Friday, November 30, 2007

"Who Stole My Stollen?"

Say the word "Christmas" and the word "tradition" is usually not far behind, especially where food is concerned. Around the holiday season, families tend to lean heavily on customs passed down from generation to generation and you will find most are reluctant to change. My mother-in-law has made blueberry pancakes on Christmas morning for the last 22 years and when the 25th rolls around in just a few weeks, she'll be serving them to her grandson for the first time. (Thank goodness Noah adores pancakes!)

Without even noticing, over the last six years that I have been married, I have slipped into a pattern of holiday baking. While some may label these food habits as my own traditions beginning to emerge for my sweet little family, I see them more as a rut I have fallen into.

There is usually a traditional English trifle, dozens of dark chocolate truffles, Russian Tea Cakes and Gingerbread men for nibbling, shortbread in abundance, and plenty of mincemeat tarts. There is nothing wrong with any of those, but here I am almost 30, asking myself:

"Why am I only making fruitcake now? Why have I never baked a traditional German Stollen or an Italian Panettone? How come I've never attempted a steamed Christmas pudding?"

Heck, I haven't even perfected a Buche de Noel. Shame on me.
Why? Because I'm too busy making my standard fare every holiday season to experiment with something new.

Now, this is quite the 'Ah ha!' moment for me, because every other month of the year I am all about trying new things, so what's been happening around the 25th of December?

I am not big on traditions and never have been. I like surprises, spontaneity and change. Most people can't get over the fact that we don't have a Christmas tree (GASP!!), but that is just one of the Christmas traditions my hubby and I balk at. (OK, it mostly stems from my tree-hugging/save-the-planet upbringing, but don't get me started going down that road...and Santa Claus? Pul-leeze. )

I realize I am on thin ice here so I will lighten up and tell you where I am going with all of this! Starting with my first attempt at Tourtiere last December, and continuing with fruitcake this year, I am starting to branch out with my Christmas cooking and baking and avoid the tendency to always make the same things. It's just something I have to do. I am not belittling your traditions, your family recipes or your blueberry pancakes; I deeply respect all of those dear-to-your-heart patterns, but in my kitchen I have to mix things up a little!

And so I present my Christmas Stollen! Now I have never even eaten Stollen, not to mention made it, but it sounded to good not to try, and so we welcomed a little bit of Germany came into our home as a result. Stollen is a yeast-based fruitcake, full of fruit and nuts, flavored with spices and rum like a classic fruitcake, but more like a challah or a brioche in texture. I didn't know where to start looking for a recipe, (no German relations here, unfortunately) so I used my trusty Joy of Cooking. I always find bread baking deeply satisfying and this stollen did not disappoint. It was SO good, we couldn't stop eating it.

Although I had enjoyed the better part of a loaf with my afternoon tea, when I toasted up a slab for my husband in the evening, I couldn't resist nabbing some off his plate when he wasn't looking. That prompted the "Hey, who stole my stollen?" quote from above, a line Danny was quite tickled with and giggled over for the rest of the night.

So does this mean Christmas Around the World for Under the High Chair? I don't know yet, we'll have to wait and see. It would make me proud if my kids grew up not expecting a certain line-up of dishes around the holidays, but rather were open to other cultural favorites like Paella, Cougnou, Nougat glacé, or Tamales.

If you're in the mood to try something new, this stollen is a great place to start. Just don't turn your back on it--it may disappear!

Christmas Stollen

(Adapted from The Joy of Cooking)

Have all ingredients at room temperature.

6-8 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon yeast
1 ½ cups milk, scalded and cooled to 110F
¼ cup dried cherries
¾ cup golden raisins
¾ cup currants
1 ½ cup almonds, chopped
½ cup chopped candied citrus peel
¾ cup sugar
1 ½ cups butter, plus extra for brushing loaves
3 eggs
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons rum

In a large bowl, combine warm milk and yeast. Allow to sit 10 minutes until yeast is dissolved. Add 1 cup of the sifted flour and mix to form a sponge. Let sit in a warm place until doubled.

Meanwhile, combine cherries, raisins, almonds and citrus peel. Sprinkle a little of the sifted flour over and combine. Set aside.

When sponge has sufficiently rested, place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat well. Beat in sugar and blend until light and creamy. Add eggs one at a time, followed by the salt, lemon rind and rum. Mix well.
Mix in the fruit and nuts. Add all the sponge and the remaining flour. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic, adding more flour if too sticky.

Cover dough with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk.

