Baked Apples

Baked Apples

Fragrant. Comforting. Simple.

So simple, they hardly merit a recipe — especially when the filling depends on what’s handy in the pantry.  Consider this not a recipe, but a nudge to find inspiration in your own pantry. Crystalized ginger, pecans, dried cherries, raisins, apricots, macadamia nuts … they’ve all been baked into apples at one time or another.   Lately, I’ve been adding a bit of cheese to the mix, too.  Goat cheese is my current favourite.

Oh, yes — I top these warm babies with vanilla ice cream.   Doesn’t get much better.

If you have an ice cream maker, why not dust it off?  When it comes to homemade ice cream, anytime is a good time to make your own.

Serves 4

  • 4 medium baking apples, such as Northern Spy, Royal Gala, Ida Red, Rome Beauty, washed
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 tsp brown sugar
  • ¼ cup walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, almonds or a combination of nuts
  • ¼ cup raisins, dried cranberries, dried apricots or a combination of dried fruit
  • ¼ cup of your favourite cheese – optional
  • ¼ cup maple syrup or honey
  • nutmeg (optional)
  • vanilla ice cream  – optional, but highly recommended

Preheat oven to 350 °F

With a paring knife or an apple corer, remove the core from each apple and make an opening about an inch wide, leaving the bottom intact.  Place the cored apples on a parchment-lined baking pan.

In a small bowl combine the butter, brown sugar, nuts and dried fruit.  Add a bit of freshly ground nutmeg, if desired. Spoon the mixture into the hollow of each apple.

If adding cheese, push the cheese into mixture and drizzle with maple syrup.

Bake for about 30 – 40 minutes, or until the apples are soft when pierced with the tip of a knife, basting occasionally with the maple syrup.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.


Ice Cream Hearts

Ice Cream Hearts

Ahhh, Valentine’s Day.  

The grocery stores are decorated with cardboard hearts, half-deflated balloons, cheap chocolate and flowers that might not last the ride home. 

It’s enough to make you cringe but my twin daughters love Valentine’s Day.  They rush home from school, scatter their Valentine cards on the floor and read them in a fit of giggles — until one discovers she has fewer Valentine’s than the other.  

Then, I’ll step in and offer them something homemade: cookies and ice cream.  

Because you can’t buy love in a grocery store.

makes about 12 (4”) heart cookies

  • 4 ounces butter, softened
  • 3⁄4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon molasses – optional
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder, Dutch-processed
  • 1 1⁄4 cup all-purpose flour, plus additional flour as needed for rolling the cookie dough
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 quart of your favourite ice cream – click here for homemade ice cream

You’ll need a heart-shaped cookie cutter and parchment paper or a baking mat to line your baking sheet.

Preheat oven to 350°F

Photo by Caroline West

In a large mixing bowl, combine the butter and brown sugar and mix together by hand, or with the paddle attachment of a standup mixer, until light and fluffy.

Add the egg and molasses and mix until incorporated.  All the remaining dry ingredients and continue to mix until a very soft dough forms.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured sheet of parchment and roll the dough approximately 1⁄4″ thick.  Refrigerate for an hour.

Using a cookie cutter, cut the dough into 12 hearts. Place the cookies on a lined baking tray, cover with plastic and refrigerate until they are thoroughly chilled.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the cookies are just done, rotating the tray in the oven partway through the baking.

If you wish to make a punched trim, carefully poke holes into the cookies with a bamboo or metal kitchen skewer while they are still warm.

When the cookies have completely cooled, add a generous scoop of your favourite ice cream, about 1⁄3 cup, and top with another cookie.  I used a small off-set palette knife to clean the edges of the ice cream.

You’ll want to serve these immediately.

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If you’d like to forgo the ice cream, you can simply decorate your cookies with icing.  I prefer Royal Icing because it dries hard, without a smudgy mess.  It also dries quickly, so keep it covered while you’re working. 

