Two Posts for the Price of None! March 19, 2010

Filed under: Desserts — sotsil @ 11:30 am
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For today’s blog, I’m featuring two Easter sweet tooth treats.  The first – which I made – is a colorful Neapolitan cake.  I got the recipe from the Robin Hood web site.  Their cake looked much better than mine, but I’m happy I managed to get the swirl (middle photo).  Robin Hood says all you need is a toothpick to create that swirl effect. 


When I made it, I thought I’d get some matching ice cream to complement the cake’s pink, brown and white colors.  As you know, Neapolitan ice cream comes in the same colors, and when it’s sunny outside and the air smells of spring, this cake and ice cream combo would tickle the fancy of both young and old.

neapolitan cake  neapolitan cake 2 neapolitan 3


The second sweet tooth treat is from King Arthur Flour of Vermont.  I received their newsletter this morning and I was immediately hypnotized. I’m going to try them soon because I was "enchanted" with the way Mary Jane Robbins shared her step-by-step instructions.  As you read her post, you get that feeling that she’s smiling as she’s describing it.  She’s a blogger for the King Arthur Flour (KAF) web site and she talks about how her love for pysanky (decorated Ukranian eggs) inspired her to create these incredible cookie designs.  I’m posting the photo here of the cookies but you’ll have to go to the KAF web site  if you want to learn how to decorate the cookies (  Talk about true inspiration.  Looking at the photos lures you into some sort of Wonderland. Again, all you need are toothpicks, pastry decorating bags (you can use plastic ones) and your Microsoft Word program to make the oval shape for the cookies. 

You have to read Ms. Robbins post.  Just look at these cookies! One look at them and in no time, you’ll be itching to don your apron and to put your fingers into gear!


eastereggs_450w(Image:  King Arthur Flour)  


Happy Easter everyone!  Whatever you choose to do – cake, cookies, or both – make them with that Easter spring feeling!


Going Bananas…or Missing out on Dates? March 15, 2010

Filed under: Desserts — sotsil @ 8:53 pm

Not with this banana and date square recipe!  It has plenty of bananas and an equal amount of dates.  I think of this dessert as the happy compromise between blah-blah bland bananas and tweety-tweety sweet dates.  If you have ripe bananas sitting on your kitchen counter and you can’t figure out what to do with them (you’ve already made banana breads the umpteenth time so banana bread is out of the question), how about banana and date squares?  You may have to run out to buy dates, but it’s well worth the trip.

bananas date squares1

You won’t be using oats as topping – that would only remind you of those common-place date squares that don’t jiggle your appetite.  Instead you’ll be making a flour dough that will sandwich the banana and date filling.  When the dish comes out of the oven, you brush the top with butter and then sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on top.  The dessert that can be an air freshener at the same time!

The picture on the left may seem lacking in artistic presentation but it delivers BIG on taste.  I’m not saying that because I myself am disappointed with the look of the wrinkled dough.  Blame it on the clumsy way I spread it.  I had used more dough for the bottom layer and by the time I was ready to “crown” the banana and date filling, I didn’t have enough left to finish the top layer.

Like I said, these squares were big on taste.  I first had them at a cooking school in the west island.  I had signed up for a Chinese dumpling course but it was cancelled.  In place of a refund, I chose to have cash credits so I could come and pick up prepared meals and desserts.  I liked the banana and date squares and asked the owner if I could have the recipe, berating myself afterwards for even asking.  I’ve grown accustomed to food entrepreneurs who jealously guard their recipes. 

Surprise:  she e-mailed it to me the next morning!

I’ve made this recipe twice, and each time I scold myself for falling short. The first time I thought the dough wasn’t enough so I increased the flour to three cups.  The second time – just when I thought I had enough dough – I took far too much to make the bottom layer, not leaving a sufficient quantity for the top layer.  I’ll probably get it right the third time and I will avoid that fragmented crater look, aiming for a more appealing layer that’s even and smoother.

You’ll find identical recipes on the Net but this one from the cooking school is excellent. You may want to increase the quantity of the flour.  Also, I used low-fat margarine (is there such a thing?) instead of butter.


250 g butter (1 cup butter)

200 ml sugar (1 cup)

2 eggs

500 ml flour (2 cups – you’re safer using 3 cups)

pinch salt

10 ml baking powder (about 3 tsp)

4 bananas (I used 3 large ones and partly mashed them)

250 g dates (about a cup – chopped)

15 ml melted butter (2 tbsp)

5 ml cinnamon (3/4 tsp)

30 ml sugar (2 tbsp)


1.  Preheat oven to 350 F.

2.  Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

3.  Beat eggs one at a time.

4.  Add flour, salt and baking powder.  Mix well.

5.  Place half the mixture into a greased 9 x 13 baking dish.

6.  Cover the dough with banana slices and chopped dates.

7.  Place remaining dough over as a topping.

8.  Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden brown.