To shape dough, toss it onto a floured board and divide in two. Pat dough into a rough oval and fold over one third of the dough lengthwise onto the other two thirds. Repeat with remaining dough. Place on baking sheet -one loaf per sheet- and brush with butter. Allow to rise again until almost doubled in bulk.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Bake loaves for about 40 minutes until they are a dark golden brown.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Fruitcake: Part II

Wednesday is Fruitcake Day here at Under the High Chair since it is the day I set aside time to lovingly tend to my fruitcakes. I carefully unwrap my Figgy Christmas Fruit Rolls from their parchment paper swaddling and brush them with brandy; the smell of dark chocolate, figs and spices almost as intoxicating as the fumes from the brandy. I haven't had alcohol for about six month's now, thanks to a dear baby on the way, and I am feeling lightheaded just getting a whiff of the stuff!

After the rolls are taken care of, I crack open a bottle of rum and unwrap my other, more traditional, fruitcake from it's cheesecloth. It has gotten all soft and moist in the last three weeks and I am salivating in anticipation of how good it will be by Christmas.

Then I remember, I haven't given out the recipe for this fruitcake yet! Oops.

Here is a photo of the cake just out of the oven - a baby, if you will. It had yet to mature into an adult.

I love what goes into this fruitcake. Not the usual load of maraschino cherries (which I loathe) and candied fruit mix, but a decadent concoction of whole Brazil nuts, dried cherries, and apricots. Lightly flavored with vanilla and rum, this cake perfumes your whole house during it's rather long baking period. Like most traditional fruitcakes, it is then brushed with rum, wrapped up in muslin or cheesecloth and hidden away for a month, only coming out once in a while to be doused with rum again. Let me tell you, it is very hard to resist sneaking a little taste during those weekly rituals.

I am sure it's going to be fantastic and it's not too late if you still want to have a fruitcake ready for the holidays. This cake takes about a month of aging, so get started on it today!

Traditional Fruitcake
(Adapted from Martha Stewart's Backhouse Family Fruitcake)
Makes 1 eight-inch cake

1 ½ sticks (1 cup plus 2T) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
½ cup raisins
½ cup dried pineapple, chopped into ½ inch pieces
½ cup apricots, chopped
1 cup dates, pitted and chopped
½ cup dried cherries
¾ cup whole blanched almonds
1 ½ cups whole Brazil nuts
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup cake flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 cup light-brown sugar, firmly packed
3 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons rum, plus more for dousing

Heat oven to 300F. Brush an eight-inch spring-form pan with butter. Line bottom and sides with parchment; brush parchment with butter.

Combine fruits and nuts in a bowl and set aside. Sift the flours, baking powder, and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed; add eggs, one at a time, mixing well between each addition. Add vanilla and rum.

In two additions, add dry ingredients to butter. Scrape down sides of bowl between additions. Fold in fruit and nuts. Pour batter into pan. Bake until golden and set, about 2 1/2 hours. Cover with foil if it colours too much.

Cool on wire rack. Remove from pan; discard parchment. Wrap in cheesecloth or muslin. Brush all over with ¼ cup rum. Store in a cool, dry place; douse with ¼ cup rum weekly for at least 1 month before serving.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Warm Gingerbread with Cortland Applesauce and Cream

The annoying thing about living in a post-renovated home is that you can never find anything. It's not like after a move where you know you'll eventually unpack a box and find what it is you are looking for; it is much more uncertain than that. In the pre-renovation haste, I was just stashing stuff anywhere and everywhere and now I am suffering the consequences.
Please, if anyone finds my Diana Krall Christmas CD, hand it over. I'd like to be listening to it since we seem to be hurling toward Christmas at a breakneck pace.

I always associate this gingerbread recipe with Christmas, although I am not sure why. I can't for the life of me remember any particular incident that would connect the two together, yet, when I dusted off my Kitchen Aid and started mixing, I said to myself "I guess I'm starting my holiday baking".

I hope I am not the only person who starts baking a good month early. I tell myself that with a enthusiastic toddler to keep my busy and a baby on the way, I have to be organized and I am--in the kitchen anyway. As for the rest of the house? Forget it!
Where IS that dang CD?

Merci to my MIL for this recipe. I believe she got it from her mother and although we know it is called 'Prize Gingerbread', we have no insight into just what kind of prize this cake earned...
I think as far as gingerbread goes, this one is about as good as they get. Moist, flavorful, fragrant, and a lovely dark color from a whole cup of molasses.
Cortland apples are hard to pass up in the market these days, with their blushing bride coloring and sweet fragrance. They make the most delicate-of-pink applesauce that is a must with this gingerbread; however, if you don't have any apples, a drizzle of lemon icing would be delightful too, and whipped cream is essential.
There you have it! Your dessert for the week.