Photo by Caroline West

Makes 1 cup – more than enough for decorating cookies. Leftover icing keeps well in the refrigerator, covered, for up to a week.

To decorate the cookies, as pictured, you’ll need a small pastry bag, available at kitchenware store, with fine tip.  You could also make a simple cone made of parchment.  There are plenty of free videos available online — just look up “how to make a parchment cone”.

  • 1 1/2 cups sifted icing sugar
  • 1 egg white

Using an electric mixer, whip the egg white with the sifted icing sugar at medium-high speed until you have a glossy, meringue-like texture, about 3 minutes.

Spoon your icing into a piping bag or parchment cone.

Pipe small dots of icing onto the outer edges of the cookies. The smaller the dots, the neater the cookie.


Homemade Puff Pastry

Image by Caroline West

Strikingly layered and inexplicably light — puff pasty is the prima donna of all pastry.

Why bother making your own when puff pastry’s readily available at the local grocers?

Because the stuff in the freezer section tastes nothing like the real thing.

It’s like comparing a croissant from a Parisian bakery to a breakfast “croissant” from a fast-food drive-through. The two are not the same.

Once you make your own, I’m afraid you can’t go back.  You’ll become a hopeless puff pasty snob and, even if you’re too polite to say so, you’ll know the difference between authentic puff pastry and the packaged stuff.

You don’t need any special pastry skills to master puff pastry. It does, however, require patience and a bit of practice. It’s not difficult once you understand the ingenuity of laminated dough. Simply put, one slab of butter is sandwiched between two layers of dough.

The butter and dough “sandwich” is rolled into a rectangle and then folded in three, as you might fold a letter. This process is repeated a total of six times, with a resting period of at least 30 minutes between folding intervals. When I explain this in my cooking classes, I get a lot of nervous looks.  Relax — once you’ve rolled out and folded the dough once, the rest is repetition.

This process of rolling, folding and turning the dough, creates a multi-layered dough separated by butter. In a hot oven, the butter layer creates steam that pushes up the individual layers to create the pastry’s magical “puff”.

The secret to making puff pastry is simply controlling the temperature of the dough’s butter.  If it’s too soft, the butter will squish out of the sides when you roll the dough. If the butter’s too firm, it will tear the dough.

(1) butter, before shaping

If you think of your fridge as your butter firmer and your counter-top as your butter softener, you can easily move the dough between these two areas to manage the dough at its most pliable.

Flour-dusted parchment paper will prevent your dough from sticking to the counter. It will also help  shape your dough into a neat rectangle.

Don’t let the lengthy instructions put you off,  I”m just trying to be thorough.  If you look at the step-by-step photos, you’ll see the process is straight forward.  And, there’s no need to make it in one day; I often make over two.

One last tip —  keep your dough well covered between intervals because, as my chef instructor used to shout: “Air is death to dough!”

Puff Pastry Dough

makes about 4 lbs of dough (1500 grams)

Butter

  • 450 grams unsalted butter, pliable. If the butter is cold, grate it to soften it
  • 45 grams flour

(2) butter, after shaping

Dough

  • 600 grams flour, plus more as needed
  • 60 grams unsalted butter, pliable
  • 400 ml – 425 ml cool water
  • 12 grams salt


Preparing the butter

Blend together by hand, or in a standup mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, the butter and flour until smooth and well combined.

Transfer the butter to a sheet of plastic wrap. Top the butter with a second sheet of plastic wrap and, using your hands or a rolling pin, shape the butter into a rectangle approximately 6” x 8”.

Wrap the butter block in plastic and chill until firm.

Preparing the dough

Blend the softened butter with the flour and salt using your hands, or a standup mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, until the butter forms small (flour-coated) nuggets.

If you’re using a standup mixer, replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook. If you’re mixing by hand, mix the dough with a sturdy wooden spoon until the mixture becomes too sticky, then knead the dough by hand.

Add the water all at once and mix on low speed until smooth about 3 minutes or mix with a wooden spoon.  Add more flour by the spoonful if the dough is sticking to the dough hook or the sides of the bowl.