9.  Remove from oven, and then brush melted butter over the top while still hot.

10.  Mix cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle over the top.

11.  Cut into squares and cool on wire rack.

Tip:  I made the squares the night before.  When the dish came out of the oven, I let it cool for 2 hours and sliced them into squares but did not take them out. I refrigerated the entire dish.  The next day, I took it out two hours before serving and then microwaved each square for 22 seconds.  These squares are excellent when served warm; this was the square I had, as it came tumbling out of the baking dish.  Yum!

bananas date squares2


Earning Brownie Points November 27, 2009

Filed under: Desserts,Tip of the Day — sotsil @ 9:31 pm
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You ever get those days when you don’t feel like having a fancy store-bought dessert (which these days cost an arm and a leg anyway) and instead choose to have a homemade dessert, minus the labor-intensive effort?  You think hard about it, leaf through your recipe collection and then…the idea hits you.  Why not brownies?  They can be made in a jiffy, they don’t require that many ingredients, and they go great with coffee!  And after you make them, you don’t end up slumped on the chair out of sheer exhaustion.  They’re virtually error-free and can be innovated upon a hundred ways.  My innovation – not exactly an original one – is to top it with slivered roasted almonds.

Brownies – they’re like an old lover you always go back to.  Or they’re like outdated, comfy shoes.  No splash, no pizazzz, but the ideal comfort food when it’s grey outside or you’re running out of positive thoughts.  Brownies are also the classic initiation rites for a pre-teen who’s itching to impress mom and the siblings.

One day my neighbor rang and she sounded excited.  Turns out the guy she’s madly in love with agreed to come to her house for dinner.  I asked what dessert she was going to surprise him with.  I was expecting her to say a mango flambé or a Chocolate Charlotte or something impressive.  When she said, “brownies!” I had to control myself from giggling.  But like I said, brownies are like an old lover that you run to each time you find yourself in a desperate bind.

Everyone knows how to make brownies, even four year-olds.  So I won’t post my recipe.  I bet you’ve got excellent brownie recipes of your own.  But I’d like to share a tip about using butter.  Two things I watch out for:

  • the butter must be completely melted.  That means if you’re going to nuke it, it’s got to be all liquid, no lumps, no humps;
  • the butter must be set aside to cool.  And I mean really cool.

I usually don’t have a problem with the first, but sometimes when I’m in a rush, I throw the butter in while it’s still lukewarm.  What this does is it produces lumps in my batter.  No matter how much I “smash” them with my wooden spoon, they come back right up when I stop mixing (it will probably be different if you’re using an electric mixer).  Then when the brownies bake, the chocolate all come together in one thick slab.  Result?  The brownies are heavy, the chocolate unevenly spread.

But the texture of brownies is really a personal choice.  Some like it chewy, some like it fudgy and yet others like them cake-like.  Someone wrote that when you want your brownies fudgy, use a minimum of flour with no leavening.  Also, you obtain that fudgy – dense – effect when you melt the butter instead of creaming it with the sugar.  Cake-like brownies have more flour and less butter with some baking powder.  This helps them rise, producing a lighter texture.  Adding milk will also make brownies softer.  I like to add milk – evaporated or 1% milk – because I don’t like the chocolate to have a concentrated taste.  Milk also “loosens” up my batter, making it easier to mix manually.

I like middle-of-the-road type of brownies.  Chewy and light, and not too fudgy. I don’t like to feel that I’m biting into a slab of fudge.  I probably would never use icing (I don’t know of anyone who does), but I like to throw in walnuts or almonds.

A few have shared their “brownie” secrets.  One baker says to add corn syrup.  She says it makes brownies more moist.  Another says he adds 1/3 cup of cooked black beans which, he says, cuts down the fat because they replace some of the butter.  I wonder what he calls his brownies – fibrous brownies or beany chocolate squares?


Not Enough Time to Whip Up Dessert? IKEA to the Rescue! November 15, 2009

Filed under: Desserts,Tip of the Day — sotsil @ 9:47 pm
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I had a wonderful IKEA experience last Wednesday.  Those of you who shop at IKEA know that it not only sells nuts and bolts and beautiful kitchen furniture, but also food.  And at very reasonable prices.  Emphasis on “very reasonable.”

Their meatballs and mashed potatoes (you can have fries instead of mashed potatoes) with a knob of their cranberry sauce – ah – it sure hit the spot! 

I wanted to get a mortar and pestle that was advertised in the paper, and I decided why not invite my brother for Swedish meatballs?  We got there at 1:45 pm and we deliberately timed it so we wouldn’t run into long lines.  Guess what?  I still had to wait in line for half an hour.  Looks like the word’s out that IKEA’s chefs know a thing or two about simple but good food.  I get this feeling that half of Montreal’s population goes to eat at IKEA.  I believe there’s another IKEA in the south shore.

