Tradition – The Sweet Kugel

After Cooling

The other day, Deb and I again this year made the Sweet Kugel – 4 of them to be exact. One for me, one for her, one for MaryAnn, and one for Marlene.

This time we had Deb’s 6 year-old grandson Huxley as an extra pair of hands – he made short work of peeling/slicing the apples using Deb’s handy dandy Apple Peeler & Corer! (This is a very kid-friendly recipe and project, it turns out).

While Huxley was prepping the apples, I made the dough, cut it into four portions, rolled out the first.

Making The Kugel

Huxley topped the dough with strawberry jam and whole berry cranberry sauce, then he added a quarter of the apples, sprinkled raisins on top, I sprinkled the cinnamon and sugar on top of that, then flopped the dough around the topping and tipped it into the baking dish.

Huxley helped with all four kugels, making sure the one with the most apples was in his grandma’s dish.

The whole process didn’t take us long. We were done, washing up and all, in about an hour.

The kugels were left to bake for an hour and a half at 352°. I took them out and cooled them, then wrapped the one for me and put it in the freezer. The other three are in my fridge, each waiting to be sent to its proper home.

If you’re interested in trying a sweet kugel yourself, here’s the recipe and description of the process from my 2015 blog entry.

I couldn’t resist having a taste – I took a big spoonful from the one I saved for myself – the one now in my freezer.

Christmas Shortbread Bars

I don’t do a lot of Christmas baking – the fruitcakes and one other pastry – a large cookie sheet of shortbread topped with candied fruit, chocolate chips, shredded coconut, raisins, dried cranberries, chopped pecans all mixed together using Eagle Brand condensed milk! What could be bad about that, right?

The original idea came from a package of shortbread mix from Robin Hood Flour but they stopped making the kit a gazillion years ago. I have a great simple traditional shortbread recipe I use and add the topping and then I do my best to give this pastry away as fast as I can!

Christmas Shortbread Bars

Here is the recipe:

Mrs. Cooke’s Shortbread

(I double this recipe when I make my shortbread bars because I need enough shortbread to cover a large cookie sheet)
Preheat oven 350° F

  • 1/2 lb butter (at room temperature so you can cream it easily)
  • 1/2 c white sugar (this year I will use coconut palm sugar which I’m sure will work as well since I’m avoiding white sugar entirely in my diet)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (that’s real vanilla, please)
  • 2 c. white all purpose flour

Cream butter, add sugar, vanilla, and last the flour; Mix well until you have a crumbly texture
Dump onto a large non-stick (or parchment lined or Silpat covered) cookie sheet
Press firmly, particularly at the edges
Pierce with a fork to allow the shortbread to expand uniformly
Bake for 15 minutes, then rotate cookie sheet 180° so the shortbread bakes evenly, then bake for another 15 minutes.
The shortbread won’t be quite fully baked but that’s how you want it because you’re going to continue baking after you add the candied fruit topping. Let the shortbread cool for 10-15 minutes before proceeding

Candied Fruit Topping

  • 1 – 11/2 c shredded coconut (unsweetened if you have it)
  • 1 c of mixed candied fruit (with some chopped cherries and citron)
  • 1 c Thompson raisins (you can certainly use sultanas if you prefer them, or even currents)
  • 1 c chopped pecans (you could use walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts chopped)
  • 1/2 c dried cranberries
  • 1 c bitter-sweet chocolate chips (can also use semi-sweet – the point is dark rather than milk chocolate)
  • 1 can (room temperature) Eagle Brand Condensed Milk

Put all the topping ingredients into a large bowl, add the condensed milk and mix as well as you can – it’s a sticky mess but is it ever going to be good.

Spoon the fruit/condensed milk mixture onto the shortbread making sure you spread it evenly to cover the entire surface of the shortbread (try getting as close to the edges as you can – don’t want to waste any of this Christmas bar).

Bake 25-30 minutes at 350° – until the coconut begins to turn golden.

