Bobbette & Belle’s Classic Canadian Butter Tarts – Go, Canada, Go!

Disclaimer: I have a queue of draft posts that I have neglected for whatever reason. This one is from the Olympics back in February – but it seems fitting for Canada Day!


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For most of my life, I thought that I didn’t like butter tarts.

I think it’s because of the name and possibly because I was never quite sure what was in a butter tart (beyond butter).

Just under two years ago, I found myself at the Haliburton Forest & Wildlife Reserve. I was working on a second Woods Canada campaign. The first one had Cedric and I trek across the country, but the second one was an online reality TV style competition and I served as the shuttle driver/content writer/French speaker/general gopher (it was a weird but fun experience). Anyway, I can’t remember what we ate for dinner on this particular night, but I remember eating it outside and I remember that dessert was butter tarts.

At first, I passed. But then, the people who had taken one seemed to have an out-of-body experience, proclaiming that these were the best butter tarts they’d had in their entire lives. Well, that did it – I grabbed for one, and then I had an epiphany: I do like butter tarts!

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Despite my very positive first butter tart experience, I hadn’t had another one since until I recently decided to give the Bobbette & Belle recipe a stab. The occasion: a loosely Canadian-themed celebration in honour of the Opening Ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

I worried at the name of the pastry used for the butter tarts: pate brisee, which translates directly to “broken pastry”. I have found B&B’s pate sucree recipe (used in the Mixed Berry Tart and Mini Blueberry Hand Pies recipe) to taste delicious, but to be extremely finicky to work with.

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I’m pleased to report that the pate brisee is much easier to handle. I love the technique it uses to integrate cold butter with flour/sugar/salt: it calls for the butter to be grated in to the dry ingredients, so you barely have to handle it in order for the pastry to come together.¬† Brilliant!

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An egg and a little cold water gets added to the dough, then it is mashed into a disc and refrigerated for about three hours. The waiting is always the hardest part!

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Next up: blind baking the pastry. I rolled out my dough and used a 4 inch round paper template (which I printed off from the internet) to stencil and cut out dough circles. The recipe states, “Make sure the pasty expands half an inch above the edge of the muffin cups to allow for shrinkage.” Mine were too small to do this, and although they turned out fine, I might use larger circle templates in the future for a more even tart.

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The blind bake involves putting a cupcake paper over each tart, then filling it with beans and baking for 15 minutes. As always, add a good 10+ minutes to Bobbette & Belle recipes – mine were in about 25 before they started to get a nice golden colour.

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While the shells were cooling, I got to work on the filling. At last, I solved the mystery of what goes into a butter tart. In a word: sugar. In several words: sugar, butter, honey, corn syrup, cream.

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Making the filling is easy, namely because it doesn’t require a candy thermometer – you just have to cook it on the stove top until the sugar is dissolved.

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Once the sweet stuff has melted, you carefully mix in an egg, vanilla, salt, and sugar mixture, finally whisking in some vinegar (which I’m sure does something scientific to make it all come together).

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The recipe calls for straining the mix, which I did, though I’m not sure it did anything. Oh well, better safe than sorry. The glorious filling gets added to the shells, then then whole she-bang bakes until the filling jiggles slightly. As you can see, the filling gets kind of puffy and doesn’t look very butter tart-like – but the whole thing settles as it cools.

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The recipe opener says that the butter tarts should have a filling that has a slightly runny centre – specifically, the words “oozing” and “look like lava” are used. I was incredibly pleased when I cut a test tarte in two and saw flaky pastry with a slightly oozing middle. They were perfect.

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The tarts were very well-received at the Olympic shindig, by Canadians and non-Canadians alike (we had Brits, an Aussie, and a Kiwi in attendance as well – a truly international affair!)

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The pastry and the filling both pull their weight equally here. Each recipe is perfection, and together, they are unstoppable. Like a male and female figure skater in the pairs competition. Or the doubles luge. Or… something.

Butter tarts: I’m officially a fan.

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Dorie’s Cookies Parmesan Galettes: Ooh La La

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Here’s something delightfully intriguing: the Dorie’s Cookies cookbook has a chapter devoted to savoury cookies. I’m not used to seeing non-sweet things in my baking cookbooks, but there are plenty of interesting (and weird: I’m looking at you, hot-and-spicy togarashi meringues and honey-BLUE CHEESE madeleines) recipes here.

(I am never going to make those madeleines. I hate blue cheese.)

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A little while ago, I was supposed to head to a friend’s house for a pre-dinner birthday gathering. I thought the Parmesan Galettes sounded perfect for an appetizer, so I decided to try my hand at my first savoury cookie.

