I have talked before about how this whole writing business is generally solitary.

The independent work is often freeing; the singularity clears distraction. It can allow that cerebral space to isolate your message, your voice. Your perspective.

(As I write this, a six-year-old is telling me nuances of various Lego themes. So I'm not companionless, and maybe that limited distraction thing isn't always possible — but there's at least the chance of it.)

That said, I don't think we should always work on our own. I was at a conference recently, and one of the speakers, Robin Esrock, talked about living a life away from the computer. He believes that rich, diverse experiences are not only of value in their own right, but also bolster your efforts upon your return to your work. I'll co-sign that argument.

I think we also have to remember to do different work now and again. Away from the desk and at it. And for me, that means collaborating. I'm lucky to have a friend who's often up for the task in Nikole Herriott. (Hi, N!) 

And, on our most recent effort was this, a Chai Masala Pumpkin Pie with Black Tea Caramel. 

  Chai Masala Pumpkin Pie + Black Tea Caramel  | PHOTO: Nikole Herriott  RECIPES: Tara O'Brady

Chai Masala Pumpkin Pie + Black Tea Caramel | PHOTO: Nikole Herriott  RECIPES: Tara O'Brady

Nikole and I look for any excuse to work together, and try to whenever we can. So, when asked to be part of Food52's pie week for Thanksgiving, it was a no-brainer. Also easy, coming up with our pie, as Nikole and I share a love of pumpkined varieties — so I set to tacking down the particulars of one of the best I know how to make. 

You'll find the pie on Food52; but let's get into the details here. The pastry is a simple one, but specifically the one that you'll find in my book next spring. It is my family go-to, and it has flake, but still enough strength to hold up in a braid as perfect as the one that Nikole wove. (Come on now, look at it. A thing of beauty.) The filling has a couple of secrets. A gentle heat on the stovetop before it bakes helps with the filling's set, so it is firm yet supple. The spicing comes from chai masala, the spice used to sometimes flavour tea. It is a collection of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, clove, and black pepper not dissimilar to what's standard for pumpkin pies, but with a touch of almost gingersnap-cookie feeling in there. It also isn't overly sweet and thus allows for the introduction of caramel.

The caramel completes the masala chai theme, with cream steeped with black tea and whole cardamom pods as the base. The tea, and go with a nice one here, provides a musky, herbal character as well as a tannic edge. I feel like it's that verging-on-winey quality of Darjeeling that saves the caramel from coming across as cloying. Instead it's got a subtlety that doesn't overpower the pie.

Once again, it's a collaboration that just works. I can't say enough good things about it.

 

BLACK TEA CARAMEL

This caramel comes together quickly, which is a good thing considering how many uses you'll find for it. It is quite a triumph with this pie, but also on pound cake, or ice cream with some roasted nuts, or stirred into warm milk. And, if you're already thinking in such a direction, I would think folks might like jars when the time for festive gifting aries. 

MAKES just about 2 cups (475 ml)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/4 cups (295 ml) heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon loose leaf black tea, Darjeeling is best
  • 4 green cardamom pods, cracked
  • 2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) water
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon whisky
  • Seeds scraped from a vanilla bean
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt such as Maldon

 

METHOD

In a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat, bring the cream to a simmer. Stir in the tea and cardamom pods and let bubble for 30 seconds. Turn off the heat, cover, and leave to steep while you get on with the caramel.

Pour the water into a large, wide heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Pour the sugar into the centre of the pan. Do not stir. Once the sugar is mostly wet and starting to dissolve, gently swirl the pan once or twice. Let the mixture come to a boil then cook, carefully swirling only occasionally, until the syrup is a light amber colour, 13 to 15 minutes. Lower the heat to medium and wait for the caramel to turn deep amber (it may begin to send up whiffs of smoke), 3 to 5 minutes more.

Off the heat, with a fine-meshed sieve, strain a quarter of the hot cream into the caramel, standing back as the caramel will expand rather impressively and release a cloud of steam. Whisk in that cream, then add the rest. Stir in the maple syrup, butter, vanilla, and salt, then return the pan to the heat. Knock the heat back to low and simmer, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes, just to cook off some of the edge of the whisky and make sure everything is blended. Pour the caramel into a heatsafe jar or bowl. Use hot (but not scalding) or let cool completely before storing in a covered container in the fridge. Rewarm before serving.

 

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All apologies for the limited photo evidence of this cherry and blueberry buckle. Considering it was deemed sufficiently cooled at the precise start of overtime play of the World Cup semifinal between Argentina and the Netherlands, it is an achievement that one was taken at all. Lesson learned yesterday — during stressful plays, cake is appreciated. 

This is an easy cake to appreciate.

Cherry + Blueberry Buckle | Tara O'Brady on seven spoons

Since we're friends, I feel I can be honest. I wasn't sure about this buckle. All cards on the table, I had doubts. The batter seemed meagre. And then it felt dense; too solid to accept the fruit I attempted to press into its buttery thickness. It had to be scraped into the pan, and then its resistant clumps pushed into place. 

That said, the topping was really nice. It felt like wet sand between my fingers, the kind perfect for castle building. 

Baking, the cake smelled really nice, as well. I'd swapped out nutmeg for ginger and cardamom to go with the cinnamon, and the combination was intoxicatingly fragrant, weighty but without the nose-tickling warmth of wintry sweets. 

I usually know I'm on to something good when one of the boys stops what he is doing to ask what's in the oven. In this case, both did. 

I kept a suspicious eye on the cake's progress, and felt a nervous relief when it looked to rise exceptionally well. The top was browned and rubbled, shot through by valleys filled with deep purple juice. 