On our way out, I decided to have a look-see in their food store and was tempted to pick up a book of Swedish recipes, but I had to resist.  You know what happens.  You keep collecting recipes but get to try only a third of your collection.  So I opted instead for a bottle of Swedish sparkling gooseberry drink and a box of princess cakes – Frodinge in Swedish.

princess cake 1

Imagine fussing over appetizers, cocktails, the main meal and home baked bread and then you realize you hardly have any time left to whip up dessert.  I’ve got a simple solution for you.  Run to your nearest IKEA and head straightaway for their food department (where they also sell hotdogs and cinnamon buns) and pick up a Frodinge.  If by chance they don’t have it, they also sell two other kinds of dessert.  Years ago, I tried their chocolate and almond tart with a top crunchy layer and that too was excellent!  They still sell it.

Saturdays are “elaborate meal” days at home.  That means I prepare something special for lunch.  This Saturday, however, I had some deadlines to meet including a funeral service I had to go to, but we still managed to have something special and had the most delicious, daintiest Swedish princess cake with mocha coffee. 

The picture below shows I  sliced apples in a hurry for this blog’s “mug shot.”  But when guests are coming for dinner, you can buy some raspberries and kiwis and arrange them artistically on a dessert plate – befitting a princess!  They would look attractive in a bed of tiny fruits and perhaps a thin layer of brown or white chocolate syrup.

These princess cakes have a sponge as the bottom layer, and a rich white cream with a sliver of jam.  The whole cake is topped with green-colored marzipan and a chocolate swirl on top.  A visual delight, not to mention the not-so-sweet, not-so-heavy taste.  It’s a wonderful slice of Sweden!

princess cake 2


Two Pies, One Lie November 11, 2009

In my previous blog, I said that we think of recipes in terms of successes and failures, hence the phrase “keepers and poopers.”  Or we think of them as recipes that we can cheat on by skipping a step or two, substituting ingredients or varying the temperature and cooking time.  When we cheat on a recipe, the taste will be different, but chances are no one will ever know; that is if you don’t breathe a word about your naughty attempts.  The only risk is the dish could turn out a disaster, bad news especially if you’re hoping to serve it to guests who are due in an hour.

These are two pies that I made on different occasions.  One is a raspberry tart which I made back in July and the other is a Dutch apple pie that I made three weeks ago when apples seemed to be everywhere.  I cheated on one;  on the other, I followed the recipe to the letter.  Can you tell which one of them is the lie?

         dutch apple 1

If you look closely at the raspberry tart – examine the crust – it’s obvious isn’t it?  This recipe was posted by a fellow member on TFL – paddyscake.  She said that the recipe called for mascarpone and a pie crust from scratch.  She said she didn’t have time to make a pie crust so she bought a ready made crust from Pepperidge farm.  She also didn’t have mascarpone cheese, so substituted cream cheese instead.

Poor raspberry tart.  It went through two rounds of foul play.  When I decided to make it, I, too, gave in to the temptation of cheating.  Paddyscake said that despite her substitutions, the pie was deliciously evil and to die for.

I did buy mascarpone cheese because of my weakness for tiramisu, but at the last minute, I didn’t feel like making pie crust.  So I used a Graham cracker pie crust that had been sitting in my cupboard for two months.  Criminal.  Tell me why I would buy expensive mascarpone cheese only to pair it with a ready made crust?  There’s a disconnect, wouldn’t you say? 

Disconnect or not, the pie was heavenly.  It didn’t seem to bother paddyscake, so why should it bother me?  The combination of mascarpone and white chocolate jolts the palate.

The Dutch apple pie is from Canadian Living Magazine (online version).  It’s the perfect dessert to accompany a homemade meal.  I’m not an apple person, but I always have a soft spot for apple pie or any dessert made with apples.

Here are the recipes:

For the Raspberry Pie: (courtesy of Paddyscake)

paddyscake 1  paddyscake2

If that’s hard to read, go to this link: (and scroll much further down).

For the Dutch Apple Pie (from the Canadian Living Test Kitchen):


Pastry for deep 10-inch (25 cm) single crust pie

5 large apples (about 2 lbs/1 kg total)

1/4 cup (50 mL) whipping cream

3/4 cup (175 mL) packed brown sugar

2 tbsp (25 mL) all-purpose flour

3 tbsp (50 mL) cold butter

1/2 tsp (2 mL) cinnamon


On a lightly floured surface, roll out pastry and fit into 10-inch (25 cm) pie plate; trim and flute edges. Peel and core apples; cut each into 6 wedges. Arrange wedges snugly in single layer in pie shell; drizzle with half of the cream.

In a small bowl, combine sugar and flour; cut in butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over apples; dust with cinnamon. Drizzle with remaining cream.