(I ended up having to turn the car around and skip the party because the roads were horrible – so I had these all to myself.) (Note: I wrote this post back in February when snow was still a thing…)

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The ingredient list is short and sweet: all-purpose flour, butter, Parmesan cheese, and a bit of sea salt. If you’re reading this, I probably don’t have to tell you to buy the kind of Parm that you have to grate yourself. But just in case… there you go.

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This recipe doesn’t require a mixer; it uses the food processor to mix the butter, flour, and Parmesan. Here’s how the dough is described: “process in long bursts until you have a moist curds-and-clumps dough”. Although that sounds incredibly vague and non-scientific, somehow, I knew exactly what Dorie meant when the time came.

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I’m pretty sure this is what moist curds and clumps looks like?!

It’s super easy to smush the dough into a log. I was surprised at how teeny tiny the log was, but the recipe yielded 15 galettes, as the book said it would. Before slicing, you pop the log into the fridge for a couple of hours (or the freezer for just one hour, if you’re of the opinion that time is money).

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After the dough has chilled, it’s time to slice and dice. The sidebar of the recipe says that these galettes pair nicely with a variety of herbs and spices, so I experimented (conservatively) by grinding a bit of fancy pepper over each galette. (If you’re wondering what fancy pepper is, it comes from France and includes tasting notes – thanks Mom and Dad!!!)

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Note: If you look closely, you can see that some of my galettes have a tiny hole in the middle. This is because I didn’t roll my log quite tightly enough. Lessons learned!

The cookbook says that you can either bake the sliced galettes in a muffin tin (for a perfect circular shape and satisfying edges) or free-standing on a cookie sheet.

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I baked 12 in the muffin tin and the rest on a baking sheet, and while the muffin ones looked prettier, I found they took a little longer to bake than the designated 15 to 17 minutes. They were more like 20 minutes.

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Here’s the verdict on the galettes:

I LOVED them. They reminded me of dinner parties when I was younger. I feel like my mom used to serve cheese straws or something that were just like this. I loved the slightly crumbly texture and I thought they tasted just the right amount of Parmesan. I like Parmesan, but usually as a side cheese, not as a cheese on its own. Like, I wouldn’t typically eat Parmesan alone on crackers. These galettes were fantastic and felt fancy to me.

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Cedric did not like them. I did not see this coming from a mile away – in our relationship, I am the one who favours sweets and he likes all things savoury (though he’s never met a chocolate chip cookie he didn’t like). Not only that, but he LOVES cheese – including Parmesan. He will gladly slice Parmesan and put it on a panini (which is exactly what he did with the leftover Parmesan from this recipe). But for whatever reason, this recipe didn’t do it for him.

Oh well. More for me!

Dorie’s Cookies Classic Brownies – Far Better than a Convenience Store Treat

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I thought the brownie looked very small and lonely on a plate, so I put it on a coaster.

We live dangerously close to a convenience store. When the craving for something sweet hits, it can be awfully tempting to run over and get a candy or a chocolate bar.

When this happens, I often feel myself underwhelmed with the same old mediocre-tasting options – sometimes I just go back home because nothing is calling to me. When I do find something I like, most of the time the enjoyment is merely fleeting. Blaaaaah.

Here’s an alternative I prefer: something easy to whip up – preferably something deliciously decadent – that involves little to no grocery shopping and that takes long enough to make to build anticipation, but is fast enough to enjoy within the hour.

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The Classic Brownies recipe from the Dorie’s Cookies cookbook that I’ve been dipping into is the perfect recipe for this. While I wouldn’t say this is the best brownie I’ve ever had (that honour goes to any brownie from Purebread – all hail Purebread!), it certainly hits all the criteria I listed above.

You probably already have butter, sugar, eggs, salt, flour, and vanilla on hand in your pantry. If you do, you’re most of the way there. The only other two ingredients needed are chocolate (bittersweet or semi-sweet) and optional walnuts. We opted for the walnuts, and I’m glad we did. I don’t trust people who don’t enjoy nuts in their brownies. (Unless, of course, those nuts would kill them or something.)

I always like it when a recipe starts by telling me to preheat the oven – that means there won’t be much waiting around. So far, this recipe is off to a solid start, right?

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With the oven doing its thing, the next step is to melt the butter and chocolate over a double boiler, then once it’s just about finished, you take it off the heat and stir in the sugar. Then the eggs go in, followed by the salt and vanilla.

