sealed it well, and placed it in the refrigerator. The bones were roasted and a stock prepared for the following day’s stuffing and gravy.

Morning of the dinner, a trip to market for the vegetables, and stage two of confit. Now the process of confit involves large amounts of fat, animal or otherwise as a cooking medium, so it’s important to understand the reasoning behind the process. In years gone by, before refrigeration, preservation of meat for the winter was a real necessity. When a pig was killed, a multistage process was a group undertaking to maximize the investment for the family’s food source. Fresh pork was made in to sausage, some meant for immediate consumption, some to be hung, smoked, and dried for later. Legs were salted and dried for hams, belly cured for bacon, and fat rendered for lard. The lard was then used for both cooking and storing of cooked meats for the winter (hence the term larder to mean a pantry) Confit was one of these processes that used it for both. Meat salted ovenight, then gently poached in its own fat is exceptionally tender and flavourful, and once the cooking process complete, could be packed away in an earthenware crock, the cooking fat poured over to create a sealed environment free of oxygen for preservation, and set in a cold place for several months for storage. in the winter, the confit would be reheated, removed from the fat, and eaten. History lesson aside, confit has become one of those traditional dishes that defies description. The simplicity of the process is easily understood, but easily done incorrectly, as it requires a low flame and a watchful cook to maintain the temperature at a gentle simmer, and a steady hand to remove it from the pan when cooked, as it’s quite tender. Done well, it’s a thing of beauty.

I placed my 2 litres of lard into a largish pot, and brought it up to just over the boiling point. (225 F) The legs were submerged gently, flame adjusted to medium low for now, and once the temperature had re-established its boiling point, dropped down to quite low. The whole idea is to maintain the cooking temperature at boiling (212 F / 100 C) for 2 hours, allowing the meat to slowly poach. Project well under way, I prepared the cranberry chutney, and easy one pot affair, and set it aside to cool. I made pastry, enough for both my pie and the brie, and set both batches aside to rest. I took a few minutes to peel vegetables and prepared a bit of trim fro the gravy, and set out to figure out how to authentically recreate stuffing outside of the bird.

I prepared my mix as I usually would and figured I had to account for two things in the cooking process: indirect heat, the effect of being insulated inside the bird and not get too crispy around the edges; and the moisture added to the cooking process from the turkey cooking around it. The first part was easily solved: a double layer of parchment inside a large ceramic casserole dish to protect it, and the second by a regular basting with a ladle of turkey stock as it cooked, every 15 minutes for an hour.

Stuffing and vegetables well in hand, I rolled out the pastry, lined the pie plate for the pumpkin and blind baked it, and prepared the brie. Very simple, just a large round of pastry, a wheel of brie or camembert inside, a thick layer of chutney, and then the pastry folded over to encase it all. I set it in the fridge for half an hour to chill, quickly made the pie filling (yes you can use good quality canned pumpkin), and brought the breast out of the brine.

The pie shell came out of the oven, in went the brie for 45 minutes, allowing the shell to cool somewhat, at which point I filled it and placed the pumpkin pie into the oven alongside the brie. The brie came out 15 minutes later or so, and figuring I had half an hour before the pumpkin pie would be ready and the oven free, I checked the confit. Nice and tender, I gently lifted it out and placed it on a rack to drain of excess fat and cool enough to handle. I set is aside, rubbed the breast down with olive oil and salt and pepper, and placed it on a rack in the roasting pan, ready to replace the pie in the oven. The last of my major chores finished, I removed skin, bone, and tendon from the confit and shredded it, placing the tender meat into a casserole dish. I strained the leftover fat for another future batch (to be stored in the fridge), taking care to set the last little bit aside, which is a small amount of very intensely reduced turkey juice, (it looks like caramel), and put that separately into the fridge in a small bowl. It sets very quickly, allowing you to skim the fat off the top and put the turkey essence into the confit for when it is reheated. (trust me on this, it’s magic)

Confident all I had to do was cook a few veggies, the rest of the evening turned to the real essence of the day: How fortunate for us that we have a beautiful environment, clean air and water, a standard of living and quality of life second to none, and people to share it with. No matter how many things go on in the course of one year, how many changes one goes through in a lifetime, when you stop and take a moment to look at the big picture, life in Canada’s pretty darn good.