(3) dough, before it’s rolled

When the dough comes off the sides of the bowl easily, but is still quite rough (not yet smooth) transfer the dough to a sheet of parchment dusted with flour, and roll the dough into a rectangle, approx. 12” x 16” (or the size of a baking sheet), using more flour if the dough is sticking to the parchment.

Brush off any excess flour and cover the dough in plastic wrap, place on a baking sheet, and allow the gluten to “relax” in the fridge for 30 minutes or longer. This will prevent the dough from springing back so quickly when you’re rolling it out.

Locking the butter in the dough

Turn the chilled dough onto a lightly floured sheet of parchment, keeping the edges straight and the corners square.

Set the chilled butter on half of the dough and fold the remaining half of the dough over the butter.

Seal the edges and when the butter feels slightly malleable when you press the dough with your fingers, roll the dough in a rectangle approx. 12” x 16” (or the size of a baking sheet). Try to get edges straight and the corners fairly square. Dust lightly with flour if the dough is sticking but be sure to brush off any excess flour.

If you’re having difficulty rolling the dough, the butter is still too firm.  Leave the dough at room temperature for 5 minutes, then try again.

Cover the dough with plastic wrap, place on a baking sheet, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Rolling out and turning the dough

(4) dough, after it’s rolled

Remove the dough from the fridge and place it on a sheet of parchment dusted with flour. Roll it out a few inches longer, lightly dusting with flour as necessary to prevent the dough from sticking.  Remove any excess flour with a dry brush.

When the dough feels pliable, fold it into thirds, as you would a letter.  Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, you may have to wait a few minutes for the butter in the dough to achieve a malleable temperature.

After the pastry is folded, you’ll notice one side of the pastry has a seam (see photo 8). Each time you roll out the dough, keep the seam on the same side.  If you think of your pastry as a book, you’ll remember to keep the seam on the right.

This is the first “turn”. (You will need a total of six “turns”.) To remember which “turn” it is, make an indentation in the dough; one fingerprint for each turn (see photo 9).

Cover the dough with plastic wrap, place it on the baking tray, and return it to the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Remove your dough from the refrigerator and place the dough in front of you,  seam to the right, like a book.

Roll the dough into a rectangle 12” x 16” (or the size of a baking sheet), dusting with flour as necessary to prevent sticking. Remove any excess flour with a dry brush and fold the dough into thirds. This is your second “turn” — two fingerprints will help you keep track of how many “turns” have been completed.

Cover the dough with plastic wrap and return it to the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

You will need to repeat this process for a total of six “turns” with at least 30 minutes “rest” in the refrigerator between “turns”.

You can use the pastry immediately in your favourite recipe or freeze it for later use.

I like to cut the dough in the shapes I plan to use, before I toss them into the freezer.

(5) folded parchment paper helps shape the dough into a neat rectangle

(6 ) enclosing the butter into the dough

(7) rolling out the dough with the butter tucked inside

(8)  dough folded in three, seam on the right hand-side

(9) four fingerprints indicates four turns


Chicken and Beef Stock

 

Image by Caroline West

When the grocers’ shelves are lined with ready-made stock, it’s easy to dismiss making your own.  But if you can find the time to make stock — it’s mostly a hands-off affair — your soups and sauces will take on a deeper level of flavour that can’t be found in a box, packet or cube.

The most common way to make a stock is to place a roasted turkey or chicken carcass into a pot, along with vegetables and water. It’s a perfectly good way to make a stock — but you’ll have a more flavourful stock if you start with raw bones.  Take it a step further and roast the bones first, and you have the richest stock imaginable.

I’ve provided a traditional method for making stock but please know, it’s not a rigid  formula.  Sometimes I add vegetables, sometimes I don’t.  If I have a ham bone, I’ll toss it in my pot along with the chicken bones.  Sometimes I roast half the bones and leave the other half raw. It’s all very flexible — the key is to use fresh, preferably raw, meaty bones.  It’s that simple.

