Christmas Pudding

This year I wanted to try something different and twist up my Christmas baking routine. Instead of ginger cookies and German zimtsterne (cinnamon stars), I went for Christmas pudding — a classic British Christmas sweet that dates back to the Victorian era.
I went online and watched a few YouTube videos (like this one here) and recipes that helped me figure things out. I actually made two Christmas puddings, and for the second one — that I’ll bring to my Uncle’s house on Christmas day — I strayed and made up my own version. Here’s the recipe — along with lots of photos to help you out (I find that helps if you’ve never made something before).

MARY’s XMAS PUDDING 

Ingredients: 

  • 1 cup dried chopped dates
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 1/2 cup dried sultanas (raisins)
  • (*** note any 3 1/2 cup mixture of dried fruit will work. You can use dried apricots, currants, raisins, dates, even figs)
  • 1 cup sweet vermouth (the red kind)
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 cup organic flour
  • 1 cup golden sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 grated organic apple
  • the zest of 1 organic lemon
  • 2 teaspoons of cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 2 sprinkles of nutmeg

Here’s how it’s done: 

1)  Mix the dried fruit together in a medium sized mixing bowl. Pour the vermouth over it and mix with a wooden mixing spoon. Cover and let sit for 2 hours – 3 days. The fruit will take up the vermouth flavour (*** note you can also use brandy or rum instead of the vermouth, but just use less (1/2 – 3/4 cup) as it has a much stronger flavour).

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Soak fruit in sweet vermouth, brandy or rum for a a minimum of 2 hours. 

2) Add the remaining ingredients to the dried fruit and mix batter well – it will resemble a cake batter. Grease a mold or pudding basin with butter – I used a cake pan that I bought at a flea market in France. It turned out to be the perfect size.

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Use a larger grater for the apple, a smaller one for the lemon zest (the lemon pee). 

3) Pour the mixture into the greased mold and pat down lightly. Next, cut a round piece of waxed paper to cover the cake mold – leave about two inches over the sides – and grease it. Place it over the mold (greased side down so the pudding doesn’t stick to it) and then cover it with tin foil. Using a string, tie the foil so it is as air tight as possible and so no water can get in while the pudding steams.

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This was the only string I could find. It did the trick, but a smaller string will certainly do.

4) Take a large pot (your mold needs to fit in when the lid is on the pot) and place a saucer upside down on the bottom of it to rest the cake mold on (the mold can not touch the bottom of the pot, or it will burn). Place the filled cake mold on it and fill it with water about 3/4 up the sides. Place the lid on and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer or very light boil (I left mine on setting “1”).

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5) Simmer/ steam for 3 1/2 (3.5) hours with the lid on, checking to make sure there is enough water in the pot — at least half of the mold/ pudding basin should be covered. Let cool for at least 45 minutes, and then turn the mold over and tap until the pudding falls out. It should be the perfect shape of the mold you used and slide right out!

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6) Enjoy — typically with brandy butter or egg nog cream or whiskey cream. I didn’t bother with a butter or cream — I like it enough on its own and I’ve never been one for icing or sweet sauces. That said, I do think a nice cream would marry well with this quintessential Christmas dessert!

 

Notes from a Food and Peace Travel Diary, Part I

      I’ve been back in Europe for a week or so and so far it’s just as tasty and chic as I remembered. I’ve visited two culturally-rich (to say the least) cities so far: Munich and Paris. It’s been a great time filled with work (of course, this isn’t all about traveling), visiting old friends, some great dining and eye-candyish site seeing. Europe, I love you and it’s great to be back.

     My adventure began in Paris, where I stayed in a cute Parissienne apartment on the outskirts of the city that I found through Airbnb. The truly memorable food thing about Paris in my opinion is hands down the pastries and sweets. Think macaroons everywhere, patisseries and cakes of every shape and colour imaginable and layers and layers of cream upon cream. One day I met up with a friend and we promenaded around the Notre Dame area before stopping at one of the oh-so-many cafes for a coffee. I decided to try a chocolate brioche – and to my surprise it was a lot lighter than any brioche I’ve ever had or made at home.