When the cake was cut, it lived up to its name and folded under the knife as the blade slid through. Inside, those rivulets of juice led to puddled, cooked fruit, mottling the cake's crumb. It was damp and soft, and I worried if it is was overly much so, that the heat had done little to dispel the stickiness.

Since we're friends, I feel I can also admit when I was wrong. Because, was I ever. 

The cake is damp. It is soft. It is held together by its crust, and once it's broken, all bets are off. It is not one to cut neatly. Yet, it is staggeringly sublime as is, eaten out of hand in unstable chunks, or with a spoon and a mound of crème fraîche or a lick of cream or custard. It is a buttery muffin-meets-cobbler-meets-coffeecake kind of thing. It is custardy where cake meets fruit, and crunchy where there is streusel, which is to say, a buckle for cheering. And I can't wait to try it with raspberries. Or nectarines. Or both.

Happy Friday's eve.

 

CHERRY + BLUEBERRY BUCKLE

From Salt Water Farm via Bon Appétit, with changes. Rewritten in my words and with weight measures.  

FOR THE TOPPING

  • 1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup (32 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 cup (57 g) unsalted butter, cold and diced

FOR THE CAKE

  • 1/4 cup (57 g) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
  • 1 1/2 cups (191 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt 
  • 3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or seeds scraped from a vanilla bean
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy cream
  • 10 ounces (283 g) pitted cherries, I used a mix of tart and sweet
  • 6 ounces (170 g)  blueberries, fresh or defrosted

METHOD
Start with the topping. Whisk sugar, flour, and spices in a medium bowl. Tumble in the butter cubes and rub between your fingers until the mixture is evenly damp and coming together in clumps. Set aside.

For the cake, preheat an oven to 350°F / 175°C. Grease an 8-inch springform or removable bottom pan. Line the base of the pan with parchment, then grease the parchment. Dust the pan with flour, and tap out the excess.

Whisk the 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. 

In another medium bowl, beat the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer on high speed until light and fluffy, around 5 minutes. Add the egg, vanilla, and almond extract and beat to combine, 2 minutes. Turn the speed down to low and gradually add the dry ingredients, stirring until mostly incorporated. Pour in the cream and stir until smooth. With a spatula, fold in the cherries and blueberries.The batter will be quite thick, and may not fold easily; as long as the fruit is somewhat stuck into the batter, all will be fine. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth the top. Place tin on a rimmed baking sheet, then sprinkle the topping over the batter in an even layer. 

Bake in the hot oven until the buckle is golden brown and a cake tester poked into the centre comes out clean, 75-90 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let the cool completely. Unmold and serve, as is, or dusted with icing sugar, and maybe a spoon or two of custard. 

Note: I think this buckle would be ideal baked in individual portions, thus dispensing of any fuss of slicing. I've not tried that route, but wanted to have the notion on record.

 

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When I sat down to give one last read to this post on Molly Wizenberg's new book, Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage, I did what one does when it's time to really focus. I checked Twitter.

At the top of the feed I found a friend's tweet announcing that Molly was on the radio, at that very moment, talking about Delancey, in an interview recorded at the wood-fired pizza restaurant of the same name (hers with her husband, Brandon Petit). So, I had Molly's voice as company for my edits, and current rewrite, while I snacked on a piece of shortbread made from a recipe found in the book.

It was an Escher drawing, come to life, with cookies. 

molly's rosemary candied ginger shortbread | tara o'brady

I've known Molly long enough that our emails go back to when I had a completely different job, and there's one in which she introduces one Mr. Brandon, still a student and waiter in NYC at the time. With that history, what follows here isn't meant to be an unbiased review. It is difficult to remove bias when speaking about a friend, and honestly, I don't want to. 

Molly's site introduced me to food blogs. Orangette was mentioned somewhere else, and I clicked the link; it took me to a warm chickpea salad. I didn't really know what a food blog was, or that they would become a thing, but I still knew what I was reading was good. 

(In searching for that particular piece just now, I fell back into step with Keaton, Jimmy's buttered brunches, and Rebecca's all-red straw collection. I lost an hour in the process, and ate a handful of salted pistachios, an apple, and two small squares of chocolate. That is the pull of Molly's writing. It makes you want to read more. It also makes you very hungry.) 

But really, you don't need me to tell you how good Molly's stories are. First at Orangette, then in her column in Bon Appetit, then elsewhere (including the Washington Post and her Spilled Milk podcast), then with her first book, A Handmade Life, Molly established herself not only as a talent, but as an exceptional one. Though superlatives are often ascribed willy-nilly, she is a benchmark of contemporary food writing, in the truest, realest sense of the word.

molly's rosemary + candied ginger shortbread | seven spoons

Sixteen Candles turned 30 two days ago. One anniversary tribute argued it as John Hughes's best work, not just for Jake Ryan and that dining table, but for how it showed difficulty to be more inclusive than exclusive; nobody is really spared from personal doubt, not even the popular kids.

(And there goes half an hour watching Sixteen Candles clips.)

In a culture that often manufactures glossed perfection, or uses hard times as a praise-courting kind of martyrdom, the story of Delancey is told in a frank plainness that saves it from being overly sentimental, while still keeping an acute sense of the all-too-real turmoil it accounts.

Some of the stories are familiar, having been hinted at on Orangette, but here there's the full look at how things went. Delancey picks up where A Homemade Life left off, with Brandon and Molly still settling into their new marriage, the decision to open a restaurant in Seattle, then chronicles its subsequent construction and early days.