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The last step is the flour: unlike the previous ingredients, which get mixed in with no abandon, the flour needs to be gently folded in. The last items to get added to the batter are the delicious (and optional) walnuts.

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If you’re reading between the lines here, folks, you’ll realize that this recipe does NOT require a stand mixer (or an electric mixer of any sort). THIS is what a call the perfect quick recipe – minimal waiting, minimal dishes.

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Pre-baked…

Finally, the brownies get baked for 27 to 29 minutes – I put mine in for 29 and they were perfect. These brownies are dense and squat – they’re not the prettiest, to be frank, but I like that they’re firmly in the brownie category, not in the cake category.

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Post baked (droooooool)

Of course, the brownies are delicious while warm, but we managed not to devour the entire pan straight out of the oven. I can attest that they are indeed good after a few days if you take care to store them in a tupperware.

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While I appreciate these no-nonsense brownies for what they are, I am a little intrigued with some of the variations proposed for them:

  • Rum raisin (not so much)
  • Chopped-chocolate brownies (with chunks of chocolate inside – yes, yes, yes)
  • Ginger brownies (sounds weird but probably delicious)
  • Orange brownies (as an avid Terry’s Chocolate Orange fan, sign me up)
  • Cinnamon-mocha brownies (could be interesting)
  • Peppermint brownies (saving this for Christmas)

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Bread Illustrated’s Potato-Dill Sandwich Bread… err, Minus the Dill

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Is it normal to want to weep when looking at a picture of beautiful bread?

Dill is a weird thing.

I like (but not love) dill pickle chips. I like (but not love) dill on smoked salmon.

I just can’t really think of many instances where I looooove dill.

I have never had a piece of bread and thought, “Man, you know what this is really missing? Dill.” So I have skipped past the Bread Illustrated recipe for Potato-Dill Sandwich Bread, time and time again, as I have baked my way through the book for the last year.

Until I recently had a eureka moment: what if I baked the potato bread… without the dill?

Now, I’m sure the dill adds a nice touch to this bread, but approximately half the bread I bake gets used for toast, which peanut butter and/or jam – and there’s just something about the combination of PB, J, and D that grosses me out. So I took some creative liberties and went ahead and baked this pillowy, ultra soft bread without dill.

I know – pretty radical.

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The potato is this recipe appears in the mashed variety, so the first step is to cube a potato, boil it, then mash it to smithereens with some butter.

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The dough only calls for 8 ounces of ‘tots, and I found that one decent sized potato makes enough for two loaves (put the rest of the mash in the fridge – you’ll need it sooner than you think because this bread goes down quick and easy).

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The mashed potato gets combined with some bread flour, salt, and yeast. The instructions say to do it by hand, but I used a flexible spatula and things seemed to turn out okay. Then, the stand mixer does its thing for about 10 minutes. (After the 10 minutes is when you would theoretically add the dill).

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As with other sandwich breads (including my favourite old classic, which gets baked once every week or two in my neck of the woods), the potato bread gets a little hand kneading, then rises for an hour and a half, then gets shaped and rises for a second time before baking. Handling this dough can only be described as utterly delightful. It is the softest dough I have ever felt. Dragging it into a perfect little ball is highly pleasant.

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While the dough tastes nothing like potato, the mashed potatoes are everything to this recipe. The texture is out of this world – soft (even when toasted) and a little chewy. This is a weird description, but stay with me here: this bread is what they were trying to achieve when they made Wonder bread. Rather than being dry and bland, this bread is moist and bouncy and tastes like something. That “something” is hard to describe – a little buttery, maybe?

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It’s well worth a go. And if you dare to make it with dill, let me know how it works out.

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Dorie’s Cookies’ Vanilla-Brown Butter Madeleines: A Two-Bite Cupcake

There’s something about madeleines that seems so wonderfully precious to me. Maybe it’s because they share a name with the little French private school character. Maybe it’s because they require their own special pan for baking. Maybe it’s because they’re just so gosh darned dainty and cute that it’s a wonder they haven’t blossomed into macaron-territory popularity. (Mark my words: madeleines will be the on-trend dessert of 2019 or 2020).

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My own history with madeleines is somewhat hazy. Until Christmas morning, I didn’t own madeleine pans, so I never got the chance to try to bake my own. Until now, my exposure had been limited to some store bought ones I tried when I was around 10. I can’t remember especially liking them – but I also can’t remember not liking them.

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Nonetheless, I was eager to put my new pans to work and decided to test them out with the most simple and classic of madeleine flavours: vanilla-brown butter, from my Dorie’s Cookies cookbook.