Cool on a rack, then cut into bars. I cut the entire concoction into 8 portions – which in turn can be cut into 12-16 bite-sized bars. This stuff is SOOO rich you don’t want to serve more (although you’ll want to eat more).

I make these Christmas bars about three-four weeks before Christmas. Slip each of the 8 portions into its own small ziploc plastic bag, store them in the fridge until I give them away.

Let me know how it goes if you decide to try them – they’ll be an instant favourite – trust me!

Cakes In The Oven…

Cakes In The Oven!

Two hours to prepare the pans (lining with parchement), mix the dry and wet ingredients, add dry to the fruit and mix well, add wet to the whole thing and mix again using a very strong long handled spoon/spatula/whatever you have including hands! I put my lobster pot in one of my kitchen sinks so I can reach inside it easily. I kept licking, then washing, my right hand as I mixed the fruit and batter.

I have 9 two pound loaf pans and 5 small pans now in a 325° oven and it already smells divine!

The small loaves will cook in about an hour/hour and a half; the larger loaves will likely take between 2 and 2 1/2 hours. I’ve set the time on my watch and will keep checking the oven to make sure all is well there.

Because the cakes are all packed in tightly, it takes longer for them to bake – the great thing is this concoction is very forgiving and because I want it baked but moist, slightly underbaking them isn’t a bad thing. I’ll take the cakes from the oven when a wood skewer comes out clean.

I’ll add a photo when I’ve taken the cakes from the oven and put them on racks to cool. It’s a wonderful site. One Christmas thing checked off my list.

Christmas Fruit Cake – Begun

Candied Fruit soaking with 400ml of dark rum

Canadian Thanksgiving was yesterday. Today it’s time to start making Christmas fruit cakes!

Last week I tried buying candied fruit – my usual Bulk Barn had none! Today, I checked out the store online, found another outlet – they still had “regular” candied fruit and red cherries (no “Delux” fruit mix, or green cherries, or candied pineapple). That’s OK, I bought extra red cherries, candied lemon/lime peel, Thompson raisins, dried cranberries, and date bits.

Preparing the fruit:

  • at least 2 lbs of mixed candied fruit (regular or deluxe)
  • 1 lb of red/green candied cherries
  • 1 lb Thompson raisins
  • whatever other dried fruit you like: dried cranberries, chopped dates, chopped apricots, etc.
  • a 500ml jar of orange marmalade (you could use grape jelly or strawberry jam) – DON’T leave this out

Next stop the liquor store to pick up a quart of dark rum. After some consultation with one of the guys who works there I chose a locally made dark rum he assured me would be “flavourful”.

  • ~400ml of dark rum (I used Fortress Dark Rum – smelled good!)

I came home, dug out my 27 litre tupperware covered bowl, added all the fruit plus a 500ml jar of good orange marmalade, then poured in half of that bottle of rum (about 400ml).

I mixed the whole thing using a strong wooden spoon (the mixture is VERY heavy), sealed the lid on, and now I wait. Tonight I will flip the bowl over onto the top, tomorrow morning I’ll flip it back to sit on it’s bottom, I’ll keep turning the whole thing twice a day for the better part of a week. By the end of the week there is no longer any liquid rum – it’s all be absorbed into the fruit!

That gives me more or less a week to pick up the other ingredients – butter, eggs, bittersweet baking chocolate, molasses (none left in the house); I have good vanilla, almond and orange extract, white and brown sugar and flour (although I’ll probably stop at Bulk Barn and pick a bit more of each of those just to be sure I have enough).

We could do a “bake-along”. You can find the full instructions here if you’re ready to tackle some early Christmas preparation.

The “recipe” produces a very flavourful moist fruitcake, if I say so myself. I say “recipe” in quotes because the amounts of fruit and ingredients for the batter are just guidelines – this is a VERY forgiving recipe – you want enough batter to coat all the fruit but not a whole lot more. The amount of fruit I’ve got soaking is going to give me 10 2lb cakes + 6-10 small loaf cakes. Plenty to give away.