The book isn't about the restaurant. Not really. The restaurant is of course what pushes the story along, but at the heart of it is what it takes to actively build the life you want; the commitment, the swallowing fear, the joy, and the toll. It is about building that life with someone, the support and faith that takes, and the uncomfortable realization that there can be distance and discord within the strongest of partnerships. It is about growing up, about claiming responsibility for our choices, and ownership of the people we become.

Delancey shows how one of the best can get even better. Molly's sharp-witted, playful voice still rings with authenticity, yet has matured. It reads as honest, at points painfully so, with a deep-set vulnerability. Parts are awkward, complicated, and messy.  Molly isn't always the hero. She shows her own bad-guy moments, and admits when she wished she could have acted differently than she did. She is self-aware, and hopeful. 

Delancey is like how we talk to friends about life, after opening a second bottle of wine.

molly's rosemary candied ginger shortbread | tara o'brady

Molly, you introduced us to French toast fried in oil, bouchons de thon, and Corentine's way with carrots. You showed us the potential of this medium, proved to an industry the value of new voices, and you are an essential part of this community. You have shared these years, shared Delancey, Essex, your friends, the dogs, your family, your mother, Burg, Brandon, and now sweet June.

Thank you for writing, M. Thanks for all of it. 

 

MOLLY'S SHORTBREAD WITH ROSEMARY + CANDIED GINGER 

Just like in A Homemade Life, Delancey has recipes to end chapters; while linked to the restaurant in many ways, they are not restaurant recipes per se. Instead they are those which represent a certain point in time (Vietnamese rice noodle salad, sautéed dates with sea salt, one heck of a cocktail called The Benjamin Wayne Smith) or, in the case of this shortbread, a roasted pork shoulder, and a trick with red wine vinaigrette, they're ones that came into their life because of the restaurant.

I won't excerpt the Molly's headnote, as the story behind this recipe is another reason to grab the book. But the cookies are inspired by ones served by the late Christina Choi at her restaurant, Nettletown.

The shortbread comes together in a flash, straightforward as shortbreads go, with the expected triumvirate of butter, sugar, and flour, then rosemary and candied ginger are invited to hang out. The combination is fiercely aromatic on the cutting board, but when baked, it unwinds. So, the lolling richness of the shortbread gets broadened by the thrumming warmth the ginger, and made slightly-more-savoury with the herb's resiny sharpness. I want to try them with a few, stingy drops of almond extract, and made slightly larger to serve as base for macerated strawberries. 

I did add a gilding roll of the dough in sugar before baking; the step added just enough texture to emphasize the edge of each cookie. I liked that.

Barely tweaked from Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage (Simon & Schuster, 2014), by Molly Wizenberg. The recipe is mostly in Molly's words.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar
  • 2 sticks (226 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups (280 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine-grained sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon (about 4 g) finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1/3 cup (60 g) chopped candied ginger
  • Sugar, for rolling, see note

METHOD

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the sugar and butter. Beat until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed with a rubber spatula. 

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and rosemary. Add to the mixer bowl, and beat on low speed until the flour is absorbed and the dough begins to form large clumps that pull away from the sides of the bowl. Add the candied ginger, and mix briefly to incorporate. Divide the dough between two pieces of plastic wrap or parchment paper, and shape it into roughly 1 1/2-inch-diameter logs. Wrap, and refrigerate the dough logs for a few hours or overnight, until good and firm.  

When your'e ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 300°F/150°C. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. 

Sprinkle sugar over work surface or in a wide, shallow dish large enough to accommodate the dough logs. Remove the logs from the refrigerator and while they're still very cold, roll them in the sugar to coat. Slice into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Arrange the cookies 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges are pale golden, rotating and switching the pans midway through. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. 

These cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for a week, if not longer. They can also be frozen.

Yield: about 60 cookies 

Note from Tara: This recipe used up the last of my candied ginger, but there was a lot of sugar left in the container. So, I sifted it for any larger clumps, then used that spiced sugar when rolling the cookies, making for an extra ginger kick. Lacking that, sanding sugar would be pretty, and granulated would work just fine.

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Good friends, recently back from a trip to Greece and Turkey, had us over for dinner last Saturday night. In Istanbul they took a cooking class, and the night's menu took largely from that. After a true feast of lentil soup, courgette fritters, dolmas, and Imam Bayildi, us lucky folks were treated to one platter of pale lokum, and another tray of baklava, cut into quilted diamonds. Not ones to overlook any detail, our hosts prepared Turkish coffee alongside. For the coffee, Michael used the pot they'd brought home, beautiful and small, hammered copper with a long handle, and he scented the brew with cinnamon.

Pistachio Baklava with Cardamom

Christa's baklava was a masterwork. Baked to bronze and then lacquered with glaze, it was a marvel of texture. The top pastry shattering and light, the middle thick with nuts, and the bottommost strata solid with crunch. (And the whole far more beautiful than the rustic take I'm presenting.) While not a recipe from the class, Christa said the recipe was closest to Turkish baklava, which was the preferred of those they'd tried. The thing here it seems, is that the Turkish way uses a sugar syrup instead of one with honey, so while sweet, this baklava's flavour is clearer, brighter, more about delicacy and fragrance than tawny warmth. She'd used only cardamom in the filling; the spice rang high and bright, with an emphasis on its floral citrusy-ness. In using clarified butter, even the pastry and nuts came across as cleaner than expected. It was revelatory.

It was a wake up call.