Here’s the thing with madeleines: Dorie stresses that they should be consumed as shortly after being baked as possible. I was preparing these for an evening book club meeting, so I started to bake them just as the sun was going down. This means that the pictures get progressively worse – sorry for that. Is anyone else counting down eagerly until the days get long again?

Step one is to prepare the special madeleine pans by greasing them and flouring them. Check and check. Next, you whisk the dry goods together: all-purpose flour and baking powder. So far so good.

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Now, the butter. The butter gets melted and swirled on the stove top for a little while – after all, this recipe is called vanilla brown butter. When the butter is amber-esque and smells nutty and delicious, it gets pulled off the heat.

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Meanwhile, you mix white sugar with eggs, vanilla, salt, and honey – the wets.

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For those keeping track, we now have three bowls going on: the butter, the dry, and the wet. It is now time to unite them as one: you gently stir the wet with the dry, then fold the butter, bit by bit. Finally, you add a bonus ingredient. The bonus ingredient is a tablespoon of either Scotch, bourbon, dark rum, or milk (… one of these things is not like the other…). I had some bourbon left over from the sticky toffee pudding I made somewhat recently, so I threw it in there – and you know what? The boozy kick was pretty noticeable, considering it was only a tablespoon! I’d like to see how the taste differs if I use milk instead.

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The batter then gets poured into the mad-pan. The recipe says it yields 12 madeleines, but mine made 20 (bonus!!). They bake at a high-ish temperature (400 degrees) for a short-ish amount of time (12 minutes), then you have to tap them out of their shells right away.

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Aaaaand this is about where the sun had totally gone down and the pictures really suck.

(I’m not sure why it’s so urgent, but the recipe told me so. Maybe because they would keep baking and they’d dry out quickly? Who knows.)

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I decided to kick my madeleines up one final notch by dipping them ever so slightly in some melted dark chocolate. This was not part of the recipe directions, but it was the right call – otherwise the madeleines may have been just a bit too plain.

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The last step: a dusting of icing sugar (this step was called for by the recipe).

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I tried to get an inside shot so you can get a sense of the texture. Kind of springy, kind of bouncy – very tasty.

Now, I don’t know exactly what madeleines are supposed to taste like, but I’ll do my best to sum it up and someone can let me know if I made them correctly. They kind of taste like a mini two-bite cupcake – they’re light, and they have a nice springy texture. They’re not overly sweet, but they’re not terribly exciting either. Or maybe that’s just because I picked a boring flavour. The good news is that I’ve got some more exciting varieties to try both in this cookbook and another. Stay tuned – exciting madeleines coming your way soon.

Bread Illustrated’s Pan-Grilled Flatbread

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I swear I’ve made Bread Illustrated’s Pan-Grilled Flatbread recipe before, but I can’t seem to find a blog post about it. If I didn’t blog about it, does it even count? Probably not.

The flatbreads popped into my mind when I was invited to a friend’s house for a curry dinner. What goes better than naan and curry? Nothing – because it is the best.

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Technically, this is a recipe for flatbread, not naan specifically. But as the opening write up for the recipe says, flatbreads are eaten all over the world and they pair deliciously with stews and curries of all kinds. So they were definitely well-suited for the occasion.

Although the flatbreads are pretty easy and quick to make (you can make them in an afternoon and have them ready for dinner), I find anything that you have to make multiples of – rather than one big loaf – can be a little labour intensive. This recipe claims to yield four 9-inch flatbreads, but I made eight 6-inch(ish) ones.

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The Bread Illustrated flatbreads are made with a combination of bread flour and whole-wheat flour, as well as some of the usual suspects (yeast, salt, water) and some non-so-usual suspects (olive oil, sugar, and yogurt). You’re supposed to use plain whole-milk yogurt. I had 5% (I think) on hand, so I used that, but the recipe warned they may be a little tough if I sacrificed the whole-milk aspect. Mine were a little chewy, but still delicious.

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Step one is to mix the dough in the mixer for a total of 10 minutes. Then you knead by hand for 30 seconds or so and let the dough rest in a bowl for a couple of hours. So far, it’s the same process for your typical dough.

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Before…

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And 2 hours later!

After dough has had some time to rise, it’s ready for action. You split the dough into quarters (or, in my case, eighths) and roll each one into a ball. The book shows a technique of pulling it around your thumb and pinching the seams – it works pretty well. The balls of dough rest – meanwhile, you can heat up a skillet on the stove.

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The recipe calls for a cast-iron skillet. I do not own such a thing, but my sturdy Le Creuset dutch oven can hold heat pretty well, so it made do in this recipe.

