Vanilla Cornmeal Wedges

Yield: 32 cookies
Recipe: 99/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 26

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     Two weeks ago I realized that I had no dessert or snacks at home, so I decided to make these vanilla cornmeal wedges to have something to munch on. The result was a funny but sad turnout. As I went to take out the pan 20 minutes after putting it in the oven, I touched it and thought that it would benefit from several extra minutes of baking. I repeated this two times. Turns out that my oven died on me that very day! So the dessert that I had so lovingly prepared was just sitting in a broken oven that wouldn’t turn on. Quite sad indeed. It wasn’t fixed for another week, so last weekend I repeated the recipe to, finally, have a snack on hand. This recipe was easy to do (both times) and although simple these wedges taste very good. I used 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract as well as all the seeds from a vanilla bean, so not only were the wedges sprinkled with delicious black vanilla seeds everywhere, but the vanilla flavour was enhanced and very fitting with the shortbread. At first bite I was surprised by the crunch of the cornmeal, as I had never baked with cornmeal and didn’t know what to expect. However, after eating many of these wedges I came to appreciated this little surprise crunch in every bite. This is a simple, fast yet satisfying recipe!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract *
  • 1/3 cup cornmeal
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1  2/3  cups all-purpose flour

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two 9-inch removable-bottom fluted tart pans and set the pans in a baking tray.
  2. Using a hand or stand mixer, beat the butter for 2 minutes.
  3. Add the sugar and beat for another 2 minutes.
  4. Stir in the vanilla (either paste, extract and/or beans).
  5. Stir in the cornmeal, cornstarch and salt. Mix until well blended.
  6. Add the flour in two additions, blending well between each.
  7. Divide the dough between the two pans, then press the dough using floured fingers so that it covers the bottom of the pans. Cut each pan of dough into 16 wedges.     Note: the dough will be soft.
  8. Bake for about 20 minutes, until just the edges of the shortbread begin to brown. Remove the pans from the oven and while still warm, cut each pan of shortbread into 16 wedges again. Cool completely in the pan before serving or storing.

* I supplemented 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract with the seeds of a vanilla bean. Simply scrape them in the batter prior to baking.

Valerie

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Coconut Cake with Seven-Minute Frosting

Yield: one 8-inch two-layer cake
Recipe: 98/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 148

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     I enjoy coconut desserts as much as the next girl, and since it had been quite some time I decided to make a nice big cake – for no occasion at all other than pure enjoyment. Simply put, the cake is delicious. The coconut flavour is subtle, but the coconut flakes mixed in the batter give the cake a very nice texture. The cake is dense but still moist, as it should. Coupled with the heavenly and beautiful glossy-white seven-minute frosting, the cake looks superb. I would advise not putting too much frosting between the two layers, since when I did so the cake is so heavy that most of the frosting was pushed to the outside! What I particularly like about this frosting is that it hardens as it cools, thus making it lovely in appearance. I keep it on a cake stand on my kitchen table covered with a transparent bowl, and whenever I lift it I get a whiff of coconut – lovely!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature, separated
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup coconut milk
  • 2/3 cup sweetened flaked coconut, lightly toasted
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 recipe Seven-Minute Frosting
  • 1 cup sweetened flaked coconut, for garnish

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 8-inch round cake pans, tapping out any excess flour, then line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper.
  2. Using  a hand or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and 3/4 cup of the sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the egg yolks and beat well, making sure to scrape the sides of the bowl.
  4. Beat in the vanilla extract and lemon zest.
  5. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the butter mixture in three separate additions, alternating with the coconut milk, while mixing at low speed.
  6. Stir in the toasted coconut flakes and mix well. The batter will be quite dense.
  7. In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar until they are foamy, then slowly pour in the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar. Whip at high speed using a hand or stand mixer until the whites form a soft peak.
  8. Fold half of the whites into the cake batter and mix gently until almost all of the egg whites are incorporated, then fold in the remaining whites until evenly incorporated.
  9. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans and spread evenly. Bake the cakes for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean.
  10. Cool the cake in the pans for 20 minutes, then turn the cakes out to cool to room temperature completely before frosting with the Seven-Minute Frosting. Frost the cake layers with an offset spatula, making swirls as you go. Press the coconut flakes onto the sides of the cake and let the cake set, uncovered, for 1 hour. The cake will keep well, covered, at room temperature for 3 days.

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Valerie

Seven-Minute Frosting

Yield: about 2  1/2 cups
Recipe: 97/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 150

    The next cake I planned to make was the delicious-looking coconut cake, so of course I had to make this seven-minute frosting to accompany it. I whisked the frosting by hand (but barely made it!) and was surprised by how well it all came together. I am usually not quite successful with egg whites, but this frosting recipe turned out marvellous. It is indeed very marshmallowy, both in texture and taste, and is as white and glossy as the first snow the fell upon us in Montreal. It looks beautiful (the frosting) and tastes even better. Give it a try!