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     After about three days in dessert heaven, I boarded a bus and headed to Munich to visit two other friends. Munich surprised me. The last time I was here was 12 years ago when a friend and I met to go to Oktoberfest. This trip was totally different. The Bavarian capital is bursting with history, knodel (Bavarian dumplings) and more fine desserts. I know I maybe shouldn’t say this, but I do think that southern German cuisine stands out above the rest. From the bier steins to the prezels, many food traditions are to be found here. By the way – have you ever noticed how prezels kind of resemble a peace sign?

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     On a Saturday afternoon, I took a break from my writing and decided to visit the “Munich Residenz”, the former living quarters of the Bavarian Monarchs. I was astonished by the paintings and utter elaborateness of the once-upon-a-time palace. Holding a digital tour guide to my right ear, I learned about the Wittelsbach family and caught a glimpse of how they lived hundreds of years ago. I also saw lots of statues of men with armor and swords. I instantly thought about how times have changed and it became clear to me how opulence and riches  were achieved through separateness and violence.

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      In one of the rooms, there were beautiful paintings of ‘commoners’ harvesting food, like this painting of a woman chopping wheat with a sickle. I stood stunned by the sheer simplicity of the paintings.

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     After I left the Residenz, I took a short walk to Munich’s Angel of Peace, a gorgeous statue and fountain built in memory of the 25 years of peace after the 1870/1871 Franco German war. Looking up at the golden female heralding in the grey sky, I thought about how it would simply be wonderful if there was more peace in the world, and if people didn’t resort to violence and military means to solve problems. The statue for peace is simply living proof that throughout history many others have wanted the same.

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Angel of Peace, Munich, Germany

 

Foolproof Chocolate Mousse – with Rosewater

Yesterday I made chocolate mousse – or mouse au chocolat as the the French would say! I’ve discovered that this classy and classic dessert is easy to make. I had some extra egg whites to use up, so I thought of one of all-time favourite treats and added rosewater to it for a new twist.

It’s quick to make, you just need a bit of time to let it sit and firm up in the fridge (a minimum of 4 hours).

Here’s the ingredients:

  • 3 -4 ounces of dark chocolate (= 3 -4 squares, if you just use three you can add a tablespoon of cocoa powder, as I did. If you use extra dark chocolate squares, add a tablespoon of sugar when you take the melted chocolate off the heat. )
  • 3 egg yolks
  •  6 egg whites (you can use 5 egg whites, dessert will just be less fluffy)
  • 1 teaspoon of rosewater

Here’s how you make it:

1. Melt the chocolate in a double broiler. If you don’t have one, you can also place a smaller pan inside a larger one that’s filled with water, as I did.

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2. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites.

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3. If the chocolate is still melting, begin to beat the egg whites. If the chocolate has melted already, remove it from the heat and set it aside. Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks are formed.

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4. Add the egg yolks to the chocolate one at a time, stirring well with a small whisk. then add the rosewater and still well until the mixture is shiny and smooth.

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5. Gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture until well blended. I used a large metal spoon. Make sure to scrape the crevices around the bottom of the pan to get all the melted chocolate. The mixture will be airy and runny, but don’t worry, it will set in the fridge.

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6. Pour the mixture into 4 – 6 dessert bowls or a large serving dish. I used ramekins – the same ones I used to make creme brulee. Put these in the on a plate in the fridge – an upper shelf so that nothing falls on them, you can also place them in a container – and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

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7. Remember of course that too much sugar isn’t good! There is also a vegan way to make this – with avocados or soft tofu and cocoa power, I’ve had both before and they are both quite nice. As you’ll find, this delight is easier than you think to make. Enjoy!!

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A Short History of High Tea and a Review of The Tea Party

With these chilly and rainy days I’ve been drinking lots of tea lately. I’ve also been thinking about my first time trying “high tea” this past Spring in Ottawa. It was at The Tea Party on York Street – right next to Ottawa’s busy Byward Market on a day that would turn dark and rainy in the afternoon.

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I’ll have to admit that the first time I ever heard the words “high” and “tea” together the word posh quickly came to mind. It immediately made me think of crowns and dainty, flowery porcelain tea cups and strict social etiquette. It was a colleague who first told me about it. “They bring you your tea and then plates filled with tiny sandwiches and scones with cream and jam,” she told me. However lavish the activity sounded at the time, it nevertheless did cause my curious foodie eyebrow to raise with interest.