A good cleaver will easily chop chicken bones.  Some butchers, if you ask nicely, will chop chicken carcasses for you — especially if you order them on a regular basis. For most of my cooking I use chicken stock — even in beef stew — because meaty beef bones are so expensive.  A good concentrated roasted chicken stock will hold up to a beefy dish better than a pre-packaged beef stock.

You will need a large stock pot, a large strainer and some cheesecloth.

Makes about 5 litres of stock

Ingredients

Chicken Stock:  5 pounds of meaty chicken bones, cut into 2″ – 3″  manageable chunks

Beef Stock:  5 pounds of meaty bones, cut into manageable 3″ chunks

Optional ingredients for both stocks:

  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • Bouquet garni (parsley stems, bay leaf, fresh thyme, peppercorns, all bundled within a cheesecloth or leek leaves and tied with string)
  • 2 small onions, quartered
  • 3 carrots, coarsely chopped
  • 1 rib celery, coarsely chopped

The following instructions are for a roasted stock. For a light stock, simply omit the roasting procedure.

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Place meaty bones in a roasting pan or baking tray and brown in the oven, turning as required to brown evenly.  This can take up to an hour.  Add the vegetables to the roasting pan, after the first half hour (so they don’t burn). If using tomato paste, add during the last 15 minutes of roasting; use the back of a spoon to smear the paste between the bones on the roasting pan.

When the bones  are golden, transfer them to a stock pot. Add the bouquet garni and enough cold water to just cover the bones.  Add the roasted or raw vegetables to the pot towards the last 40 minutes of cooking.

If you’ve roasted the bones, don’t be tempted to wash the roasting pan before you’ve removed those browned bits of meat stuck to the bottom. They pack a lot flavour so do not deglaze the pan with dish soap!  First drain the fat from the roasting pan; place the pan on the stove over med-high heat and just enough water to loosen the bits of meat.  Scrape the meat (a flat-edged wooden spoon works well)  and pour it, along with the water, into the stock pot.

Bring the stock pot to a simmer and leave uncovered. Do not boil the stock because this agitates the proteins, resulting in a cloudy stock.  Skim off the foam and impurities that float to the top with a spoon; the majority of the foam will be captured in the first hour of simmering. Add more water as it evaporates, to keep the bones covered.

Don’t be tempted to add salt to your stock — you may want to reduce it later, and if you add salt before it’s reduced, you’ll be left with a useless, salty stock and perhaps a few salty tears. You don’t need the heartbreak.

Removing the fat from the chilled stock
 Photo by Caroline West

Simmer very gently: 3-4 hours for chicken, 6-8 hours for beef.

To determine if your stock is flavorful, remove ½ cup of stock,  season with a pinch of salt, and taste. Continue to simmer the stock if you require more flavour.  The more meat on the bones, the less cooking time required.

Strain the stock through a colander and discard the bones and vegetables.  Strain again though a cheesecloth-lined strainer into a deep bowl.

Cool the stock quickly by placing the bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice. Once cooled, place in the refrigerator until a layer of fat solidifies on the top of the stock.  Discard the solidified fat with a spoon.

The stock can now be stored, pre-portioned,  in ziplock freezer bags.   I normally reheat half of the finished stock and reduce it until it reaches a syrup-like consistency.  This concentrated stock can be poured into flexible muffin moulds and frozen until ready to use.

Nature’s very own OXO cube
 Photo by Caroline West

 

 

 

 


Chocolate Mousse

Chocolate Mousse

This cool, rich, melt-in-your-mouth mousse contains only two ingredients: chocolate and cream. I first made this at culinary school as a filling for a decadent Marquise cake — I’ve been making it ever since, with or without the cake.

I’ve added pear chips and chocolate leaves for textural contrast and height. A thin cookie perched atop the mousse would do the trick, too. When it comes dessert, it’s okay — no, it’s imperative — to show-off.

This mousse is rich. I serve it in the smallest containers possible. Shot glasses and sherry glasses are ideal.