Pistachio Baklava with Cardamom

Three days later, I was going over my notes. As I do, most mornings lately. After Sean is off and the boys are away, I click the kettle on for tea. While it steeps, I slice an apple, ideally one with lively crunch and generous juice, and settle the pieces in my bowl, leaving a space into which is nudged a spoon's worth of almond butter for dipping. Mug and bowl accompany me up the stairs, to the front of the house, where the computer sits on a desk beside a window that looks out to trees. The light is stained turmeric in October. Often I'll see a particular elderly couple walking on the street below. They both wear red coats. He is partial to flat caps that remind me of my dad's. They're part of this habit. Then, in between bites of apple, I settle in with my writing notebook.

The first notebook of any importance in my life was when I was a kid and used to keep an account of my dreams, as they happened, when still in that wild and woollen place of half-asleep. It was rarely effective, though I vaguely recall one from early elementary school involving a class trip, a UFO, and Duran Duran.

Most times I'd lose track of the dream as I was writing, or if I managed to get anything down, it would be indecipherable when I read it back. I once got a letter from someone that shared my first and maiden name, the signature looked familiar and foreign. My dreaming notes were often like that, like correspondence from not quite me. 

Although the notebook failed me then, it's long been useful for writing. 

I'm learning to move from one territory of work to another and back again. I've been writing a lot, for the book and other things, and then there's the rest of life, of the needs of the family, the children, the house and me, of the season, even. It's a stuttering grind, switching between languages of grams, ounces and measures to e-mail and appointments to laundry, raking the yard and volunteering at school on Halloween (and will that mean I'll need a costume?). 

On their own, the words don't amount to much more than a disjointed list. That said, they represent an attempt to aid a future me, something to fill the gaps and lapses, and ease the transition when I return to it. Like setting out clothes the night before a big day, a move to prepare for what could be needed.  

A selection of notes from Tuesday:

 I sat close enough to the fire that its heat burrowed through the fabric of my shirt and was itchy the skin at the small of my back. I drank the soup in gulping mouthfuls prickly with ginger and garlic and black pepper. My lips felt lined with sparks. 

On Saturday night, I had the finest baklava of my life. Our friend made it. It was terrific, as was the densely aromatic Turkish coffee they served, too. 

 Kids at the bus stops with shirt sleeves pulled down across the back of their hands, the cuff tight in their fists. A dancing shuffle of moving weight from foot to foot.

It's the pâté sandwiches we'd pack for train rides, eating them on the upper bunk of one of those sleeper cars with light blue walls. It's how the soft, whipped texture of the pâté melded into the softness of the bread, and both stuck to the back of my front teeth. 

The realization then, heavy and thudding like a stack of books on a table.

Pistachio and Cardamom Baklava

Usually I'll hold these seeds In hibernating wait, until there's the thing, the sugar-instead-of-honey whatever wonderful thing that clicks to make them complete, and they spring to bountiful utility. For some endeavours, like the last 20 minutes spent watching Duran Duran videos on YouTube, fruition never comes. (Unless you count a renewed infatuation with John Taylor a gain.)

In this batch of notes, it's the baklava. The baklava is the takeaway.

 

PISTACHIO BAKLAVA WITH CARDAMOM  

Recipe adapted, only barely, from Cook's Illustrated. Written in my words.

I won't pretend that baklava doesn't take planning, time, and fiddly (though not specifically difficult) work. That said, as one batch makes 40 or so pieces, and as it keeps so well (up to 10 days, covered tightly with foil, at room temperature), I'll make the bold proposal of stating that baklava is is not only doable, but should be done. In fact, next festive dinner, it could easily slide in to take the place of dessert. It ticks many of the same boxes as pie.  

I've added a murmur of cinnamon to the filling , because while I don't have a pot for making Turkish coffee, I didn't want to miss out on the combination. 

Makes 1 (9x13-inch) tray. 

FOR THE FILLING

  • 12 ounces shelled, raw pistachios
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • A generous 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt

TO ASSEMBLE

  • 1 cup clarified butter, melted but not hot
  • 1 pound phyllo, defrosted according to manufacturer's instruction if frozen

FOR THE SUGAR SYRUP

  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • A small piece of lemon rind, maybe 1-inch long
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt

To make the filling, place the pistachios in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse the motor in 1-second bursts until the nuts are finely chopped, maybe 10 to 15 times total. Pour the nuts into a bowl, then measure out 1 1/2 tablespoons for garnish and set aside. Stir the cardamom, cinnamon, sugar and salt into the rest. 

Preheat an oven to 300 °F / 150 °C, with a rack in the lower middle.

Unfold the phyllo on a cutting board, with a damp, lint-free kitchen towel and a large piece of cling film nearby. Using a 9x13-inch steel (not non-stick) straight-sided cake pan or a 9x13-inch glass baking dish as a guide, cut the phyllo into two roughly-even stacks; one may be larger than the other. Cover both stacks with the cling film, then the damp cloth, so that the pastry doesn't dry out. 

Brush the insides of the pan with butter. Fold back the damp towel and clingfilm covering the wider stack of phyllo. Take a sheet of phyllo and place it in the bottom of the pan. Gently brush the pastry with butter, then top with another sheet of phyllo, coating that one with butter, too. Repeat the process of layering and buttering with 6 more sheets, making 8 total. Replace the towel to cover the stack.

Scatter one-third of the chopped pistachios, about a scant 1 cup, over th phyllo. Pull the towel and film back over the thinner stack of pastry. Lay one piece of phyllo over the nuts, and carefully dab with butter until covered (brushing at this point would disturb the nuts). Cover with another piece of pastry, staggering if necessary to cover the filling, and butter again. Continue with 4 more pieces, making 6 total. Repeat process with half the remaining nuts, 6 more sheets phyllo, then the last of the nuts. For the top crust, use 8 to 10 of the neatest and most pristine sheets from the wider stack of phyllo. Layer and butter each, except for the last piece. Using clean and dry hands, gently compress the layers, working from the centre of the pan outwards. Spoon the rest of the clarified butter, approximately 1/4 cup, over the pastry, brushing to cover and coax the butter down the sides of the pan. Use a sharp-tipped serrated knife to portion the baklava into diamonds, making 8 slices each way on the diagonal. (Alternatively, cut the baklava into a grid pattern as seen here.)