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One by one, the pieces of dough get stretched and rolled out. You stab each flatbread with a fork, oil the skillet, mist both sides of the dough with water (this keeps them soft, not crusty), then let it sizzle away for 2-4 minutes per side (I stuck with 2 per side). I set up stations so that while one flatbread was cooking, I’d roll out the next piece of dough to have it ready to go.

Side note: since making this recipe, I have¬† received a tortilla press (merci Lise!) It would have come in handy for this one… stay tuned for future tortilla press action.

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After both sides have cooked, you brush the pieces with melted butter and sprinkle it with sea salt. I do not recommend missing this step – it makes it soooo delicious. I kept my finished flatbreads in aluminum foil and prior to serving, we tossed the foil packet in the oven for a few minutes to heat it up.

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I don’t have a picture of the breads with the curry, but they paired fabulously, of course. Yes, it’s more effort to make these than it is to pick up a packet at the grocery story – but it’s infinitely better.

Dorie’s Cookies “My Newest Chocolate Chip Cookies” Recipe Review

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A picky comment – the photography in Dorie’s Cookies is not my favourite. But as I continue to bake (and photograph) my own cookies, I’m realizing it is kind of hard to photograph cookies in exciting, unconventional ways. Respect to food stylists!

It is no secret that Cedric is a fan of chocolate chip cookies.

As I have previously explained, in our household, we like to make a batch of cookie dough and freeze individually portioned cookies so that when the need for something sweet hits, we simply have to throw a few cookie pucks in the oven and voila: instant fresh-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies.

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Recently, our freezer stash dwindled down to dangerously low supply levels and I decided it was time to make a new batch. Naturally, I knew I had to try a chocolate chip cookie recipe from my new Dorie’s Cookies cookbook – but which one?

I should have known that a cookbook devoted entirely to cookies would contain more than one chocolate chip cookie recipe – it is, after all, a classic. Here were my options:

  • Kerrin’s Multigrain Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • My Newest Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • My Classic Best Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • Two-Bite One-Chip Cookies

I opted for “My Newest Chocolate Chip Cookies” – Dorie’s latest remix of her original “My Classic Best Chocolate Chip Cookies” recipe.

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So what’s different about this recipe? Most chocolate chip cookie recipes vary only very slightly – but even the smallest change in sugar/butter/flour ratio, type of sugar used, cooking temperature, and cooking time can have radical effects. (Yes, chocolate chip cookies can be radical.) This particular recipe features a blend of all-purpose and whole-wheat flour and white and brown sugar for optimal chewiness. It uses baking soda, not baking powder, and it calls for a couple of unconventional spices (for chocolate chip cookies at least): nutmeg and coriander.

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I didn’t have any coriander on hand (isn’t coriander cilantro? do I really want that it my cookie?), but Dorie says that we can use our discretion when it comes to including or omitting the spices. I kept the nutmeg but left out the coriander.

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This recipe is as quick to make as any chocolate chip recipe is, though it calls for at least an hour in the fridge before baking. I rolled up most of my dough into individual cookies to freeze for later, but I did bake a few so that I could give this recipe the review it deserves.

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The recipe says to bake for 9 to 11 minutes. I left mine in for 10, and they looked perfect coming out: pale in the middle (chewiness galore!), brown on the edges. The pictures in the cookbook look a little darker than mine, but after I let mine sit for a few minutes, they were the perfect texture. If I had let them get darker, I think they would have been too crispy for my liking.

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Right out of the oven

The greatest challenge with chocolate chip cookies is knowing that they taste even better if you let them sit for a little while and cool fully – but also knowing that there is nothing better than a still-hot cookie with chocolate that oozes. I compromised: I ate my cookie straight out of the oven, and I left two cookies to cool fully for Cedric to sample when he got home.

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We both really liked this cookie. I’ll have to try a few more of the freezer ones before I make a final judgment call, and I’m definitely looking forward to trying some of the other chocolate chip cookie recipes in this book (the Kerrin’s recipe includes buckwheat flour and kasha – I don’t even know what kasha is!)

One final note on chocolate chip cookies: some people wonder if there is really such thing as a bad chocolate chip cookie. Oh, but there is – and for some reason, cafes and bakeries often serve substandard versions. As a kid, I loved the Tim Horton’s and Subway ones, but now the texture bothers me and so does the crystalized sugar taste. One local cafe (I won’t name names) serve puck-like chocolate chip cookies that are too hard and crumbly; another is disappointingly bland and low on actual chocolate.

So yes, it is possible to botch the chocolate chip cookie. And no, that is not a concern with this recipe – thankfully.