Bake in 450°F (230°C) oven for 15 minutes; reduce heat to 350°F (180°C) and bake for 30 to 35 minutes longer for until apples are tender, shielding edges of pastry with foil if browning too much. Let cool.


Like Almond Paste? This Ring’s For You! August 30, 2009

I had posted these photos in a bread forum early this year and had provided the link for the recipe.  It’s from Cook’s Country (same company as Cook’s Illustrated).  “Recipes that work” is the company’s slogan and that’s no exaggeration.  Despite my stupid mistake, it did work and was a real sweet experience as well.

Unlike most recipe sites that allow free access without joining or registering as a member, the Cook’s web site is available only to paying subscribers.  But for some reason, when I googled “chocolate almond ring coffee cake,” the recipe popped up. You can’t get it directly from the site, google will have to take you there.


The recipe intimidated me and I wasn’t sure I could pull it off, seeing that I have little baking experience.  One thing I learned in the kitchen though is if you take the time to sit down, read and re-read the instructions carefully and then visualize each step, chances are you could end up with a half decent concoction.  When I tried this recipe, I was a little short on concentration and my thinking was at the time…well…kind of sluggish.

But because I ate marzipan (almond paste) when I was little, I was so excited to try this recipe; so excited that I forgot to put on my thinking cap.   

Worse, I even substituted one or two ingredients.  The recipe called for semi-sweet chocolate squares that were supposed to be chopped and blended into the almond paste.  My biggest mistake was to melt cocoa powder with milk and blending this with the paste, which of course, gave me a semi-liquid mixture instead of a solid one.  Result? The chocolate was runny.  Notice the chocolate oozing along the sides. 

When you have a runny dough, handling it resembles a calisthenics session. Those segments above should have been turned up (“standing up”) as Cook’s Illustrated instructed, but I could not turn them up because I was afraid the rest of the chocolate filling would spill out.  I managed however to fill up my flattened dough with the chocolate and then roll it into a cylinder, after which I struggled to form it into a ring, cutting it into equal size slices.


I was grateful for having been able to avert another kitchen disaster despite my error; the finished product turned out to be excellent.  I even gave my next door neighbor some  slices and she loved it.  She asked, when are you making this again?

Despite my mistake, I salvaged this chocolate almond ring coffee cake and it was a delight to the eyes and palate. 

I’ve got to hand it to Cook’s Illustrated.  Their slogan – recipes that work – is well deserved.  They should add a few more words to that slogan – “recipes that work even for people who change the ingredients”!

Here’s a close-up of a section of the cake.  It was gobbled up in less than 24 hours.


If you want the recipe, do as I did.  Ask google for “chocolate almond ring coffee cake.”  If you don’t get it, email me at and I’ll be happy to send it to you.


A Pear Dessert to Smile About July 11, 2009

Filed under: Desserts — sotsil @ 6:23 pm
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It’s called Bartlett Pear and Almond Croustade.  The first time I made this pear dessert, it left an impression on me, and I knew after the first few bites that I would make it again…and again.  First off, this recipe isn’t mine.  It belongs to :  If you’ll look at the picture on the web site, it resembles mine (see slide show).  That means, another culinary effort on my part didn’t end in disaster. 

I took 6 shots of some steps in the recipe although it isn’t a difficult one to follow.  When time permits,  I like using slides.  They bring out the colors.  They also bring out imaginary smells from the kitchen.  It’s as if you could almost smell the freshly-baked aroma of fresh fruit enveloped in a pastry that’s artistically folded – well – sort of.

For those who like to learn by taking the visual approach (as opposed to text), slide shows can make up for the lack of an actual video show like the cooking videos you watch on YouTube.

I followed the original recipe from (I think it stands for California Pears), except for two things:   (a)  instead of Bartlett pears, I used Anjou pears;  (b) instead of 25 minutes, I baked it for 35-40 minutes. I wanted the pie crust to be very brown instead of a pale yellow.  The pie crust I used was Pillsbury pie crust.

Some trivia about Anjou pears:

  • they do have that oval shape, although they’re not a perfect oval.  They tend to look roundish.
  • they come in two colors – red and green – which is why some people call them either “red Anjous” or “green Anjous”.
  • when you use them for cooking, select those that are only beginning to become ripe; that is, they feel firm to the touch.  For the recipe above, I made the mistake of choosing ripe ones.  How do I test a pear for ripeness?  I call it the nail test.  I dig a nail – only very slightly – into the skin – and if the pear bruises easily, then it’s too ripe to cook with.
  • Anjou pears were first discovered in France’s Loire’s Valley.
  • They’re available from October to June.  I bought my pears in July and already the ones in the supermarket bins are beginning to look like they’ve seen better days.
  • If you like eating pears au naturel, they go great with cheese – Gruyère, Brie, Cheddar or Swiss!