Bake the baklava in the hot oven until deeply golden, around 90 minutes, making sure to rotate the pan halfway through the baking time.  

While the baklava is baking, make the sugar syrup. Combine all the syrup ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring often. Once at a full boil and the sugar has dissolved, pour syrup into a 2-cup measuring cup and set aside to cool. When room temperature, discard the lemon peel and peppercorns.  

Immediately after pulling the baklava from the oven, pour all but 2 tablespoons of the syrup over the cut lines. Drizzle the remaining syrup over the surface of the baklava, then decorate with the reserved pistachios as desired. (The classic decoration is a pinch of nuts in the centre of each piece.) Set the baklava on a wire rack to cool completely, about 3 hours. The baklava can be eaten once cooled, but improves with age. If possible, wrap the tray in tin foil and let stand at room temperature for 8 hours before serving.  

Any remaining baklava can be kept, wrapped, on the counter for 10 days.  

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Friends, I'm writing a book.

I wanted to keep this business under wraps until I was sure it was really, truly, real. And now, it is. 

In the spring of 2015, around the ten-year anniversary of this site, my first cookbook will be published by Ten Speed Press and Appetite by Random House in Canada. 

(There's a lot in that paragraph right there that seems surreal.) 

Plums by Tara O'Brady

The book will be a collection of previously unpublished recipes, with only a few especially-loved ones revisited. When I was working up the proposal for the book, Sean noticed that the recipes on my prospective list were ones I already make; to him, they weren't new. And to me, that was the whole point. It is meant to be all the best from my kitchen, given to you. It is the meals I make in my day-to-day and for our celebrations, and the family secrets I've long wanted to get down on paper. It's a book we've lived and are still living, one tested and tried at our table.

The book is an extension of Seven Spoons. The funny thing about writing a blog is that while some may have started reading at the beginning in real-time, as years wear on, it's more and more likely that folks joined in along the way. So, there's never set course by which the story will be told. Parts can be read out of order, skipped even. A book gives the opportunity to set up a complete, contained work — it will be a sustained conversation, and one I'm excited to have.

Black + German Plums by Tara O'Brady

That said, the idea of a book still feels wobbly and whoa-boy-crazy sometimes. There's been moments when I've turned completely jello inside. But sharing the news with you pals, knowing one day I'll be sharing a book with you, well, that makes it great. Grand, stand-stand-up straight, arms wide, big grins, hurrah and yelping, super, happy great.  

In other words, your company makes it better. Makes this less intimidating, makes me less fearful. Everything more fun.

Actually, your company makes me better. Your company is what's at the heart and start of all of this. You've been here, sticking around, even when I was quiet, picking up right where we left off. You have been immeasurably kind. I am grateful and so very happy to know you.

plum rippled ginger crunch ice cream

It was the day before yesterday that I found out that the book had been officially announced. I read the email twice, squinting at my phone. Sean was home for lunch and right beside me. I was sure I was reading it wrong. It didn't sink in until later, until I was driving a few towns over, when laughter bubbled up. 

The last of the afternoon's errands had brought me out to a farm stand, one further than my usual. The weather had been showing off. I've got two coats ready for autumn but it was a wilting day of turned-up summer. The owner's daughter was behind the tables. Punnets were to her left, bigger baskets in the middle, then heaping bushels to her right.  Fruit and harvest got us talking, started us on that game of matching up favourites, of swapping tricks and tips and traditions. There was a discussion of peaches, the best for canning and eating, and talk of apricot jam. She offered me slices of fruit across the blade of her knife.

She told me some news, news that prompted me to share the photographs her mother let me take summer before last. She noticed her father's thermos of coffee, and I told her their plums were the stuff of legend. She walked me to the car, sending me away with more than I paid for, having pressed into my hand a bag weighted with Coronation grapes in tight, shadowy clusters, dusky purple-black, hugged up against a few, palm-sized, fat-bottomed pears with long stems. There were peaches already on the backseat, and plums in their baskets, ripe and full like water balloons, feeling as though their thin skins could only barely contain the sweetness within.

(If you're in Niagara, the stand is over on Victoria Avenue in Vineland, south of Claus Road. Drop me a line and I'll point you there.)

plum rippled ginger crunch ice cream

As I told her, I had in mind an ice cream stuffed with biscuits and plums, knobby in places with crunch, others smooth. In practice, it meant taking a prime extravagance and turning it into September's ice cream. Sharp and lush, this recipe is in honour of a family and the fruits of their farm, an ice cream that reminds me of the first time I drove out their way and found the sense to stop.  An ice cream as fancy as we needed to celebrate a book, as well as the years that brought us here, and the good fortune that brought me you.

Thank you for the bubbling laughter. 

(That was pretty smooshily said. Meant it just the same.)

 

 

 

PLUM RIPPLED GINGER CRUNCH ICE CREAM

Very much a plum crisp, frozen. I keep tripping over my words and calling it Plum Rumple Ice cream, which is how I sort of think of it. The fruit and crumbs and cream don't wholly blend, so the flavours are separate, yet in harmony.