Here in Canada, today’s high tea costs anywhere between $15 and upwards of $60 (and beyond) per person. It usually consists of a personal pot of tea (of course) followed by a layered plate filled with sandwich squares or wedges on the bottom layer, scones with fresh cream and jam, as well as tiny sweets and squares on the other plate layers.

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I did some research on the history of high tea and most of the sources I found report how high tea first became customary in the mid 1700’s among Britain’s working class men. According to the Carrington Hotel, the meal was called high tea because the working men usually took their high tea standing at around 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Over time, the occasion was adopted by other groups, including nobles and aristocrats.

And today, over 300 years later, one can still enjoy high tea in Canada and elsewhere around the world. My high tea was enjoyed as a brunch before I set off to go site seeing for the day. I was pleased to find a restaurant that serves up the meal for what I consider quite a reasonable price. For $15 dollars I tried this traditional meal while surrounded by jars of dried tea.

My favourite part of all was surely the still-warm scone with the clotted cream and smooth strawberry jam. I also enjoyed the carefully-prepared vegetarian sandwiches. Being a huge fan of Alice in Wonderland, the cafe’s Mad Hatter theme was also my cup of tea. This was a great start to my day and I imagine it would be enjoyed in the afternoon, as is customary, or anytime really.

high tea at The Tea Party in Ottawa

The Tea Party, Ottawa, Canada

Easy Pumpkin Pie

Easy Pumpkin Pie

Here’s my recipe for easy pumpkin pie — a dessert I love as much as fall itself.  This is quite a simple pumpkin pie recipe. You can use a real pumpkin and bake it for about an hour at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (a small one, you cut it in half and take the seeds out first). I was kind of lazy and bought canned pumpkin. Next time I would love to try it with real pumpkin. You can either make your own pie crust (simple pie crust recipe below) or buy one.

Ingredients – pie crust:

  • 1 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour (105 grams)
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 cup cold, unsalted butter (115 grams)
  • 6-8 tablespoons cold water

Ingredients – pumpkin pie filling:

  • 1 1/2 cups pureed pumpkin (canned or fresh) (330 grams)pumpkin pie spices
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup (60 ml)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar (55 grams)
  • 1/2 cup almond milk (125 ml)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

How to make THE pumpkin pie

1. First make the pie crust. In a large bowl mix the flour and salt. Then cut the butter into the flour using a pastry cutter or two butter knives. What I did was first shave the butter off with a butter knife and then I mixed it using the pastry cutter and eventually my hands. You want the mixture to be in pea-sized pieces. You can use your hands towards the end, but not too much because it’s important for the butter to stay cold. Once it’s in pea-sized pieces, slowly add the water. First add 6 tablespoons and mix it with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together. Add more water if necessary until the dough is one big ball. Cover the bowl and place in the fridge for about 20- 30 minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius).

3. In a large bowl, combine all of the fillings for the pie filling – everything!! You can whisk the eggs before adding them in a separate bowl if you wish. Mix everything together with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth. Set side.

4. Take the chilled pie dough out of the fridge. Roll out the dough onto a floured surface using a rolling pin. Place your pie plate over the dough to see how spread out you need the dough to be. For a 25 cm (~10 inches) pie plate, it should be about 27 cm (~10.5 inches) in diameter. Place the pie dough into the pie dish and press it lightly to it it into the pan.

Press the pie dough lightly into the pie pan

Press the pie dough lightly into the pie pan

5. Next, pour the filling into the unbaked pie crust. Place in the oven and bake for 1 hour (60 minutes).

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Pour the pie filling into the pie crust.

6. Let cool for about 1/2 an hour (or longer) before cutting. Enjoy ♥

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Salted Crème Brûlée

Wow! I decided I would make crème brûlée the other day. This dessert really is easy to make and its so creamy and delicious. You can make amazing crème brûlée right at home! The dessert is from France, but other variations of it exist in Spain as well (crema Catalana). One day I’ll make the very similar crème caramel and post the recipe here. But for now, here are the steps to make a delicious, creamy, silky creme brûlée . Enjoy ♥!

