A recipe for strawberry pie, with song

Ever since a friend introduced me to the movie Waitress, I’ve been longing for the day that I could bake together with my children, humming the ditty Keri Russell sings about pie. Under the tutelage of Eagranie Yuh, my daughter and I learned her path to a magic pastry crust and made our very first pie together.

I dub this creation Mommy Loves Kaitlin Straw-berry Much Pie. Sing along with me, won’t you?

Sorry, Kate...you can't eat it yet...

Baby don’t you cry

Pastry overhang

Gonna make a pie

Berry bucket

Gonna make a pie with a heart in the middle

Pie rejection

Baby don’t be blue

Kate follows along with Eagranie's pie dough demo

Gonna make for you

Learning to pick strawberries

Gonna make a pie with a heart in the middle

Ready for the oven

Gonna be a pie from heaven above

Filling prep

Gonna be filled with strawberry love

Kate sugars the lattice

Baby don’t you cry

Fresh out of the oven

Gonna make a pie

Mother and daughter baked a pie

And hold you forever in the middle of my heart.

And now, on to the recipe.

Ingredients

You could skip making the pastry dough and use a store-bought shell, but where’s the fun in that? We used a 50/50 combo of butter and leaf lard that Eagranie had rendered herself. I’m now a firm believer in the magic that melted pork works into pastries.

Pastry dough

I usually double this recipe each time I make it. Half goes into the pie I’m baking that day; the other half gets shelved in the freezer for emergency pastry needs.

  • 2.5 cups all-purpose flour, refrigerator cold
  • 1/3 cup sugar, refrigerator cold
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 lb unsalted butter, refrigerator cold
  • 1/2 lb (leaf) lard, refrigerator cold
  • Up to 3/4 cup ice-cold water

Filling

  • 3-4 cups of (fresh) strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 – 1 1/2 cups sugar, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • A few shavings of lemon zest
  • 1 tsp minute tapioca (optional)

Specialty equipment

  • Rolling pin
  • (Pyrex) pie plate
  • cooling rack

Directions

Pastry dough

In a large bowl, thoroughly blend flour, salt, and sugar.

Working as quickly as possible so as to not warm the butter, use a knife to section off large chunks of butter into the large bowl. Throw flour blend over the butter chunks until well coated. Cut butter into your flour blend with your hands or with a pastry cutter. Repeat this process with the (leaf) lard.

A melange of fat

Eagranie taught me that a pastry crust gets a superior flake when the clusters of fat are not the same size — a state difficult to achieve with a pastry cutter. Says she:

When you’re incorporating the fat into flour, do it gently. Whether you’re using a pastry cutter or your hands (my preferred tools), you’re aiming for a sandy looking texture. There should be some pea-sized chunks, some smaller chunks, and some even smaller bits. The mixture should still be loose. Trust me, it’ll all come together in the end.

Have your ice-cold water at hand in a liquid measuring cup. Pour a trickle of water in to the mixing bowl and incorporate into the flour with your hand in a circular motion, taking some loose flour from the bottom and centre of the bowl with each pass. Clench some of the mix in your hand. At this point, the mix should fall back into the bowl like powder. Repeat until the mix changes texture, from gritty to on the verge of sticking together. Near the end, stick your hand in the cup and sprinkle a few drops of water in at a time. You don’t want to add too much water…just enough for everything to suddenly hold together.

Once it does hold, take out of the mixing bowl and form the dough into 1 or more balls the size of a hamburger or kaiser bun, which should be enough to roll out into a circle for your pie plate. Wrap in cling film and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes (60 minutes is ideal). This cools the fats back down, relaxes the gluten you’ve developed, and makes the rolling process much easier.

Filling

Our Krause Berry Farm strawberry haul

Fit the strawberries in the pie plate before slicing. You can fill it flat or mound it up 1-2″. The typical pie plate has room for 3-4 cups of whole fruit.

Slice then taste the strawberry batch you have. How sweet is it? If it’s quite sweet, measure off 1/4 cup of sugar and mix it in. Taste it again. Sweet enough? You can stop there. If it needs more, keep adding 1/4 cup of sugar and mixing it in until the sweetness is to your taste. Try to cap it at 1 1/2 cups.

Mix in the salt, nutmeg, flour, and lemon zest.

Strawberries hold a lot of water, so a filling made with strawberries would water-log the bottom pie crust long before the pie is cooked. Adding flour to the filling mix helps, but adding too much will make it taste too starchy. Eagranie’s trick was to add a teaspoon of minute tapioca. The tapioca absorbs any excess liquid after the flour absorbs all it can. It also adds a subtle chew to the overall filling.

Time your steps so that the filling sits together for about 20 minutes before assembly.

Assembly

Gonna make a pie with a heart in the middle

Once your dough has rested, roll out two circles approximately 1/8″-1/4″ thick, sized 1-2″ larger than the circumference of your pie plate.  Position the first circle into the pie plate, using gravity to drape the outer edges into the inside rim such that there is little to no space for air bubbles to form between your plate and the crust. The dough should hang over the upper edge of the pie plate by about an inch.

Add the pie filling to the plate. Roll out the second dough crust on top. Seal the crusts together using your favourite method. Brush top crust with milk (matte finish) or egg white (shinier finish) and sprinkle with sugar.

If you want to get snazzy about it, do a pie lattice or add dough ornaments instead of a solid top crust. For me, the choice largely depends on my strawberry content. If I mounded the filling 1-2″ above the top edge of the pie plate, I use a solid crust to keep it together. If the berries will make a relatively flat pie, I lattice the top.

Bake 20-25 minutes at 450F. Reduce to 375F and continue baking until the pie has been in the oven for about 60 minutes. You’ll know it’s time to eat when the top crust is flaky and golden and your home smells like an episode of Strawberry Shortcake.

Serve with ice cream, whipped cream, whole fresh berries, or all of the above. I know you want all of the above.

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Halloween 2011, Trick Edition: Pumpkin and date hand pie party favours

Jack o' lantern pumpkin and date hand pies

My birthday came and went this year without an explicitly planned Birthday Cake of Immortality (BCI). It was no real skin off my back to skip a year, as the 13-course Peking Duck banquet we threw at Red Star suited me just fine.

Red Star: Peking duck

It was brought to my attention, however, that the party favours that we created for our 30 guests not only made Halloweentastic gourmet treats but met the standards for a Birthday Cake of Immortality (a metaphoric eating of flesh).

Now that you’re done looking at previous BCIs and have managed to push your nausea down, I’ll share our tricks for creating these less controversial, delicious, and seasonally appropriate hand pies filled with pumpkin and Medjool dates.

The Filling

Time to meander over to The Cooking Photographer. Laura’s recipe is the one that came up when I Googled “jack o’ lantern hand pie”, and after seeing her handiwork, no other hand pie would do for my guests.

Since I needed 4x the number of hand pies that Laura’s recipe made, I naturally made 4x the amount of filling that a single batch called for. Big mistake!

Pumpkin and Medjool date pie filling

That’s all we needed per hand pie: a spoonful! One batch of filling was therefore more than enough to fill the 30 hand pies we made. It’s not too horrible if you make too much, though; stuff the remainder into a normal-sized pie and you’re all set.

The Dough

Rolling out the dough

My well-tempered friend Eagranie Yuh came over last August and taught me her tried-and-true pie pastry technique, which she had, in turn, learned from Kate McDermott, Seattle baker extraordinaire.

To give both ladies their proper due, I will simply link to their respective articles. Click away!

These particular hand pies were commemorating a Peking Duck dinner so I veered slightly off-recipe, using a smidgen less of leaf lard and making up for it with a heaping tablespoon of duck fat.

Specialized Tools

Since Laura clearly described how to cut, fill, and bake the hand pies, I won’t bother reiterating the assembly instructions here. Instead, I’ll share a few tips that may save you time and ruined tester pies.

To get your pies looking like a right old jack o’ lantern, find your neighbourhood Williams Sonoma and get these babies:

We chose not to cut out a nose in our hand pies, as doing so would have left us little room around the edges to seal the sides of the pie together. Similarly, we opted for the mouths and eyes that balanced our desire to have the filling stick out with our need to keep the pies sealed.

I didn’t want to create a separate label in the party favour bag to say thank you, so spending $30 on this message cutter set just to be able to press “Thank You” on the back side of the pie was well worth it. Also rationalized that this set would come in handy for future occasions where I feel like writing graffiti on my desserts.

I thought they came out pretty well, don’t you?

 

A one-pot, two-dish Filipino recipe for under $10

Ginisang bitsuelas and torta

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My mother taught me another recipe from our family’s archives the last time we visited her in Everett. It was an instant hit in our household, not only for its economy but for its amazing versatility. I’ve been tweaking and perfecting these variations for my non-Filipino and vegetarian guinea pigs; they insist that it’s time to share the details with them (and the world).

Since this recipe can make two different dishes, I’ve separated the ingredient lists and steps below into the base sautée, the green bean variation, and the potato variation.

Our favourite way to take advantage of this? We make the base, use a third of it for the green bean stir-fry to serve immediately, and use the same pan to make the potato variation from the remaining base, which is reserved in the fridge and then finished for a hearty breakfast the following morning.

When you try it out, let me know how you vary the recipe to suit your household’s palate.

The base sautée

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 lb lean ground pork [vegetarian: omit or substitute diced extra firm tofu]
  • 2 tablespoons a) fish sauce, b) tamari soy sauce, or c) light soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced

Directions

  1. In a large wok or skillet, sweat garlic and onion in oil over low heat until onions are translucent. Don’t burn the garlic.
  2. Increase heat to med/high and add pork, fish sauce, and water. Stir to break the pork into tiny chunks. Cover and boil for 20 minutes until pork is cooked and liquid is completely absorbed.  [Vegetarian: skip step or use tofu and soy instead.]
  3. Reduce heat to medium. Stir in tomatoes and cook until soft and thoroughly incorporated.

Dish #1: Ginisang Bitsuelas (sautéed green beans)

Ginisang bitsuelas (saute?ed green beans)

Ingredients

  • 1/3 of the base sautée, above
  • 1/2 lb green beans, thinly sliced on the oblique
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • Freshly cracked ground pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Using a sharp knife or mandolin, thinly slice your stash of green beans at a steep 20 degree angle. (That’s about as steep as the slant of a sandwich board.) If you’re really handy with a razor blade or are as old-school as my mom is, take a razor like the one above and shave off the slices like you would peel a carrot. Just don’t catch your wrist in it…

Razor blade, by scottfeldstein on Flickr

Razor blade, by scottfeldstein on Flickr (Creative Commons)

  1. Stir the green beans into the base sautée. Cover and cook on low/med heat until green beans soften and intensify their verdant colour. Don’t overcook – you want ’em al dente for best mouthfeel results.
  2. Add butter and pepper to taste. If it isn’t salty enough, reseason with fish or soy sauce. Serve on a mound of steamed rice.

Dish #2: Torta (Filipino frittata)

Torta and banana ketchup

Ingredients

  • 3/4 of the base sautée, above
  • 1 medium Russet potato, cut into 1cm cubes
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • Freshly cracked ground pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Add potato to base sautée. Cover and cook on low/med heat until potatoes are softened.
  2. Transfer to a large bowl and cool mixture in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. At this point, you can also call it a night and do the rest in the morning.
  3. Whisk eggs. Pour into cooled base and mix thoroughly.
  4. Heat oil on low heat in non-stick skillet or wok. Pour in a circle of the egg batter – about 3 heaping tablespoons’ worth. Season with pepper if desired. Cook, covered, until egg is firmly set.
  5. Flip over – using a plate if the torta is larger than your flipper – and cook reverse side for 1 minute or till lightly browned.
  6. Served with steamed rice and a side of (banana) ketchup or sweet and sour sauce.

My football food locks for Super Bowl XLV deliciousness

T minus 24 hours till Super Bowl XLV! It totally sucks that my team didn’t make it this year, but I will still join fellow embittered football fans this Super Bowl Sunday to watch the remaining teams go head-to-head. At least they are two teams that I would be happy to cheer for: the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers. My money’s on the Packers for fear of the repercussions (they’re the team of the best man at our wedding, whose wrath I do not wish to raise).

Our usual Super Bowl ritual involves preparing a feast fit for the game, which is more often than not tailored to the teams that are playing. Since I’ve already done my due diligence about generic plus pro-Steelers football fare when I wrote about the big game in 2009, I will simply recap those details for you here so to pay more attention on how you could represent the Packers at your Super Bowl party.

Go Packers! Cheesehead food and drink

Tom the Cheesehead

Photo credit: Bjorn Hanson (Creative Commons)

What you can make to celebrate Green Bay will likely involve cheese. Cheese made in Wisconsin, to be precise. Ideally, cheese that looks like the wedge above. If you can fashion it into a hat on your head, give yourself bonus points. You could probably make a drinking game out of it: take a swig every time you spot a close-up of a Packers fan in this head gear.

Speaking of drinks…Wisconsin is home to many a good brewery but the best are difficult to get in Vancouver. If you are really dying to get a beer of appropriate origin, you could always default to MGD.

Solids

Liquids

Go Steelers! Pro-Pittsburgh food and drink

Roethlis-burger sliders

Last time Pittsburgh was in the running, we created Ben Roethlis-Burger sliders that appeased our guests and all the meat-loving deities that exist in our universe. We’ll probably repeat these again to represent the Steelers as cooking this is probably easier than finding Iron City in town!

Want something you can just heat and serve? Apparently the perogy is much heralded in Pennsylvania.

Solids

Liquids

Other football-friendly eats

Spicy oven-baked chicken wings

If you don’t care to pick sides or just want to have stuff to eat that washes down nicely with a cold brew, consider these options. Warning: not for the faint of stomach, and definitely not for vegetarians.

  • Bacon bourbon popcornSarah Sprague had me at ‘bacon’. She had my husband at ‘popcorn’. With over a kilo of Chilliwack organic popping corn in our pantry, it would be a travesty to not attempt this recipe as soon as freaking possible.
  • Our rendition of Spicy Oven-Baked Chicken Wings (adapted from Fearless in the Kitchen: Innovative Recipes for the Uninhibited Cook by Christine Cushing)
  • Memphis Blues Super Bowl Party Pak – Don’t have a grill or the time? Feed 8 people with a slew of barbecued meats, chili and wings. Order ahead for this $95 eat-in /take-out special.

Enjoy the game around town

If the bar scene is more your style, check out what some of  Vancouver’s pubs and restaurants are offering for sustenance on February 6, 2011.  Know of others showing the game in the city? Drop me a comment here.

  • Red Card – Settle in as early as 1pm to get your fill of $5 Kronenbourgh lagers and sample the game specials: hot wings galore and Super Bowl chili with the requisite cornbread on the side.
  • Library Square Public House – or choose the Donnelly Group pub nearest to you. Come in after 3:30pm.
  • Kingston Taphouse – 11am marks the start of Kingston’s Super Bowl specials.  Buy a $10 ticket to assure you a seat, a Prime Rib Burger and some Granville Island Beer. You might even win a trip for 2 to Vegas.
  • Memphis Blues’ Super Bowl All-You-Can-Eat Party – If you haven’t called them to book your table yet, get on the phone right now. $20 gets you unlimited mini-ribs and fries, and buckets of Rocky Mountain Pilsner will be going for $10.

Other Super Bowl XLV resources

These additional sites may help you with the planning of this year’s Super Bowl shenanigans. Of note is the article with Southern recipes – a nod to the fact that the game’s being played this year at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas.

What will you eat and drink on Super Bowl Sunday? Send me your tips and/or your favourite Super Bowl recipes.

My mother-in-law’s Christmas Eve tourtière recipe

Since my husband will miss two Christmases in a row with his family in Winnipeg, I decided to surprise him at dinner tonight with the meal that his mother serves the family every Christmas Eve: greek salad and tourtière.

slice of tourtière (by Karen Hamilton)

I had to call my mother-in-law for the recipe this week. It was one of those family recipes that hasn’t really been documented. Technically, she does have her notes jotted down somewhere, and I’m sure it was based on someone else’s recipe once upon a time, but my MIL does this savoury pie with her eyes closed nowadays. I hope I can do it justice and transport my husband if only briefly to his mother’s dinner table tonight.

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For the pastry

You could always buy pastry shells from your local grocer, but for me and my family, Christmas is about making everything from scratch!

  • 5 cups all-purpose flour, unsifted
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 lb of (Tenderflake) lard, very cold
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 2 cups ice cold water

Mix first 4 ingredients above in a large bowl. Integrate the lard using a pastry cutter.

Using a cup measure, break in 1 whole egg and add in 1 tablespoon of vinegar. Add enough ice cold water to make 3/4 cup liquid. Sprinkle this liquid over the lard mixture and toss together.

Divide into 5 equal pieces. For each pie you’ll make, roll out 2 pieces large enough for your pie plate. Shape remaining pieces into flattened discs and wrap in wax paper. You can freeze these in a large freezer bag for 3-6 months.

For the filling

  • 2 lbs lean ground pork
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon pepper (generous grind)
  • 1/2 teaspoon each of thyme, savoury, sage (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (1/3 teaspoon adding optional spices)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic (optional)
  • 1 cup boiling water (kettle)
  • 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs

On medium to high heat, crumble pork into frying pan. Add water, garlic, onion, and spices. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes.

Cover and simmer for another 20 minutes. If there’s more than a 1/2 cup of fat in the pan, take out all but a 1/4 cup.

Mix in 1/4 cup of fresh bread crumbs and let cool completely.

Final Assembly

Lay one piece of your rolled out dough into pie pan. Fill to the brim with the meat mixture.

Lay the second piece of rolled dough over the pie. Press edges down with tines of a fork and cut excess off with a knife. Make Christmasy shapes to top pie with the excess dough. My mother-in-law does holly berries and leaves.

Brush top of pie with heavy cream or egg mixture (1 egg and 1 tablespoon water, beaten together). Lay down pasty dough decorations. Brush decorations very lightly with the cream or egg mixture.

Bake in oven at 375F for 30-40 minutes . You know it’s ready when dough is golden brown and sticking a knife into the very centre of the pie comes out piping hot.

Making ahead

If all you want to do on Christmas Eve is pop a pie into the oven, you can prepare everything in advance. As mentioned above, the pastry dough will keep 3-6 months in the freezer. You can make the filling up to a week in advance and assemble the final pie for the freezer.

To do so, wrap your uncooked pie in 2 layers of saran wrap and a layer of foil and place in your freezer. Thaw in the fridge the morning that you plan to serve your tourtière at dinner.

tortiere (by Karen Hamilton)

Bon appétit and have a wonderful Christmas Eve!

On the making of an edible Stay Puft Marshmallow Man

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man birthday cake

My 30th birthday called for another Birthday Cake of Immortality project. This time, we decided to re-create Ghostbusters’ Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in – of course – homemade marshmallow. No corners were cut: it was 3D with a little bit of help from my large cutting board to stay upright, with legs made of marshmallow fondant so not to collapse in an immediate heap during the party.

What you’ll need to make this yourself

Ingredients per marshmallow batch (2 batches made a week ahead)

We needed two batches of marshmallow for this project. The first gave us the first dome halves of the head and body plus Mr. Stay Puft’s hat. The second gave us the other halves of the head and body with enough leftover batter for a mini-muffin pan that would mold us cute little arm segments.

  • 1/2 cup white/light corn syrup or the equivalent in liquid glucose
  • 2 cups of granulated sugar
  • Two separate 1/2 cup measurements of very (ice) cold water
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 egg whites
  • 2.5 tablespoons of gelatin (~47.5mL)

Ingredients for marshmallow fondant (1 batch, split into several colours, made days ahead)

Since we needed a denser base for the legs of our marshmallow man, we decided to employ marshmallow fondant for the legs. We also reserved a bit of this fondant, tinged with the appropriate food colouring, to give us Stay Puft’s clothing and hat detail.

  • 1 16 ounce bag of mini marshmallows
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 lbs confectioners’ or icing sugar (~8 cups)

Ingredients for royal icing (1 batch on Assembly Day)

We used royal icing to glue together all the body parts. In retrospect, we should have allowed the body to set in the freezer so that the icing froze or dried before we made the cake upright. Keep this in mind if you re-attempt this project.

  • 3 ounces (pasteurized) egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups confectioners’ or icing sugar

Supplies

Most marshmallow recipes call for a 9×13 baking pan, resulting in about 96 cubes of 1″ marshmallow goodness. Since we were creating a monster, we had to figure out how to mold our creation into round shapes instead. This is the arsenal we wound up collecting for this project:

  • Parchment paper
  • 3 round bowls for molds – we used 2 stainless steel mixing bowl for head + body and a tiny ramekin for the hat
  • Mini-muffin pan or piping bag for arm segment molds
  • Piping bag for marshmallow fondant / icing detailing
  • 2 large cutting boards
  • A heckofalot of icing or confectioner’s sugar at the ready (at least one package, but have 2 just in case)
  • Cooking spray or vegetable oil
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Stand mixer with balloon whisk attachment
  • Hand mixer
  • 3 quart saucepan
  • Candy thermometer (one that works!) and knowledge of what the candy soft ball stage looks like

Making the marshmallow

Homemade marshmallows: prepping molds with icing sugar and parchment paper

Grease molds with oil and line bottom with parchment paper. Sprinkle crazily with icing sugar till it looks like a blanket of snow. Better to have more icing sugar than you need, because marshmallow is extremely sticky.

Homemade marshmallows: blooming the gelatin

Pour 1/2 cup of ice cold water into your stand mixer’s bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin on top and let bloom while you move on to the next step.

Homemade marshmallows: soft ball sugar stage

In your (small to medium sized) saucepan, stir together the sugar, salt, corn syrup or glucose, and remaining cold water with a wooden spoon. Set element to low heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to medium and stop stirring, using a combination of your candy thermometer and cold water tests to stop at the point where your sugar syrup reaches the soft ball stage.

Don’t rely just on a thermometer reading like we did for our first batch. Your syrup should be clear, around the 230-240F mark depending on your altitude, and should form a pliant ball when dropped into cold water. You’ve gone way too far if your syrup turns colour.

Homemade marshmallows: sugar and gelatin whipped till white and gooey

Pour your sugar syrup over the bloomed gelatin. It’ll start to bubble and froth so just be careful not to get hit by the candy splatter.

Set your bowl into the stand mixer and gear your whisk up to high (8-10 on a Kitchenaid mixer), starting slowing from Stir and making your way up to high speeds in increments. This will let your super hot sugar cool without splattering you and your home with liquid that will burn your delicate spots.

Once up to speed, whip for approximately 6 minutes until your mixture has tripled in volume, turned marshmallow white, and starts to pull away from the edge of the mixing bowl like chewing gum from the underside of a desk.

Homemade marshmallows: egg whites, stiff peaks

During those 6 minutes, whip your egg whites in a separate bowl with your hand mixer until stiff peaks form. Don’t do this step any earlier or you’ll find that your egg whites will deflate or re-liquidate on you.

Homemade marshmallows: folding in vanilla and egg whites

Slip the vanilla and whipped egg whites into your stand mixer batter and whip just long enough to incorporate the three together into one silky smooth batter of marshmallow yum. It should look like this:

Homemade marshmallows: batter complete

Pour into your readied molds, using a spatula if you need to, but try not to get anything else in the batter — it’ll stick to everything!

If you have extra batter left over, pour it into a prepped rectangular baking pan sized small enough to contain the batter in an inch-high layer.

Marshmallow arm segments

Dust with another generous layer of icing sugar and place in your fridge, uncovered, at least 3 hours or overnight.

When your molds are set, take out your icing sugar and an airtight container system that you can use to store your marshmallow in the fridge. Dip a small, sharp knife into icing sugar and pry the marshmallow out of the molds. Remove the parchment paper from your marshmallow and dust the areas that were in contact with the mold with more icing sugar. Close your container and place in your fridge until assembly. These babies will keep like this for up to one week.

Homemade marshmallows: 1 batch down, 2 to go

Making the marshmallow fondant

I don’t have pictures of this process as Jason had followed this recipe and this twopart video tutorial from the comfort of his own home. Hayley, our resident fondant expert, did email the following steps and tips to share with you:

  1. Prepare a workspace: Using shortening, grease a counter top or cutting board large enough to knead the fondant. Keep shortening accessible and in a container from which you can scoop out additional shortening with your fingers (I usually put about 1/2 c. in a small bowl).  Open your bag of icing sugar.
  2. Put entire bag of marshmallows in a microwave-proof bowl and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of water.
  3. Melt marshmallows in 20-30 second intervals, stirring between each.
  4. When all the lumps are melted, start adding icing sugar in intervals, stirring gently to incorporate.
  5. After several additions of icing sugar, the dough will become stiff enough to knead. You will use almost the entire bag of icing sugar.
  6. You are now ready to start kneading. Grease your hands generously! Front and back of both hands plus in between your fingers.
  7. Remove mixing spoon and with greased hands, begin kneading in the bowl until all the incing sugar from the bowl has been incorporated.
  8. Remove dough from bowl and knead on greased cutting board/counter top, adding additional icing sugar as needed.
  9. Keep your workspace well greased! Until your dough comes together, it will be very sticky and re-greasing of both your hands and kneading area will be necessary.
  10. If your fondant looks tough or dry, add additional shortening.
  11. Knead until the dough comes togther and is smooth in texture.

Your end product should be smooth and even in texture, very pliable but strong. Rub fondant with a small amount of shortening on both sides and cover well in plastic wrap until ready to use.

Game Day finishing touches

Piecing together the head and body

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man birthday cake

Prepare a batch of royal icing using this Alton Brown recipe or something similar. Spread a layer of icing on each of the flat sides of the 4 domes you have for the head and body. Form a large sphere for the body and a smaller sphere for the head.

Unlike what we did, place spheres uncovered in the fridge or freezer to let the icing harden as you assemble the rest of Mr. Stay Puft.

Marshmallow fondant and icing details

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man birthday cake

Based on the size of your body, warm up and shape flattened discs of marshmallow fondant to create 2 stacks of fondant legs, like above. We used 75% of our fondant batch to form 6 discs.

The rest of the fondant was then tinged generously with blue food colouring and rolled out into a 1/8 or 1/4″ thick layer, from which we cut a large rectangle for Stay Puft’s bib and a long stripe to wrap around the base of his hat. We draped the bib over the top of the body and piped lines of white royal icing to achieve his sailor panache.

We bought a tube  of brown gel and red icing paste to paint on eyes, a mouth, and the red ribbon at the bottom of the blue bib. You can do the same or choose different methods to attach these details to your marshmallow man.

Final assembly

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man birthday cake

On a cutting board wrapped in cling film, we attached the head, body, hat, and fondant legs to each other using the remaining royal icing. We pierced the body with two bamboo skewers where the arms should go, and stacked the arm segments from our mini-muffin molds onto the sticks until we achieved an arm length we liked. The final arm was not skewered through all the way and was stacked with the non-flat side out to imply ghostly fingershapes.

It’s Alive!

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man birthday cake

Throughout our house party where we served him up, Mr. Stay Puft remained horizontal on said cutting board until we were ready for dessert. We then used two cutting boards to get him upright for 5 minutes – long enough for our guests to take rounds of photos with him intact.

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man birthday cake

Before long, our hunger and the non-set state of our royal icing caused our dear marshmallow man to be pulled apart and knifed into 1″ segments, to be served on the cutting board along with graham crackers and mini-Rolos for a s’moretastic cake alternative for my 30th birthday.

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Birthday cakes of immortality

My extended family has a strange birthday ritual. Every year, my cousin and her brother toast each other with red wine on their birthdays, declaring,

To our immortality and amateur vampirism…the secret is eating babies.

I cannot fathom how this inside joke was ever spawned, nor do I fully understand their propensity towards the macabre, but ever since my cousins described this rite to me a few years ago, a spin-off ritual emerged. We’ve become known for holding baking days for Birthday Cakes of Immortality: concept cakes that do not cater to mainstream tastes.

Birthday Cakes of Immortality (by tiny bites)

Have you run away yet? No? Then take a look at the three cakes that we’ve concocted in my kitchen to date.

The Baby Cake

Baby, up close

The first Birthday Cake of Immortality evolved out the discovery of my cousins’ birthday ritual. We pondered how to append the “eating babies” part of the toast to the act of drinking red wine without getting arrested for indecency, cannibalism, or worse. The answer: rounds of sponge cake layered with strawberry jam; flesh-coloured buttercream frosting; licorice umbilical cord. A friend belatedly suggested a strawberry Jell-o placenta.

Of the 5 witnesses present on this day, only myself and my cousin Leanne were able to dig in. Team member Jason could only stomach the cake bits that were shaved off the final product.

I know I will look back at this project after birthing our daughter in January and throw up in my mouth a little.

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Operation ‘Operation’

Operation

My 29th birthday was the occasion for trying a cake that looked and acted like one of our favourite Milton Bradley board games. Dubbed Operation ‘Operation, the project called for a gigantic dessert in the shape of a man under surgery. Jason, Leanne, and I again formed the core cake-making team. Four red velvet cakes layered atop a large wooden cutting board formed the basis of the body and flesh-coloured fondant was rolled on top. Marshmallow fondant bones were precisely shaped by our guest contributor, Hayley.

We took this cake to Boneta and had a blast playing and ingesting this edible board game with our dinner guests and curious kitchen / front-of-the-house staff.

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The Bacon Cake

Bacon and maple syrup layer

Our latest project focussed on Leanne’s favourite ingredient: bacon. I had long wanted to make her a cake infused with pork — can you think of a better way to pay compliment to a Filipino?

The logistics fell into place as Leanne, Jason, and I toured the grocery store on Baking Day for inspiration. The cake base would be savoury rather than sweet, the cornbread recipe coming from the new cookbook by Memphis Blues (my cousin’s favourite eatery). Use of maple syrup and Pralines & Cream ice cream would eliminate the tedious task of making and applying frosting. My recently acquired skill of bacon weaving would be leveraged to top the cake with the star ingredient; the remaining bacon slices in the pack were crumbled up and inserted as layer filling along with a generous drench of maple syrup.

The outcome was divine. It was like breakfast, lunch, and dessert rolled into one.

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Brainstorming for October 28th

The next Birthday Cake of Immortality will be for my birthday around the Halloween season. We’re currently at a loss for what to make, but there’s still time to think of something. Any ideas? Please share.

And you are more than welcome to participate in the next round…as a baker, eater, or both.

My mother-in-law’s recipe for Winnipeg Folk Fest cookies

My mother-in-law in Winnipeg is an amazing cook, and I am so thankful that she shares her recipe trove with her family and friends. One of my favourite cookies that she makes in the summer is her Winnipeg Folk Fest cookies, so named for the music and hempy festival that occurs in the city around this time of year.

Winnipeg Folk Fest cookies

As she says, “These are not the official cookies of the Winnipeg Folk Fest, but they are so wholesome and hippy-like that they should be!”

I baked a batch of these to share with our fellow Blogathoners at The Workspace, and another batch will be made for the Tiny Bites Grand Prize (that you might win if you donate before 6am!)

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup flax
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 1/4 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup grated coconut

Directions

  1. Mix butter with sugars.
  2. Add eggs, water & vanilla and mix well.
  3. Add all the dry ingredients and stir.
  4. Chill dough for 30 minutes.
  5. Drop by the spoonful onto a greased baking sheet and bake at 350F for 12–15 minutes.

When done, they should be lightly browned and firm to the touch. Makes approximately 4 dozen cookies.

Giveaway alert!

Another unannounced giveaway for all you generous Blogathon 2009 donors. Please give a round of applause for Jason L., who has won a batch of these Winnipeg Folk Fest cookies, made with love by yours truly.

It’s not too late to get in your donation to the Greater Vancouver Food Bank and for the last 2 prizes left to draw: the $450 Tiny Bites Grand Prize and the Top Donor dinner for 2, traipsing through the culinary excellence of Blue Water Cafe, CinCin, and West!

My recipe for Lumpiang Prito (pork and vegetable spring rolls)

Lumpiang prito

Lumpia is one of my favourite Filipino foods to eat in the summertime. There are several types of lumpia, ranging from the fresh lumpiang sariwa to the meat lover’s lumpiang Shanghai. I myself am partial to lumpiang prito, which typically comes in the format of vegetables (and optionally pork) stir-fried, stuffed, and deep-fried in large egg roll wrappers.

You can get creative with the vegetables you choose. Sometimes we put in potato matchsticks, diced water chestnuts, chopped celery, green beans sliced on the diagonal…but the recipe below is our standard base and the one that our guest prefer.

Ingredients

That's a lot of knife work

  • 3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1″ matchsticks
  • 1 head of chinese cabbage, shredded
  • 600g of bean sprouts
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 30 large egg roll (wonton) wrappers, thawed
  • Oil for frying (canola, grapeseed, sunflower)
  • 1 lb of ground pork

Directions

Lumpiang prito

  1. In a large wok, sweat garlic and onions over low heat until fragrant.
  2. Increase head to medium-high and sauté ground pork until meat is no longer pink.
  3. Add soy sauce to taste.
  4. Toss in carrots and stir-fry for at least  5 minutes or until slightly softened.
  5. Add shredded cabbage and stir-fry for at least 5 minutes or until colour perks up.
  6. Rinse and drain bean sprouts and add to wok, stirring until incorporated. Taste mixture and season with soy and/or fish sauce till you are satisfied with the flavour.
  7. Drain mixture of excess moisture and transfer to a storage container. Refrigerate until cool. This will be the filling for the lumpia.
  8. Wrap 1 tablespoon of cooled filling  in each egg roll wrapper. Place in a single layer on a large flat surface and let dry. If you are going to cook them right away, let them be; if you will keep them for later, store them in a single layer in the freezer until you’re ready to cook them up.
  9. In a deep fryer or pot, heat oil to 180C and maintain at this temperature.
  10. Drop a single layer of lumpia into the oil and cook 3 minutes on each side or until a very light golden brown (they will darken to golden brown as they dry).
  11. Drain on a plate of paper towel and serve promptly.

Makes 25 – 30 lumpia.

High Tea Series: The Empress Hotel (Victoria)

My recent trip to Victoria with Coast Hotels & Resorts gave me the perfect opportunity to take on the mother of all high teas in British Columbia: the historic Empress Hotel.

Around the Empress Hotel

At an eye-popping price tag of $55 (make that $67 for Royal Tea), I was a huge skeptic. Even if the tea really is fantastic and the dainties to die for, can a bunch of micro sandwiches, scones, and leaf-infused hot water really be worth all that money?

Read on and decide for yourself.

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First impressions

Our group of six strolled around the ivy citadel that is the Fairmont Empress, already in awe of its Victorian glory. The room that housed us for tea was no less impressive:

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

The Tea Lobby was elegant, airy, luxurious, and filled with the tinkling from a baby grand piano. I clapped my hands with glee when it became clear that he was playing the theme song from the Harry Potter films. Fittingly majestic and magical for a space such as this.

Full service afternoon tea

Have you ever gone to a tea house in Vancouver and had the equivalent of a butler see to your every need? If you have, you must tell me where, because this has only ever happened to me at the Empress.

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

Paul, our stately server, welcomed us with full pomp, pulling out the chairs for the ladies and placing our napkins on our seats as one would expect at a fine dining restaurant. His delivery of our strawberries and chantilly, presented elegantly in cut crystal goblets, was crisp and expedient. It was bettered only by his performance with our tea. Apparently, we were to have him wait on us completely, with our teapots set on its own table as he poured cup after cup for each of us. He even executed the cream and sugar himself on the first round.

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

He was so prepared to continue pouring our tea for us, having remembered what each of us had ordered, that we had to stop him in the middle of service after we decided to sample each other’s teas. After one incident where he poured Angela’s tea into the teacup she had already half-filled with Anny’s tea, Paul realized that we were quite happy to help ourselves. He consequently pulled back a bit, returning only occasionally to top up our cups and plop more cream and sugar into those that warranted it, confirming the tea we wanted from then on.

Giggle! All the attention made me feel like a princess.

A closer look at the food and drink

It may be partially due to the service and our surroundings, but by God, did I ever love the tea here!

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

I naturally had to try the The Empress Blend, made exclusively for the hotel with the express intention of pairing with the dainties of afternoon tea. Here’s what the menu told me about it:

Exclusive to The Fairmont Empress, this delightful blend boasts a bright coppery colour and takes milk exceedingly well. The Assam component lends a rich malty character, while the Kenyan black tea provides subtle floral hints. Kenyan green tea infuses a bright and lively aroma, complemented by the fruity, sprightly, and airy piquant flavours of Dimbula from Sri Lanka. Small amounts of Kemum draw the elements together with a burgundy depth and light oaky notes.

Half the table had the Empress Blend along with me, while others selected from the menu of eight delicious sounding options. We all seemed to prefer the ones we ordered for ourselves, and my tastings of the rest, while personally paling in comparison to the Empress Blend, were fragrant, colourful, and beautiful with the food that we had in front of us.

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

Anny evidently enjoyed her strawberries and chantilly, as did I.

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

The presentation of our dainties was utterly refined. My eyes were immediately drawn to the marbled chocolate tulips on the top tier and the smoked salmon pinwheels and mushroom crostini on the bottom one.

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

For me, the savouries were clearly a cut above your average afternoon tea fare. The plate popped with colour and contrast, and the flavours were bright and full without being overbearing. A lot of care seemed to be put in to ensure that these items would complement the teas (which still should be the star of the meal, no?). Best cucumber sandwich I’ve had; the horseradish in the spread was the magic ingredient, I think.

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

The scones were good but not anything to write home about. They weren’t a match for the scones that I still fondly recall from Secret Garden, but they are better than those from T Room & Bakery and Bacchus. Although I downed every bite, I do wish they had served us the crumpets instead (their cookbook has a recipe dating back over 100 years).

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

By the time we reached dessert, our group was pleasantly stuffed. I was barely capable of trying even a mouthful of each of the sweets on the top tier. Besides, I find that the desserts are often made much too sweet to be served with tea, so this part of the service was not one that I was particularly looking forward to.

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

Again, as you can see, Anny enjoyed whatever had been put in front of her. Others reported the deliciousness of the sweets, ultimately favouring the the most delicate ones due to their pairings with the tea. From my nibbles, I leaned towards the lemon tarts and the shortbread with crumbles of Earl Grey tea leaves baked in.

Our verdict

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

Is high tea at the Empress expensive? Hell, yes! All told, the six of us spent nearly $400 for an afternoon that didn’t even qualify as a full meal.

Is it worth it? Absolutely. Best afternoon tea experience I’ve had to date, in an atmosphere of opulence and a city of much Victorian charm.

Make your own Empress afternoon tea at home

Anyone that helps us give to the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society for Blogathon 2009 has the opportunity to win a tin of The Empress’ Centennial Blend plus a copy of If Teapots Could Talk, which is filled with recipes for the food you see above and more. See full rules and eligibility below.

  1. By day’s end on July 24, 2009, every $10 that you donate towards Tiny Bites’ Blogathon drive for the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society grants you 1 entry to the draw. If you donate $50, that equals 5 entries for you and $50 x 3 = $150 worth of food for the people that the Food Bank helps.
  2. Please contact us about your donation and/or bookings before July 25th so that we can make sure you get all the entries that you deserve.
  3. The winner will be announced at 4:30am on July 26, 2009, while I am on shift for Blogathon 2009.

Thank you for your donations and best of luck in winning this Early Bird prize!