FOR THE ICE CREAM BASE

  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 (14-ounce) can evaporated milk
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • A pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

FOR THE PLUM RIPPLE

  • 8 ounces plums, pitted, halved if small, quartered if large
  • 2-4 tablespoons brown sugar, depending on fruit
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated ginger

 

FOR THE GINGER CRUNCH

  • 4 ounces gingersnap cookies, homemade or store bought
  • 1 1/2 ounces pecans, toasted

METHOD 

To make the ice cream base, stir the condensed milk and evaporated milk together in a medium saucepan. Spilt the vanilla bean down its length, scraping out the seeds. Add both the seeds and the bean to the saucepan, along with a pinch of salt. Heat over medium-low heat until just under a simmer, stirring often.

Pour the mixture, including the vanilla pod, into a clean bowl or pitcher. Stir in 1 cup of the heavy cream and taste. It should be very sweet, but not uncomfortably so. If needed, add up to 1/2 cup more cream. Cover and chill the mixture in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, and up to overnight.

While the base is chilling, make the plum ripple. Tumble the plums into small, heavy-bottomed saucepan along with 2 tablespoons of sugar and the grated ginger. Bring to a boil, stirring regularly, over medium heat, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Let the fruit blip away until the flesh is quite soft and the juices deeply coloured, around 3 to 5 minutes. Push the fruit through a fine-meshed sieve over a bowl, then pour the liquid back into the pan and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes more, stirring often. The sauce should look shiny and thick, with a fresh, true plum flavour, tangy but fairly sweet. Keeping in mind that the flavour will dull when frozen, , stir in additional sugar as needed. Set the plum sauce aside to cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

For the ginger crunch, simply crush the cookies in a mortar and pestle or in a resealable food bag with a rolling pin. The crumbs should be irregular, with some dust and some chunky bits. Pour the cookies into a bowl, then bash the toasted pecans the same way. Stir the nuts into the cookie rubble, and that's done.

To assemble, strain and freeze the ice cream base in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions. When it reaches the consistency of soft serve, spoon the ice cream out into a large mixing bowl. Fold most of the ginger crunch through the ice cream with a few purposeful strokes. Do not over mix.  

Spoon one third of the ice cream into a lidded, freezer-safe storage container. Sprinkle some more of the crunch over the layer, then drizzle on a few long stripes of the plum sauce. With the tip of a thin-bladed knife, gently ripple the plum sauce into the cream. Top with half the remaining ice cream, and repeat the layers, ending with crumbs and plums. Cover and freeze for at least 3 hours.

Makes a generous quart of ice cream.

 

Note:  

  • The plums can be roasted instead of cooked on the stove. Arrange them snugly in a dish, toss them with the sugar and ginger, then pop it all into a moderately hot oven, say 400-425 degrees, until the fruit is soft. 
  • The crumble on my serving is pulverized candied pecans. They added some extra gilding to an already-fine day.

 

*Note: The book was tentatively-titled Well Fed, but that has since been changed. Some of the kind comments below reflect the earlier title. Thanks! 

 

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Things you might not know about me, arranged in no particular order:

I'm not  tall. You might say I'm short. I make terrible, terrifyingly-bad coffee. I named my childhood dog after a chocolate bar. His identification tag is on my keychain. At one brief time in my life, I played tambourine in a band. I am clumsy. I scar easily. I've got me some souvenirs.

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There's a constellation of burns at the inside of my wrist collected from splattering oil. I have a pair of lines across one of my forearms, branded on separate occasions by a scorching oven rack and a searing baking sheet, respectively. I wonder at how many times I knocked my noggin or shin on the wheelhouse steps on one of my father's ships. There's the mark where my knife skipped on the board and caught my finger. I've got a skinny red line that rests on my collarbone as a necklace, and a number of freckle-ish spots by my ankles from falling over sticks and rocks. 

On the side of my left knee, raised and pale, there's a scar that is maybe three inches long. It is wider at the top and tapers to a point at the end. Last summer, when someone asked me how it happened, I tripped on my words. It's a mark I've had on me for the majority of my life, three-quarters of it at least, yet I've long discarded its circumstance. I don't remember if I cried, or who patched up the wound, or if I needed stitches. I don't think I did. 

I have a hazy recollection that I cut myself on an air conditioner as a kid? Yes, maybe on the air conditioner, the one between our house and that of our neighbours. I can tell you the siding was white on our house and pale, sunny yellow on theirs. There was gravel between them, and I can still hear how sounded under our feet. 

I remember what summer was like back then. I remember the important things.

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My mother grew the best roses on the street — big, heavy blooms the size of baseballs. My father would buy ice cream in those rectangular boxes, then break the carton open and pull back the sides, so ice cream stood as a block in the centre. He'd use a carving knife to slice off pieces thick like steaks. I remember melon balls cold from the fridge, and popcorn from the big orange popper we had, and the thermos that was always filled with hot, hot milk tea for long car rides. I remember jumping the fence because we couldn't reach the latch to the backyard, and the cluster of trees we used as a hideout.

I remember my parents had pool parties that lasted into the night, when we'd be allowed to stay up past dark. We'd even get Coke to drink. I'd swallow it fast, the bubbles tight in my throat. The adults sat at a round table close to the gate, while all us kids were in the water. The chlorine stung my eyes; when I looked at the lanterns tucked around the garden, the light shone with blue halos. I remember riding our bicycles down to the lake, trying to keep up with my big brother, going to watch the fireworks on Canada Day. Standing there breathless, sweaty, still straddling the bike seats, leaning forward on our handle bars and chewing gum. We were due home as soon as the last sparkles burned out in the black of the sky, when we were left with stars.

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I am, sometimes acutely, aware that my children are now the same age I was in some of those memories of mine.