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Ingredients: 

  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream (35%) (375 ml)
  • 1/2 cup almond milk (or any other kind of milk) (125 ml)
  • 1/2 vanilla bean
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup white/ granulated sugar (115 grams)
  • some sea salt and about 3 tablespoons brown sugar

Here’s how it’s done:

1.Preheat oven to 350 degree Fahrenheit (180 Celsius).

2.Pour the cream and milk into a small saucepan. Cut the half vanilla in half and scrape out the insides with a butter knife into the cream/milk. Whisk the mixture and bring to a simmer over low heat. Remove from heat, cover and let stand for 15 minutes. This will give your creme brûlées a strong vanilla flavour. If you don’t have a vanilla bean just add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract to the cream and milk and skip this step.

recipe creme brulee

First bring cream, milk and vanilla bean to a simmer.

3. In a bowl whisk the egg yolks with the sugar and add the cream/milk-vanilla mixture.

Mix egg yolks, sugar and cream/milk mixture.

Mix egg yolks, sugar and cream/milk mixture.

4.Pour this mixture into 6 small ramekins. Place the ramekins into a baking sheet and fill the baking sheet with water until the water reaches up to about half of the ramekin sides.

Place the filled ramekins into a baking sheet and fill the sheet with water around the ramekins .

Place the filled ramekins into a baking sheet and fill the sheet with water around the ramekins .

5.Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. To see if they are done, insert a knife and see if it comes out clean; if it does they are done, if not they need to go back in the oven. Check every five minutes to see if they are done.

6.When they are done, take them out of the oven and let them cool (for a 1/2 hour or so) before putting them into the fridge for at least 2 hours.

7. Just before serving, pack a thin layer of brown sugar over the creme brûlées and sprinkle some sea salt over the brown sugar. Now comes the flaming part! Use either a kitchen torch and flame the top quickly or broil* them in the oven for about 2 minutes (what I did- place your oven rack as close to the top burner as possible). Be careful not to leave it in too long, or you may end up with creme brûlée that tastes and looks like a burnt marshmallow.

And that’s it! Enjoy!

*Broiling is cooking/ warming something using the top burner in the oven only. You can use the broil setting to melt cheese on toast or nachos, for example.

Hint: You can keep the egg yolks and use them for an omelette or even chocolate mousse.

creme brulee recipe

Simple Chocolate Cake

This recipe is my Grandma’s favourite! It was passed down to her from her mother, who got it from her mother. So, this is a 4th generation recipe. It’s very easy to make! It takes about 20 minutes. Try and work with ingredients at room temperature.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups granulated sugar (250 grams)
  • ½ cup butter at room temperature (115 grams)
  • 3 eggs at room temperature
  • ¾ cup cocoa powder (85 grams)
  • 1 ½ cup cake flour (165 grams)
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup of almond milk (250 ml)
  • 1 cup hot water (250 ml)
  • Coconut oil, butter or any light-tasting oil for pan greasing

Here’s how it’s done:

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2) Using  a hand-held or stand-up mixer, cream the butter and sugar at medium-low speed. Slowly add in the eggs one a time and mix well until smooth.

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Cream the butter and sugar, then add the eggs.

3) Add the remaining ingredients except for the hot water. Mix with a wooden spoon or on very low speed with the mixer. Slowly add in the hot water, mixing until a smooth batter is formed.

The batter should be smooth like this.

The batter should be smooth like this.

4) Grease a 9×9 inch square pan (23×23 cm) or a 9inch (23 cm) bundt cake pan. You can use any shape of pan you like!  Bake for 40 minutes. To see if it’s done, place a long toothpick or something very skinny into the centre of the cake. If it comes out clean, it’s done! If not, the cake still has some baking to do. Place it back in the oven and keep checking every five minutes until your skinny thing comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool before cutting it or taking it out of the pan.

Note: This cake is really pretty when it’s lightly dusted with icing/confectioners’ sugar. Allow the cake to cool ten minutes and then sprinkle icing sugar over the cake with a sifter or mesh strainer.

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