BTW just halve the amounts of fruit above (and use the amounts in the actual recipe for dry and wet ingredients) and you’ll get a reasonable amount of cake. I use the amounts of fruit above, and double the wet and dry ingredients! For me a fruit cake (plus something I’ve sewn or knit) constitutes my Christmas giving, so I make a large number of cakes.

Skyline #3 – 3 / Christmas Fruit Cake

Skyline #3

This morning I managed to complete 24 more blocks (14 left to get me to 63 which I’ll get done tomorrow).

49 Blocks – 7 x 7

I’m not going for a traditional drunkard’s path layout – I want a relatively random layout with probably 5 complete circles (at the moment I have three) and the rest partial circles which creates the illusion of layers of circles. The colour flow is working out but I won’t be satisfied until I have all 63 blocks on the floor and I can photograph them and move them around.

If I stay with a 7 x 9 array (63 blocks) I will end up with a 40 1/4″ x 51 3/4″ panel. Since I want the final project to be close to the size of the other two quilts – 48″ x 64″ I can either do a narrow 1″ sashing with the dark blue grunge I used on the wedges and a 3″ border strip from the Skyline fabric. That gives me the width (40 1/4 + 2 + 6 = 48 1/4″) but short on length (51 3/4 + 2 + 6 = 59 3/4″). If I were to add a 10 row to the bottom, I’d end up at 57 1/2 + 2 + 6 = 65 1/2″.

Or another way to solve the size problem is to add two more rows and a column to make an 8 x 11 array (46″ x 63 1/4″), a wee bit shy on width and length but close enough to the other two that I could live with that. In this case I’d need 25 more blocks. I have the fabric to do that – I bought the end of the bolt, another 1 1/2m of the fabric, so I have more than enough to create the needed blocks.

What I’m liking about this latter idea is that it mirrors the more modern finish I’ve used on the other two quilts. To finish the panel with sashing and a border will make it look more like a conventional quilt even with a hidden binding.

So after I’ve laid out the 63 blocks and stitched them together I’ll audition the sashing/binding idea but I’ll probably take time to construct another 25 blocks….

Christmas Fruit Cake

Christmas Fruit Cake 2020

Canadian Thanksgiving was last weekend. I always make fruitcake just after Thanksgiving so two weeks ago I bought the candied fruit, raisins, dried cranberries, put it in my 27c Tupperware bowl with lid then added a pint of dark Barbados rum and left the mixture to soak for a week.

Today was the day. I’ve ended up with 10 2lb loaves (plus a single small cake) which will get wrapped in waxed paper, stored in a ziplock bag, and kept on the bottom shelf of my refrigerator for the next two months.

Right now, the cake is kind of “cake-y” but in two months time it will be dense and moist from the rum working it’s way from the saturated fruit into the cake. Just in time to give it away for the holiday.

That’s my single big Christmas preparation – all done.

This is my Fruit Cake recipe in case you want to give it a try. A very forgiving cake.

Gotta Share This – Torta Caprese

A couple of weeks ago, Saturday afternoon, I was watching America’s Test Kitchen on PBS. Among the dishes they made was a Torta Caprese – “an Italian flourless chocolate cake with finely ground almonds (which breaks up the heavy fudge crumb of most flourless chocolate cakes)”. They’re right – it does.

I went to the website to find the recipe: America’s Test Kitchen – Torta Caprese. I saved it, and printed it out. (If you can’t get to the recipe let me know because I created a PDF from the “print” pages and can pass that on.)

Torta Caprese

I was anticipating a very chocolate-y, light cake and it is.

Here is my torta caprese – I must explain why it doesn’t look like the one above (from America’s Test Kitchen).

Torta Caprese

First, there’s an ambiguity in the recipe – it calls for 2 cups (7 ounces) of almond flour – well, which is it? 2 cups or 7 ounces (and BTW my cup = 8 ounces, not 7, but I ignored that discrepancy.) I added 1 cup of almond flour at the appropriate place in the recipe, mixed it into the batter, and I thought the batter looked reasonably thick at that point but to be on the safe side, I added another 1/4 cup scoop of almond flour, just in case the batter really needed more. I’d say, having sampled the cake, that it’s just a tad on the dry side and next time I’d only add a single cup of almond flour.

Second, my springform pan is 9 1/2″ – I could have used a smaller diameter which would make the cake taller, or I could have baked it in a 8 1/2″ parchment-lined cake pan which would also have produced a taller cake.

Third, the recipe recommends turning the cake around half way through the baking. I did that, but had an accident! I was baking the cake in my convection toaster oven which is large enough for my spring form pan. I pulled out the rack to be able to reach  the cake pan when the rack tipped toward the back of the oven, the cake pan tipped spilling some batter into the oven. I managed to right the pan and the rack and get both back in position. I left the mess in the bottom of the oven hoping I’d be able to clean it reasonably easily if it didn’t bake on too badly. So the top of my Torta is kind of wonky having been disturbed half way through baking.

But I have to say the cake tastes “right some good” as folks say in this part of the country. Served warmed (I’d zap a slice in the microwave for, say, 12-15 seconds), with a spoonful of a good vanilla ice cream – a lovely dessert for guests.

I’m planning on cutting the cake into small portions, freezing each separately, and eating the whole thing myself – preferably over a period of weeks.

Craving Cocolate!

I ate the last of the chocolate I had in the apartment three days ago (except for the chocolate chips which I have been saving to make some cookies – more later).

This afternoon I found myself craving chocolate. I remembered the sugar/dairy free chocolate which I haven’t made for a number of years – I had the ingredients, I hauled them out, and put a batch together.

Sugar/Dairy Free Chocolate

I more or less followed the recipe – I added ground cacao nibs, some finely chopped candied ginger and dried cranberries along with finely ground hazel nuts. This batch should last me a couple of weeks. A little satisfies.

Click here for the recipe and other commentary.

The chocolate was actually the second thing I made. I started with Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies (Flourless, No Butter). (I made a batch last week which are, of course, gone.)

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Another recipe I didn’t follow precisely. I used both chunky and smooth peanut butter, but I also had a small amount of tahini I wanted to use up which I threw in. In addition to the oatmeal (called for in the recipe), I added 1/2c finely ground hazelnuts; forgot raisins or dried cranberries.

No flour in the recipe, no butter. What makes this very sticky dough is the nut butter/egg combination. The only way to get it onto the cookie sheet is to pick some up with a tablespoon and push it onto the cookie sheet using a teaspoon. You can’t handle it. The Silpat baking mat makes it easy to remove the cookies when baked and cooled. I store them in the refrigerator.

Says to bake for 9-12 minutes; I baked these for close to 15 before I thought they were firm enough to take out of the oven.

They are “right some good!”

[A recommendation from my friend Susan in Alberta:

I made the peanut butter cookie recipe you posted on your blog. Wow!They are great.David loves them.I broke up a dark chocolate bar. 90% cacao to add since I didn’t have dairy free chocolate chips. It will be a standard recipe now for us. April 11/2020]

The cooking/baking overcame me AFTER I finished up the face masks from yesterday, washed them and hung them to dry.

Today’s Batch Of Masks Hanging To Dry

I have to collect 20 of them, pack them up to courier to Toronto tomorrow. I have another batch of 40 sitting by machine ready to work on when I get up in the morning.

There’s now a huge controversy raging over whether there’s any value to these face masks or not. One of the local seniors’ homes has put out a call to the local sewing guilds to please make face masks for them. So whether public health considers them useful or not, clearly there is a demand in my community.

Rhubarb Ginger Jam

Several months ago a friend gave me a jar of rhubarb ginger jam – oh wow! It has the sharpness of the rhubarb and the liveliness of the ginger. Delicious on toast, but amazing on ice cream! Good with roast pork… There are a ton of ways you can pair this jam to make something remarkable – it’s just a matter of imagination.

Rhubarb Ginger Jam

My jar of jam is just about empty. Time to make some for myself. I checked out several recipes online – the one I decided to try was the one I found at “all recipes.com“. My friend got her recipe from the UK Certo website. (You can also download their book of recipes).

I started with a bag of frozen rhubarb (early January is definitely not rhubarb season although fresh rhubarb was what the recipe called for), put it in a pot (still frozen), added three tablespoons of grated fresh ginger root (I keep my ginger root in the freezer and grate it as I need it, works fine), three cups of sugar (next time I’ll try 2 1/2 cups – it shouldn’t affect the sweetness all that much and will reduce the quantity of sugar used; I might even be able to get away with 2 cups), and three tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice (no substitute for this).

Started the mixture on a low heat to defrost the rhubarb – once it was softened, I turned the heat up to medium high, brought the mixture to a boil, turned it down to medium and boiled for 15 minutes until the rhubarb was falling apart. (Here’s where I cheated a bit – I used my immersion blender to break up the remaining intact pieces of rhubarb after boiling for 15 minutes, but didn’t whiz it enough to purée the jam).

The recipe made 5 small bottles of jam which will go into my refrigerator as soon as it’s cooled to room temperature.

I couldn’t resist tasting as I went along – I admit to licking the spoon and the pot before cleaning them. The taste is heavenly. Do try it.

Christmas Shortbread Bars

1/8 of Cookie Sheet

I described in December of 2015 how I make my Christmas Shortbread Bars. I related their history and offered recipe information.

They are a once-a-year-thing, for the Christmas season. I made them again yesterday – the photo above is 1/8 of the large cookie sheet I made. It’s enough for a gift – it can, in turn, be cut into 12 – 16 bite size pieces – more than enough for anyone to taste because these bars are VERY rich.

So if you are interested in how I make them check out that earlier writing – Christmas Shortbread Bars. They’re easy to make, pretty fool-proof. And if you make them once, I guarantee you’ll make them again next year.

The story from yesterday is I thought I had assembled all the ingredients. I made the shortbread and baked it for 15 minutes to set it up. I had the topping ingredients in a bowl ready to be mixed when I discovered I had no condensed milk to glue everything together. So off to the supermarket to get some. While I was there I picked up some of the ingredients I need for the Christmas Sweet Kugel – more about that next week after I make a batch of them. Came home, mixed the topping, spread it over the now-cooled, partially baked shortbread, put the full, heavy cookie sheet back in the 350° oven to bake for another 20ish minutes – until the coconut began turning golden.

You can see, this pastry is forgiving – it turned out fine and the gals in my knitting group today enjoyed it. Now to refrain from eating any more myself!

Vegetarian Chili

Fall has arrived here in Nova Scotia – it’s drizzly today and windy with a chill in the air. A perfect day to make a large pot of chili.

This time I decided to make it vegetarian. I guess that was because I had been listening to a CBC radio program “White Coat, Black Art” – today’s episode was a repeat of an earlier one on a plant based diet. I’m eating less meat than I used to, so I thought a vegetarian chili would be a good thing to have in my freezer.

A Pot Of Vegetarian Chili

Here is the recipe (see below) I sort of used – it calls for onions, bell peppers, carrots, celery, cans of tomatoes and corn, white and red kidney beans… In addition, I substituted a jar of flame roasted red peppers (Unico) for the bell peppers, added mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli, leftover coleslaw cabbage, 1/3 can tomato paste, a good glug of tomato ketchup (French’s), a splash of HP sauce, and squeezed cilantro paste from a tube to liven the flavour.

Vegetarian Chili Recipe

In other words, since I was making a vegetarian chili I simply emptied my fridge, tossing in whatever vegetables were there.

My final secret ingredient was a full teaspoon of Sambal Oelek which gives the chili a lovely “zip” – you have to be careful with the amount because a very little goes a l-o-n-g way. It gives you heat with a hint of garlic, but doesn’t  overpower the chili flavour.

The pot’s still simmering.I will leave it on low heat for another 10 minutes or so to give the carrots, cauliflower, cabbage time to soften more. Then I’ll set the pot aside to cool before putting single servings in containers and stashing them in my freezer.

Yum!