It is the leading edge of summer; there's already been fun fairs and field trips, and cubbies to clean out, and day-before-yesterday, the last day of school. We're at the brink of a place deep with possibility. I've decided to pack for the leap, with a supply of strawberry limeade ice pops. Some for the boys, and some for us adults, made prickly with the bitter of Campari.

These flavours pull very much from those years ago. Strawberries grew on the side of that white house, right beside mint. When Sean and I moved to where we live now we planted some along the side of this house, because summer has to have strawberries. And it's the season to go for the gusto with lime. I was the kid that dug for the lemon-lime or lime popsicles from the freezer at the corner store, diving waist-deep through the sliding cooler top to search. If I thought I had the right one, I would hold the package up to the shop window to make sure it was tinged truly green, and not the deceiving, disappointing, yellow of banana. 

The mouth-watering pucker of lime also recalls nimbu pani, the salty-sweet limeade we'd have in India. 

For these ice pops, the fruit is blitzed with a pour of honey to a sharply fragrant purée, and goes first into the mould. There's a specific strategy to the design; eating the bright berries first, with the tongue-tingling acidity of the lime, is like the spark that lights a fuse. Without fat or too much sugar, the flavour is icily intense and clear, spiky and crystallized. Then comes the second layer, mellow vanilla-specked frozen yogurt, a supple balm to the intensity before. With these, first there's fizzle, then fade.

I may leave the coffee to my husband, but popsicles, those I've got covered.

 

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The last time I wrote about ice pops was for  UPPERCASE  magazine, Issue 10. UPPERCASE is headquartered in Calgary, Alberta, and as you might already know, there has been recent, devastating floods to that region. If you would like more information, I suggest you follow author Julie Van Rosendaal on her site and Twitter; she has been a force through the storm and the recovery and cleanup efforts. 

For those who would like to donate to the Flood Rebuilding Fund, The Calgary Foundation is doing great work. If you would like to support UPPERCASE, they are  having a sale until July 7th, and as products ship through Toronto and Los Angeles, orders are still being filled.

To everyone in the effected areas, all the best thoughts and hopes to you. 

 

CAMPARI STRAWBERRY LIMEADE ICE POPS

The frozen yogurt comes from the book "The Perfect Scoop" by David Lebovitz  (Ten Speed Press, 2007), recipe available via Heidi Swanson, and it is the best one I can imagine. 

The measurements for the fruit layer are somewhat loosey goosey. Depending on your fruit you might want more or less honey or lime, and you can scale the ratios accordingly. My only warning, it's best to be a miser with the alcohol  — you might be able to sneak some more in, but too much will prevent the ice pops from setting properly, and nobody wants a droopy pop. That said, if you want to serve these doused with extra after the fact, go right ahead.

Turning out all the ice pops at once frees up your mould for another batch, and means kids can help themselves from the freezer, which is nice. It's helpful to colour the sticks of theirs with permanent marker, so they know which ones to grab.

As an aside, these pops were coincidentally patriotic, as this is the Canada Day weekend here. For the upcoming 4th of July or Bastille Day, a streak of blackberry or blueberry could dress them up for your celebrations. Hooray for holidays, pals!

 

INGREDIENTS

  • One batch homemade plain or vanilla frozen yogurt, or about 1 quart store bought (there will be some leftover)
  • 10 ounces strawberries, hulled and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons mild, runny honey
  • Juice and zest of 1 small lime, if you can get key limes, use them and use 2
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Campari, for the grownups

 

METHOD

In a medium bowl, stir together the strawberries, honey, most of the lime juice and all the zest. Let sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes, stirring every now and again. Purée the fruit in a blender. Stir in the Campari and taste. It should be punchy, as the flavour will mellow once frozen. Keeping that in mind, add more lime juice or honey as needed. Divide the purée between 10 3-ounce popsicle moulds, rapping the mould on the counter to release any air pockets. Freeze for 15-20 minutes to firm up, or a full hour for a neat delineation between flavours.

If you are making the frozen yogurt from scratch, churn while the strawberry layer sets. If you're using store bought, put it in the refrigerator to soften. 

Spoon the frozen yogurt on top of the strawberry purée. Use a chopstick or extra popsicle stick to release any air bubbles, and swirl the two mixtures, if desired. (Alternatively, the purée and frozen yogurt can be dolloped randomly, without freezing first, which will allow them to marble easily.) Cover and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions.

Once frozen, release the solid ice pops by running hot water over the moulds. Store the pops in a sealed, airtight container in the freezer, separating layers with parchment paper.  

Makes 10. 

 

I originally called these boozy ice pops — by no means should there be a restriction on what to use. While Campari and soda is my thing, it might not be yours, so here are some other suggestions: 

  • Pimm's No. 1 + strawberry + mint
  • Tequila + mango + mint or lime
  • Aperol + orange + raspberry
  • Kirsch + cherry + citrus  
  • St. Germain + blueberry + mint
  • Proseco + blackberry + lemon thyme (remove thyme after steeping)
  • Gin + plum + ginger
  • Cachaça + watermelon + salt + lime
  • Bourbon + peach + mint 

 

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I went back and forth on whether or not I should write about these rhubarb Danishes. The trouble is, they're fussy. The dough requires a start the night before you want to bake, and so does macerating the rhubarb, and that's still only two of the three components done. And that dough, one that usually accepts a boost of whole wheat, demands all-white flour for truly gratifying puff and flake in this free-standing rendition. What's more, the quantities are awkward; in regards to the volume of rhubarb, there is the need for a certain surface area, not really weight, making it difficult to pin down a specific amount. A batch of the almond cream  (the last piece to this puzzle) yields more than needed; in light of which, there's the option of making only a half recipe with clumsy math, or doubling the pastry and rhubarb, or accepting that there will be leftover and making almond croissants with what remains.