Prize Gingerbread

2 ½ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ cup shortening
1 cup brown sugar

1 cup molasses
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs, well beaten

Preheat oven to 325F

Butter a 9x13 cake pan or two loaf pans and line with parchment paper. Butter the parchment.

Combine flour, baking powder, and ginger together and set aside.

Cream shortening and brown sugar until fluffy, then add molasses, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Mix well. Add baking soda to boiling water and mix into molasses mixture. Fold in reserved flour mixture and combine. Add beaten eggs and mix well.

Pour into pan(s) and bake about 50 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Serve warm.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Russet Apple and Gouda Grilled Cheese

Dust lies on my Kitchen Aid as thick as a dredging of flour. It may look like finely ground buckwheat, but it's actually micro sawdust from the home renovations we are undertaking this month. It's during grueling, exhausting, yet rewarding times like these when you simply don't attempt to cook. When the living room furniture is piled up in your kitchen, making it impossible to move, you just have to give up, drop into an over sized armchair, prop your feet up on the oven door and think about what to defrost for dinner.

Fortunately, I have a plethora of meals too choose from as I usually prepare extra when I am cooking a freezer friendly meal and stash it away for such times as these. Chicken curry, cabbage rolls, lasagna--we haven't been going hungry, despite the barricade in front of the fridge door.

Lunch is another story. Again, a girl's gotta eat and there's no time or space for fuss, so I've been working my way through a loaf of miche blanche, a huge wedge of Gouda, and a pile of Russets, my favorite munching apple. These ingredients come together to make a very satisfying sandwich-Noah even agrees.
Hmm, then again, anything with apple seems to agree with him, especially if it's just that: an apple, clutched tightly in his little hand, as he wanders around from room to room, wondering when his house will be back to normal!

This sandwich is yet another stopover along the comfort food journey that I am taking this fall.
With a dab of old style apple mustard, it's impossible to resist, and who would want to? With a combination like this still warm in my belly,and my fingers still slightly greasy, the dust doesn't look so bad.
And that says a lot.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

WFD? Balinese Shrimp & Corn Beignets

It’s here! The much-anticipated cookbook: La Cuisine et le Gout des Épices! At a time when there are so many useless, fluffy cookbooks out there with pretty pictures, yet little content, there comes along a cookbook you can really sink your teeth into from Philippe de Vienne, local spice guru, chef extraordinaire, and my old boss. (Click here to see the insane menu from the last party we did together)

This cookbook gives you more than just something to nibble on, it’s like sitting down to a full five-course meal. It’s a literal spice bible that features much more then original recipes from the four corners of the world, but also a beautiful photo glossary of spices, an insightful look into the role spices play in the kitchen, and a few amusing anecdotes tucked here and there from the de Vienne’s extensive travels.

I am so excited to get my hand on so many of these recipes that I remember eating and serving when I catered for the de Viennes. Recipes such as Cari de noix de cajou (Cashew Curry), Tarte de figues au laurier (Fig Tart with Bay Leaves), Hummus chaud (Hot Hummus) and Poulet roti au berbere (Berbere Chicken).

The first recipe I chose to make was the amazing Beignets de mais et de crevettes that Philippe created after a trip to Bali. We used to serve them as bite size canapés for cocktails we catered, but Danny and I enjoyed them shaped slightly larger and served with a big salad for our dinner. With fresh pineapple spears for dessert, who needs to travel to Indonesia?!

There is a lovely blend of spices that go into these fritters, making them go from ho-hum to sensational and isn't that the beauty of spices? So much flavor for so little effort.
Here they are pictured below, clockwise from the nutmeg:
Thai Chili, Coriander, Cardamom, White Pepper, Cumin and a whole Nutmeg.
It is always best to buy your spices whole and then grind them yourself. I use an old Braun coffee grinder and that works well.

There is a note in the cookbook that says this blend of spices is wonderful with other corn dishes, such as a soufflé, soup or gratin. I am getting some good ideas already!