Ingredients:

  • 1  1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/4 cup ice water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Fill a saucepot with 2 inches of water and bring to a simmer.
  2. In a metal bowl, whisk together the sugar, egg whites, cream of tartar and water. Place the bowl over the pot of simmering water and whisk either by hand or using a hand mixer at medium-high speed for 7 minutes. The frosting will tun white and double in volume, but will still be a bit fluid by the end of the 7 minutes.
  3. Remove the bowl from the heat and add the vanilla extract. Whip the frosting on high speed using a hand or stand mixer until it becomes thicker and a spreadable consistency, about 5 minutes. Use the frosting immediately, while still warm, as it will solidify considerably as it cools down.

Notes from Anna:

  • This frosting is best for cakes that do not need refrigeration.
  • Using ice water helps the mixture to heat up gradually while whisking. This, in turn, allows the sugar to melt evenly before the frosting starts gaining volume.
  • If, after you have cooked your meringue for 7 minutes while whipping, you notice that it is grainy looking, do not panic! Simply add hot water, ½ teaspoon at a time, and whip it in until the icing looks smooth. This could take up to 2 tablespoons of water. This extra step should melt any sugar granules and return your frosting to its fluffy, marshmallowy state.

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Valerie

Two-Crust Caramel Apple Pie

Yield: one 9-inch pie
Recipe: 96/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 86

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     For my birthday we went apple picking as per my request since it is my favorite fall activity, and thus we had a ton of apples chilling in the fridge. The most normal thing to do with so many apples was to make an apple pie. My boyfriend loves caramel even more than he does apples I think, so I decided to try making this caramel apple pie recipe. It is a traditional apple pie but with a caramel flavor. However, I think that I did not let the sugar caramelize long enough because the caramel flavor was more subtle than I would have like. I guess I was worried that the caramel would burn, since the line between a perfect amber caramel and burnt caramel is very fine. Nonetheless, the pie was good, caramel was oozing out of the pie and we destroyed it in a matter of days.

Ingredients:

  • 1 recipe Double-Crust Pie Dough, chilled
  • 3 tablespoons rolled oats
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 6 cups peeled and sliced apples, such as Mutsu or Granny Smith
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Ingredients for brushing:

  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • Turbinado or granulated sugar for sprinkling

Directions:

  1. Pulled the chilled pie dough out of the fridge 30 minutes before rolling. Lightly dust the bottom of a 9-inch pie plate with flour, and place it on a parchment- or foil-lined baking tray.
  2. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one disc of the pastry to just under ¼ inch thick. Lift the rolled dough, line the pie plate with it and sprinkle the pastry with the oats. Roll out the second disc of pastry to ¼ inch thick and cut a one-inch hole in the centre of the pastry so that the steam can escape as the pie bakes. Chill both the line pie plate and rolled top crust while preparing the filling.
  3. Preheat the oven to 400°F. In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepot, bring the water, sugar and lemon juice to a boil without stirring. Continue to boil the sugar without stirring, ocassionnally brushing the sides of the pot with water, until the sugar caramelizes, about 3 minutes.
  4. Add the apples all at once at stir to coat.
  5. Add the butter and cinnamon to the caramel-apple mixture and stir. Once the juices return the a simmer, remove the pot from the heat and cool for 5 minutes.
  6. Pull the chilled pie shell from the fridge and pour the apples and all the juices into it. Do not worry about the excess liquid, the juices will be absorbed into the apples as the pie bakes.
  7. Top the fruit with the second rolled piece of pie pastry. Trim the excess dough and pinch the edges of the pastries into a decorative pattern, if you so desire.
  8. Whisk the egg with the water, and brush the pie dough with the mixture to obtain a golden brown color as it bakes. Sprinkle with sugar.
  9. One the prepared baking tray, bake the pie for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 375°F and bake for another 30-40 minutes, until the crust is an even golden brown. Let the pie cool at least 3 hours before slicing, or chill to serve cold.

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Valerie

Earl Grey Chiffon Cake with Maple Meringue Frosting

Yield: one 10-inch tube cake
Recipe: 95/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 151

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    At my workplace we have this lovely tradition that when it is someone’s birthday, the person whose birthday it was previously is in charge of making or buying a cake for them. Since mine was two weeks ago I had the privilege and mission of baking a cake for my boss. Knowing that he is not a big fan of very sweet desserts, I thought that I would try this recipe for an Earl Grey chiffon cake. I had never made a chiffon cake before so was happy to try it. It was more time-consuming to make than I had expected, many more steps, but in the end I managed. Due to the fact that the egg whites have to be whipped and the tea-chocolate-lemon-dry ingredients mixture prepared separately, you should give yourself a good hour to make the cake. It is not a complicated cake to make per se, but the recipe requires some level of technical skills that have to be put to use. If you take your time and follow the recipe to the tea you should have no problem at all.

    Once I poured the mixture into the tube pan I was a) excited somehow that the pan was ungreased and b) a bit doubting that it would work and that the cake would not remain permanently stuck to the cake pan. My cake took a bit longer to bake than the recipe recommends, about 60-70 minutes instead, but that may just be because of my inadequate and old oven. My favorite part of making this cake was spreading the sexy white, glossy maple meringue frosting onto the cake. What a delight! The frosting was delicious. Flavorful but not too sweet as many frostings are. The cake itself was also very good. A lot of flavors going on there, but not overwhelmingly so. You can definitely taste the Earl Grey tea and the lemon zest, while the chocolate and vanilla are more subtle. Very light and scrumptious cake; so much so that you won’t even feel guilty if you take two slices! I brought the cake to work the next day and it was faced with great feedback. Everyone loved it and claimed that it was the best cake I ever made. Even better than my carrot cake, apparently. I find that hard to believe, but this Earl Grey chiffon cake was indeed delicious. If you are looking to impress someone that is not a fan of too-sweet desserts, I urge you to try this recipe. As Anna herself mentioned in the cookbook, this is also one of my favorite recipes as of yet.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tea bags Earl Grey
  • ¾ cup boiling water
  • 8 egg whites, at room temperature
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 2 ¼ cups cake and pastry flour*
  • 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 3 oz (90 g) milk chocolate, chopped and melted
  • 1 recipe Maple Meringue Frosting

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F.
  2. Steep the tea bags in the boiling water until the water cools to room temperature. Without squeezing the excess liquid, remove the bags, then top up the water to its original ¾ cup measure.
  3. With a hand or stand mixer, whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar until the mixture is foamy, then slowly add ¼ cup of the sugar and continue whipping until the whites hold a medium peak. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl or, ideally, into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, sift together the flour, the remaining 1 ¼ cup sugar, baking powder and salt.
  5. Add the cooled tea, vegetable oil, egg yolks, vanilla extract and lemon zest. Whip this mixture on high speed until it is thick, about 4 minutes.
  6. Add the melted milk chocolate and whip on low speed until blended.
  7. Gently fold in half of the egg whites by hand with a spatula until they are incorporated. Fold in the remaining whites. Note: Don’t worry if the batter is a bit fluid.
  8. Pour this mixture into an ungreased (yes, ungreased!) 10-inch tube pan. Bake the cake for 50 to 55 minutes, until the top of the cake springs back when gently pressed and until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Invert the cake pan onto a cooling rack and cool the cake upside down in its pan. To extract the cake, run a knife or spatula around the outside edge of the cake, then tap the cake out onto a plate.
  9. Use a spatula to spread the maple meringue frosting over the entire surface of the cake. You can use a small spatula to frost the cake inside the centre hole

Notes from Anna:

  • The cake can be stored at room temperature until ready to serve. It will keep up to 3 days.

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Valerie

Maple Meringue Frosting

Yield: about 2 ½ cups
Recipe: 94/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 152

    An earl grey chiffon cake with maple meringue frosting evidently calls for… maple meringue frosting. I thus made this lovely frosting recipe and was surprised by the fact that I could do it and furthermore that it was delicious (and not too sweet)! Frostings are usually not my forte, but this recipe is fail-proof and was just the right consistency for spreading. As a bonus, it is very glossy since it consists mostly of egg-whites, so very appealing on cakes.

Ingredients:

  • 2 egg whites, at room temperature
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ¾ cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. With a hand or stand mixer, whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar until foamy, then add the sugar and whip the whites just to a soft peak.
  2. In a small saucepot, bring the maple syrup to a boil and cook uncovered and without stirring until it reaches a temperature of 242°F on a candy thermometer.
  3. While beating the egg whites on medium speed, carefully pour the maple syrup into the meringue by pouring it down slowly down the side of the bowl. Continue whipping until the mixture has cooled but is not quite room temperature, about 3 minutes.
  4. Stir in the vanilla extract.

Notes from Anna:

  • This frosting should be used immediately after frosting.

Valerie

Classic Chocolate Sauce

Yield: 1 cup
Recipe: 93/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 319

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     It is a well known fact that I am a lover of chocolate and, to warm my heart, of hot chocolates. When I am feeling fancy I like to top it with a heap of homemade whipping cream and small pieces of broken peppermint candies. However, this time I thought that I would try this chocolate sauce recipe and drizzle it atop the whipping cream. I didn’t have bittersweet chocolate at home so I used dark chocolate and the sauce tasted good nonetheless. A bit sweeter than the use of bittersweet chocolate would have provided, but still very much enjoyable. This is an easy recipe for a good chocolate sauce that can be drizzled on top of, well, pretty much anything. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup whipping cream (i.e. heavy 35% cream)
  • 3 oz. (90 g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon brandy (optional)

Directions:

  1. Stir the cream, chocolate, butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and salt together in a heavy-bottomed saucepot over medium-low heat until melted and smooth.
  2. Remove the sauce from the heat. If adding brandy, do it now. Serve the sauce warm or at room temperature.

Notes from Anna:

  • This chocolate sauce is thick and rich and is best served warmed.
  • The chocolate sauce will keep in the refridgerator until the best-before date of the cream.

Valerie