Recipe adapted from a white chocolate mousse recipe in Le Cordon Bleu Dessert Techniques.

Originally published in EAT Magazine Nov/Dec 2010 issue.

Serves 8 – 12, depending on the size of the container

Ingredients

  • 18 ounces good quality semi-sweet chocolate,* chopped
  • 4 cups 35% whipping cream
  • 1 saucepan filled with one inch of barely simmering water
  • large wire whisk
  • 1 dozen sherry or shot glasses
  • parchment paper
  • piping bag with plain tip, optional

* I use Bernard Callebaut semi-sweet chocolate — 66% cocoa.

If you want the mousse to rise above the containers, as pictured, first make a collar by wrapping a piece of parchment or waxed paper around each container, leaving about 1” excess above the container. Secure the paper with tape or kitchen twine. Prepare your containers prior to making the mousse.

The key to this mousse is the temperature of the chocolate. It should be completely melted but not too hot. The ideal temperature is 50 degrees Celsius, which is warm, not hot, to the touch. If you have a kitchen thermometer handy, use it.

In a metal bowl that fits over the saucepan of barely simmering water, ensuring that the bowl does not touch the hot water, add the chopped chocolate and 1 cup of whipping cream. Gently melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is fully melted, but not overly hot.

In the bowl of a stand-up mixer fitted with a wire whisk, add the remaining 3 cups of whipping cream. Whisk the cream until it is thickened only. The cream should not be firm enough to hold its shape. When you remove the whisk from the bowl, the cream should drip off in thick beads.

With a whisk close at hand, pour the warm melted chocolate, all at once into the barely whipped cream. Combine with a whisk until the chocolate mousse is uniform in colour. The texture will firm as you combine the chocolate with the cream.

The mixture is now ready to pour into your containers.

Photo by Caroline West

If you have a piping bag, pour the mixture into a piping bag; this will help get the mousse into the glasses neatly, without any mess. Managing a piping bag is easy when you use a narrow canister or large-mouthed glass to hold the piping bag in place while you fill it. Simply tuck the narrow end of the bag into the container (tip side down) and roll the large end of the bag over the edge of the container, like a cuff, to hold it in place.

Pipe or spoon the mixture into the glasses and refrigerate until set.

pear chips

  • 1 firm pear, washed
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • lemon zest (white pith removed) from ½ lemon
  • a mandoline or single-blade slicer
  • parchment-lined baking tray.

Preheat oven to 200ºF.

Combine the sugar, water and lemon zest in a small saucepan and heat the mixture until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Photo by Caroline West

Slice the pear into paper-thin slices using a mandoline or single-blade slicer/grater.

Using a pastry brush, coat both sides of each pear slice with the sugar-water solution. Place the coated slices on the parchment-lined tray, being careful not to overlap the slices.

Dry in the oven for 2 to 3 hours. To test the chips, remove the tray from the oven and allow the pears to cool for 10 minutes (away from a humid kitchen). If your kitchen is warm, place the tray of pears outside to cool them. Gently peel the pears from the parchment. If they are firm and crisp, they are ready. If not, continue to dry them in the oven for another half hour and test again.

The pear chips can be made a few days ahead of time and kept in a covered container.

chocolate leaves

  • 6 ounces good quality chocolate, chopped into small pieces
  • Small, firm leaves, washed and completely dried
  • a parchment-lined tray

Melt the chocolate in a metal bowl placed over a saucepan filled with one inch of simmering water. The bowl should not touch the water. When the chocolate has just melted, dip the cleaned leaves into the chocolate and place on a parchment-lined tray. Try to coat only one side of each leaf with chocolate as this will make it easier to remove. Place the leaves in the refrigerator to firm the chocolate.

Once the chocolate has firmed, carefully peel back the leaf from the chocolate.

To serve the mousse, remove from the refrigerator approximately 20 minutes before serving. Remove the parchment collar and garnish with the pear chip and chocolate leaf just before serving.