Shrimp and Corn Beignets

3 cups fresh kernel corn or frozen corn, thawed
5 green onions, sliced

1 bunch fresh basil, chopped

3 branches of coriander, chopped
1 cup shrimp

1 egg

1-2 cups all purpose flour
Vegetable oil

Ground Spices:

4 dried Thai peppers or Cayenne peppers
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 tablespoon coriander
1 teaspoon cumin
3 cardamom pods, seeds removed and ground
¼ nutmeg seed, grated

Place corn, green onions, basil, coriander, shrimp, salt and egg in a bowl. Add spices and mix well. Add one cup of flour, mix well. Slowly add more flour to the mix until the batter reaches a consistency of muffin batter. Heat a large pot with 1/8th inch of oil in the bottom. When the oil is hot, put a large spoonful of batter in the pot. With the help of the spoon, form a galette of ½-inch thick and 3-4 inches in diameter. Form other galettes. Cook over medium heat just until the bottoms are well colored (4-5minutes). Turn and cook the other side until golden. Repeat with the rest of the batter, and add, if needed, more oil in the pot. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Makes about 24 beignets

Ed Note: If you are interested in purchasing this cookbook, I believe it is available at Librairie Gourmand at the Jean Talon Market, or you can find it online here. For more information on Philippe and Ethné de Vienne or their products, visit their website.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Psst! It's Fruitcake Time!

Around here the Christmas parties get started as early as the first weekend in December. I always like to have baking on hand - like homemade fruitcake - to serve to guests in my home or to bring as a gift for the hostess if we are going out. Consider this a friendly reminder to get your fruitcake started! A month is the minimum recommended time for allowing it to age, which means it's time to start cracking nuts and chopping fruit.

I am no fruitcake expert (have you ever seen it on a menu?). I have no family recipe that has been passed down from generation to generation, no great culinary mentor who whispered me his secret recipe on his deathbed, just my own curiosity and eagerness to try a few recipes until I find one I like. Maybe once I do, I will play around with it until I am truly happy with it and then I will have a recipe to pass on to my children. (Note: if you have a truly stellar recipe, feel free to send it my way via email)

I chose this first recipe (Yes, first! I indeed have not one but two beautiful fruitcakes fermenting in the deep, dark recesses of my pantry) because I love dried figs and figs make up the sticky base of this interesting no-bake fruitcake. I can not vouch for it's taste yet, but I will be sure to keep you posted when I tuck into it come mid-December. Of course, by then it will be too late for you to whip up a batch for Christmas Eve, but if it really looks too good to be missed, and your holiday won't be merry without some, drop me a note and I'll ship some out to you. The recipe makes a very large batch!

If the figs don't do it for you, consider a few of the other ingredients rolled into this mosaic confection: Dark chocolate, toasted walnuts, golden raisins and pungent spices, all doused with a hefty shot of brandy, swaddled in cheesecloth and hidden away so the flavors meld.

I am hoping to convert some fruitcake atheists and make them true believers with this figgy concoction. We'll see.
At the very least, maybe I can help polish up the fruitcake's sadly tarnish reputation.

Figgy Christmas Fruit Roll

(adapted from MS Living Holiday 2000)

12 oz (3 ¼ cups) walnuts
4 ½ lbs (about 10 cups) dried figs
3 oz (½) cup currants
4 oz (3/4 cup) golden raisins
6 oz (1 cup) candied citrus peel, roughly chopped
7 oz buttersweet chocolate, chopped into ¼ inch pieces
5oz (1 cup) pistachios
6 Tablespoons brandy, plus more for sprinkling
2 tablespoons anise flavouring
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Confectioners sugar, for dusting
Cheesecloth for wrapping
Parchment paper
Kitchen twine

Heat oven to 350F. Spread walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toast in oven until walnuts are just fragrant, about 10 minutes. Let cool completely. Roughly chop walnuts.

Working is small batches, place figs in the bowl of a food processor and process until finely minced. Transfer figs to a large bowl and add walnuts. Add currants, golden raisins, citrus peel, chocolate, pistachios, 2 tablespoons brandy, anise flavoring, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and salt, and mix well, using your hands works best!

Divide mixture into four equal parts. Dust a clean work surface with confectioner’s sugar and dust your hands as well. Gently mold each part into a log and then roll to smooth edges. You should have a cylindrical log about 2 inches in diameter and 12 inches long.

Gently brush off excess sugar with a pastry brush and place on a rectangle of cheesecloth large enough to wrap the log around. Brush each log with 1 tablespoon brandy, wrap well in cheesecloth and tie ends with kitchen twine. Roll logs in parchment, sealing the ends again with twine and place in a cool dark place.
Once a week for at least a month, remove parchment and sprinkle cheesecloth with brandy. Wrap well in parchment and store until ready to serve. Slice rolls into thin rounds to serve.

Makes four 12 inch rolls.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin