Tag Archives: baking

Easter eating and Terroir Symposium 2013

Felix colouring eggs-just before a "pink" spill

Welcome to Easter weekend.  As I was taking pics of my mom and Felix making our traditional Good Friday lunch of Czech “jidaski” (a sweet yeast bread that my mom “ties” into little buns that we eat up with a lot of butter and a lot, a lot of honey.) I realized that the eating part (though delicious and hightly anticipated) is not even as important as the “making of” the jidaski.

Screen Shot 2013-03-31 at 9.47.31 AM

Even in English I can’t read this handwriting (my moms) and my grandmothers never looked like anything more than wavy, snaking squiggles to me.

Because the “making of” makes me happy. It reminds me of being a kid, of our traditions and of the fact that every year my mom seems honestly mystified with something in the age-old recipe that she doesn’t ever remember doing before.  It usually has to do with the yeast and every year we wait anxiously to see if the jidaski will rise to their expected glory.

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We also always have a discussion that goes along the lines of “yeast, it’s not what it used to be”.   And always  looks are passed between Tad and my dad, “please let there be some meat with this lunch”.  Which there is, though yah, the point of the whole jidaski thing is “no meat on Good Friday”.   (But what can God have against thinly shaved, Italian rosemary ham?)

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So the making begins.  Felix starts to add and mix–with assistance from the master.

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There is always a spill–flour or sugar scattering–and my mom makes everyone stand back, as if we are on the edge of a dangerous sinkhole–and cleans up thoroughly,  extending the fault line at least a foot outside the contaminated area. Since my efforts at wiping are haphazard at best, there is always a point where I step beyond the invisible DO NOT CROSS tape and get reprimanded.

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Somehow by the end of the whole baking ritual my mom is ultimately left to finish which probably is a relief.  Or so I tell myself as by this point I have reverted to disinterested teen daughter, flipping through whatever old magazines are around the cottage.  (Did you know Kate Middleton is pregnant?)

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But we’re all back for the reveal.  Golden, aromatic and tender jidaski.  Ready for lunch.  Guaranteed I will eat one or five too many.

What a festive whip!

What a festive whip!

And here is an Easter transition that only my mom and dad adhere to (kidding!), Shades of Shades of Grey…

“In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, a tradition of spanking or whipping is carried out on Easter Monday. In the morning, men spank women with a special handmade whip called a pomlázka (in Czech) or korbáč (in Slovak), or, in eastern Moravia and Slovakia, throw cold water on them.”  (WIKIPEDIA)

Which brings me to the Terroir Symposium this year  (aside from the whipping as far as I know) whose themes are surely rooted in family food traditions including hashing out the same disagreements each year as you sit around the table eating far too much of a good thing.  Which is a good thing in itself.

For the Love of Food: Stories, Memories & Culture

Everything we eat has a story. Food is the basis of our existence, but we can also craft narratives around it: stories of hunger and sharing, of bounty and blessing. The dishes we prepare embody the traditions and heritage of our cultures; the memories we create through the food we eat, help define us. Food reminds us where we come from and encourages us to go somewhere new.

For this edition of Terroir, our presenters will share stories of their most compelling food experiences, memories and inspirations.

05 Pictures of mushrooms


Filed under Local and Community Toronto, Ruminations on the Edible, Uncategorized

Elegant and scrumptious- Brown Sugar Shortbread (what else r u doing Boxing Day?)

Shortbread Brown Sugar

In case you ran out of Christmas cookies before Christmas (what?  it was only me?) you will have a perfect reason for making more.  I took the opportunity to make–for the first time– a family recipe passed on to me by my friend Marilyn.  Her short bread (and her mincemeat tarts) are now almost as highly anticipated as my own mom’s cookies (almost! I said almost mam!)

Shortbread Final 2

Marilyn’s daughter Emma, also a good friend has posted the recipe on her very fun blog Strolling the City in Heels, where you can learn a little more about their family tradition.  I am posting the step-by-step picture version for my friends who say they “don’t bake”  to give them reason to take a crack at bringing joy to their cookie jar. (Get a cookie jar people).  And BTW while on Emma’s blog, also check out Marilyn’s Tourtiere recipe.

butter shortbread

You only need three ingredients starting with 1 pd salted butter at room temperature.  (I only had unsalted butter so added 1/4 tsp salt per stick of butter for a total of 1 teaspoon salt)

brown sugar

Brown sugar, packed 3/4 cup.

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And then the recipe says, “4 heaping cups flour”.  Which makes perfect sense to anyone who has made the recipe a million times.  But I wasn’t sure if it meant scoop the flour (which packs it more) or fill the cup with a spoon.  So I filled the cup with a scoop and let it heap a bit.

Then I weighed the flour for future reference.  (I used 650g of all-purpose flour for anyone who has a scale and is anal like me.)

cream sugar

Step 1: Cream the butter and sugar.

Shortbread dough

Step 2: Add the flour and combine well. I started with a wooden spoon but finished (as the recipe says) with my hands.  Be really careful to get all the flour integrated well (really get your hands in there!) with the butter/sugar so there are not white streaks in the dough–or (as happened to me) when you roll it out parts of the dough will not stick together.

rolled dough

Step 3: The recipe then says you pat the dough out to about 1/2 inch thick.  Use the base of your hand to flatten for a smooth surface (if you use your finger tips the dough will have many indents).  I finished off with a quick pass with the rolling-pin  (cheater–I know!) and rolled in a couple batches.

Also–my dough was about 3/4 thick which in my mind’s memory is the thickness of Marilyn’s cookies.

Shortbread cookie cutters

Step 4: Now  have a grand old-time cutting out your cookies.   All my cookie cutters stuck to Marilyn’s original size (or slightly under) about 2-3 inches.

uncooked short bread

Place on parchment lined cookie sheets. Prick the uncooked shapes with a fork and sprinkle with white or coloured sugar.

Cooling shortbread

Step 5: Preheat the oven to 300.

Bake for 20 minutes or til golden (says the recipe).  But mine baked for 40 minutes until they were golden-which seems strange–maybe just my oven?  But they turned out delicious and not burnt at all.  So, check them at 20 minutes and add 5 minutes at a time.


Short bread on plate

The Original Recipe (my notes are above)


4 heaping cups all purpose flour

1 pound salted butter, softened to room temperature

3/4 cup packed brown sugar


Cream butter and sugar together.  Add flour, mixing in thoroughly with your hands.

Pat dough out to about 1/2” thick. Cut cookies with cutters. Prick each cookie with a fork and dust with coloured sugar.

Bake at 300 degrees F for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool thoroughly on racks

PS Just imagine the cookie cutter potential—hearts for Valentines Day, Beer mugs for St. Patricks Day, Dollar Signs for when the US falls off the Fiscal Cliff…..


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Easiest Bestest Shortbread–it’s a breeze. A melt-in-your-mouth breeze.

Shortbread threesome

Shortbread.  Who doesn’t love it?  And now you can make it in no time at all–the most challenging part will be holding the electric beaters.  Honest.   Holiday baking does not have to be hard.

Single shortbread

I spent a day baking with my friend Lianne and we made these at about 9:30 pm–after a long day of sparkles and sugar cookie mayhem with cookie meister Felix.  We almost decided it was just too late–and then suddenly they were done.  And being eaten at a pace where our metabolism didn’t stand a chance.

So thank you Ruth Krohnert, here is the recipe for “Melt in Your Mouth” Shortbread.

Shortbread recipe

Only one additional tip–depending on your oven you might want to check these at about 17-18 minutes.  You want them to remain pale white.

And you can make much cooler sprinkle colours (Martha Stewart cool)  than the store-bought–just follow Ruth’s instructions.

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Now, I’m not saying they are the most beautiful shortbread ever, I am sayin’ they’re bloody delicious.

So now that you have that all set, look at some of our sugar cookies.  Here is Felix making his masterpiece:

Felix works on cookie

And ok, I made these and do think they are kind of cute (yes, 2 out of the 30 I decorated made it to CUTE).

Sugar Cookie Santa and reindeer

Have a great weekend and I have two great posts coming up from Kelsie Parsons…..stay tuned.

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The words “Cookie Exchange” need not cause a panic attack

PIC 2 Final Squares 2

It’s that time of year!  Expect an email with subject: Cookie Exchange! to pop-up in the INBOX.  Do not leap back in fear as one does from email chain letters that promise certain death (sent from you favourite Aunt).  Instead be the first to say YES, I will do it.  Cookie exchanges are actually a lot of fun and if you make these simple 7-Layer squares (errr..cookies) your end of the deal will be sealed and sliced in no time.  No flour involved.

Add coconut

If you can layer things like shredded coconut  (notice a child doing it)..

chocolate chips..

or chocolate chips….

and drizzle with condensed milk (you may need to know how to open a can at this point)

You can end up with this….

Just out of the oven!

All these pics are pulled from more specific directions on my Family Fun blog for foodnetwork.ca.  Just click HERE to go there for the recipe.  If you have a non stick pan that is the best way to go, but I just used a ceramic casserole dish.

PIC 1 Final Squares 1

And I’d love to hear if there are any classic 7 layer (or 5 layer or 9 layer) cookies in your holiday repertoire!

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Hot Cross Buns (cuz it’s Easter don’t ya know)

“Hot Cross Buns, Hot Cross Buns, One-a-penny, Two a-penny, Hot Cross Buns!”

Am I evoking childhood memories?  Apparently this was a popular song and even “street-cry” according to Wikipedia.  I have never encountered it in my childhood but would love to hear people yelling out about sweet, spiced buns all day Good Friday.  And yes, the cross is the cross as in crucifix.  (Not Horcrux, that’s Harry Potter)

And look what other lore I discovered, “If taken on a sea voyage, hot cross buns are said to protect against shipwreck. If hung in the kitchen, they are said to protect against fires and ensure that all breads turn out perfectly. The hanging bun is replaced each year.”

All to say is that probably someone on the Titanic should have packed some HCB’s in their trunk, and it is a relief to know that if you’re going to hang these buns if your kitchen, it’s a once a year event kind of like cleaning the crumbs out of the little toaster tray I always forget is there (maybe that explains the fires?).

I haven’t even eaten many hot-cross buns in my time but seeing them in the bakeries made me crave them.  They’re slightly sweet, yeast-leavened buns which have raisins or dried fruit in them and are scented with spices like cloves and cinnamon.   And since I knew nothing from a HCB, I turned to Nigella and her recipe.

NOTE: These have to rise in the fridge overnight, so plan ahead!  (also, this recipe uses weight measures and you’ll need a scale, Martha’s recipe looked good to if you want to go “cups”)

Start by infusing 150ml of milk with the zest of an orange, 1 clove and 2 cardamom pods.   Add 50g butter and heat on medium-low until the butter melts and then pull the pot off the stove and set aside.

Now measure 400g bread flour, 1 pack (8g) active dry yeast and 125g mixed dried fruit (I only had raisins) into a bowl.  Add 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg and 1/4 tsp ground ginger.  Whisk together.  (I had some medium shredded unsweetened coconut on hand so added only 110g raisins and 20g coconut.  To be honest I couldn’t taste it in the final bun).

Now remove the cloves and cardamom from your milk and whisk in 1 egg (the milk should only be body temperature by now–or BLOOD temperature as Nigella says– hello Sookie!)

Pour the milk/egg mixture into the flour and I mixed it in a stand mixer using the bread hook until it was shiny and smooth. I did find the dough dry and probably added 1/8 cup extra milk when it started combining and needed more moisture.  (You can just add water as well).

Pop this baby into a buttered bowl and seal well with saran-wrap. Do not leave a gap or it will dry out (it happened to me, grrr).  Now it goes into your fridge overnight.

DAY 2:

You’re going to take the dough out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature (give it at least 30 minutes).  Then punch it down and knead it again until it is smooth and elastic.  (I brought in some help–those small hands really are good workers.)

Then cut up the dough into 12-16 buns (Nigella likes them smaller, I went bigger).  Just cut the dough in half and then half again ect, until you have enough pieces approximately the same size.  Now roll them into smooth, round buns.

Put the buns on your parchment-lined cookie sheet and score them with the “cross” using a table knife.  Nigella suggests using the dull side, but even with the cutting edge I could barely make the cross visible.  You want the buns quite close together on the sheet, almost touching but not quite.  PREHEAT THE OVEN TO 425°F (220°C).  Throw a clean tea towel over them and let them rise on top of the stove for about 45 min-1 hr.

While these are rising you can prepare an egg wash (just beat 1 egg with a little milk) and your “cross”mixture which is 3 tbsp AP flour, 1/2 tbsp sugar and 2 tbsp water mixed til thick.

When the buns have risen,  they should be touching each other, brush them with your egg wash and then use the “cross” mixture and a teaspoon to drizzle  a cross shape in the scored area (if it still exists as mine had all but disappeared).

POP INTO OVEN for 15-20 minutes.  I left mine about 20 (I had fewer, but larger buns).   Remove from the oven and mix 1 tbsp sugar and 1 tbsp boiling water and then brush the buns to sweeten and glaze them.   Let cool, then eat immediately (right after you utter your “street-cry”).

I found these best when still warm, but am still happily eating them two days later and all I do is give each bun about 20 seconds in the microwave to revive it slightly and then they’re great with a cup of tea.

Have Easter everyone.  Have a chocolate-filled  long weekend!

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Mrs. Neumann’s Chocolate Chip Cookies (they’re the cat’s ass)

Do they look right Mrs. Neumann?

It’s taken me quite a few tries and some misses (I tried substituting butter for shortening) to get the technique of these cookies just right.  For as we all know, a recipe is just ingredients and the magic is in the hands that make it.  Or in the oven you’re using, or the type of fat (as I discovered).  Or just the fact that you don’t have to make it yourself.

my little angels

When I think of chocolate chip cookies I think of 33 Snowshoe Crescent and Mrs. Neumann’s chocolate chippers.  Some crumble but a chewy centre and the sweet balanced with a perfect hit of saltiness.

And if you’re thinking, “of course you can substitute butter crazy lady”, well, here’s the problem.  In a pinch you can but  you have to adjust the oven temperature. Butter melts faster than shortening and so at 350 °F the cookies just deflate into thin patties, becoming crispy and to brown.  So the last time I had to use butter I rolled the cookies and put them in the fridge to chill while the oven preheated.  I took the temperature up to 375 °F rather than 350° F to speed up baking and not allow them to spread so much.   And I baked them for 9-10 minutes.  They turned out better, did taste buttery, but I couldn’t get the same chewiness.

(One tray I baked for 15-17 minutes as I was checking email and finally the “DING DING DING” of the timer made it through my consiousness and I ran into the kitchen to find sadness in the oven.)

So embrace the shortening cookie lovers.  At least this one time.

(courtesy of Mrs. Neumann though now that I think of it I never really asked if I could use it.  Please still make me cookies for my birthday!!)

Mrs. Neumann’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 cup shortening

1/2 cup white sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup all purpose flour

3/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 cup chocolate chips


1. Preheat the oven to 350 ° F.

2. Combine the shortening, white and brown sugar, egg and vanilla and cream with a hand blender until light and fluffy.  (do not just combine it–you want light and fluffy!)

3.  In another bowl add the flour, salt and baking soda and stir well to combine.

4. Add the dry to the wet and blend well with a spatula.

5. Add the chocolate chips.  (Resist the temptation of adding a zillion extra chips or the consistency of the cookie will be off.  DO EAT a zillion extra chips).

6. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment.  Roll the dough into about 24 little balls (they’ll be about 1 1/2 inches diameter) and divide them between the trays.  They will look small, resist making them super-size.

7. Press down lightly on each cookie with a fork until you leave an indent.  (I wet the fork in water between cookie so it doesn’t stick.)

8. Bake on middle rack  (do each sheet individually if you can’t fit both).  The recipe says 9 minutes (which is pretty right on)  but in my oven sometimes I go up to 11 minutes.  You want them browning on the edges but they will still be pale-ish on top.

9. Remove from oven, cool and eat them! Eat them all!

Then imagine if you made them with THESE.


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