After the details and wait, these Danishes are frustratingly good. The pastry is crisp at the edge but tender still. The almond cream is fragrant and ever-so-slightly-gritty, providing delineation between the smooth layers of the pastry below and the yielding rhubarb above; rhubarb which, only lightly sweetened, retains a glinting sharpness, cutting back the richness of the overall bite. 

WIthout naming names, there's a few folks who have made habit of putting away two (two!) per sitting, with no crumb neglected on the plate. By all accounts these Danishes are worth the trouble. 

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Scratch that. It's not trouble to make these, it's work. Not even difficult work, only an involved process. 

There was a reason behind the endeavour, besides really liking the idea of rhubarb Danishes, and that was the rhubarb itself. Sean brought bunches from a farm stand, two big bundles of stalks a few feet in length with leaves attached. He laid them in my arms in much the way a bouquet is handed to a crowned beauty queen, cradled in the crook of the elbow. These hot pink lookers, firmly pliant and none wider than my index finger, they called for similar pageantry. 

They needed a proper stage, not hidden under a crust or crumble, but left as they were for the most part and shown off. Danish dough as backdrop to neatly rowed rhubarb would do exactly that.

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I also know myself well enough to admit that I made these Danishes because I was avoiding another job I should have been doing. As I have a tendency to do when I'm daunted. I look for a different challenge to skirt around the one that really scares me.

I finally got around to listening to the audio copy of "The War of Art" (Warner Books, 2002) by Steven Pressfield that Sean put on my phone. When I've been playing it for a while and stop, I feel as though I've broken the surface after being underwater. It's an immersive listen, as Pressfield accounts the process and pitfalls of a creative life. I've been thinking of getting a hard copy, wanting to have the words laid out before me instead of rewinding and replaying the recording as often as I do. 

The first chapters of the book are about resistance, about what it means to commit yourself to work. In talking about the difficulties in getting started and the dangerous fear of coming to the end of a project, I thought about aiming for the middle. That comfortable place when momentum is behind you and you're not thinking yet about the sprint to the finish. It's when we fall into stride. Infuriatingly, despite anxiety of beginning, the only way to get there is by putting your head down, setting your shoulders, and simply do the work. 

There's no way around it; the following recipe reads long and boring and far too much effort to be worth it. It's doable. Promise. I've made them once a week for the last three.  As Pressfield says: 

"Set one foot in front of the other and keep climbing."

(I keep repeating that part.) 

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RHUBARB DANISHES WITH ALMOND CREAM

A collection of recipes. The ingredients for the almond cream (with added vanilla bean) come from Bouchon Bakery (Artisan, 2012) by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel. It is a book you want on your shelf when it comes to anything baked, full of insights and tricks, and essential recipes. With great respect to the authors, I've rewritten their instructions — with larger capacity stand mixers, I find the small batch of almond cream (as this amount is called in the book) easier to make by hand, especially if you chose to halve the recipe. What's below reflects that.

FOR THE RHUBARB

  • Approximately 1 1/2 pounds (700g) fresh rhubarb, trimmed of leaves but left whole
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • seeds scraped from half a vanilla bean, plus the pod

FOR THE PASTRY

  • One recipe quick Danish dough, with white bread flour used to replace the same quantity of whole wheat

FOR THE ALMOND CREAM (makes approximately 1 1/2 cups, more than needed)

  • 1/2 cup + 2 1/2 tablespoons (73 grams) almond meal
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons (7 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2.5 ounces (73 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons (73 grams) powdered sugar
  • Seeds scraped from half a vanilla bean
  • 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons (44 grams) lightly-beaten eggs, see note

TO ASSEMBLE

  • 1 egg, beaten for egg wash, see note
  • Granulated or sanding sugar for sprinkling


METHOD

Up to 24 hours before you want to bake, trim the rhubarb stalks to fit in a 9x13-inch dish. Combine the sugar, water, vanilla bean and pod in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2-3 minutes, stirring, until the sugar is fully dissolved. Pour the hot syrup over the prepared rhubarb, turning the stalks to coat. Leave at room temperature to cool, then cover and place in the fridge at least overnight and as much as a full day, shuffling the rhubarb around in the syrup now and again.

The night before you want to bake, start the Danish dough. (You will complete the folds and finishing in the morning.)

The next day, about 2 hours before you want to bake, make the almond cream. Sift the almond flour into a medium bowl; break up any lumps in the sieve, and add to the bowl. Sift in the all-purpose flour and whisk together. 

Place the butter in a medium bowl and beat with a silicone spatula or a hand mixer until the butter lightens to about the consistency of mayonnaise and holds a peak when the spatula is lifted. Sift in the powdered sugar, stir to incorporate. Once blended, beat the sugar and butter together until fluffy, around 3 minutes. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl. Add the almond mixture in 2 additions, stirring to combine, then stir in the vanilla. Pour in the eggs and mix until smooth. Transfer to an airtight container, pressing a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours. (The cream can be made up to 4 days ahead of time.)

30 or so minutes before you want to bake, finish the Danish dough by completing 5 turns (folds). Chill for 20 minutes. (Dough can be made ahead and frozen, then defrosted in the fridge before using.)

To assemble, preheat an oven to 375°F / 190°C. Line a baking sheet or half sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside.

On a lightly-floured work surface, roll the Danish dough to a 11x22-inch rectangle. Cut the dough into eight 5 1/2-inch squares. Refer to this diagram, and decide which shape you want to make. If making the vol-au-vent or envelope as I did, working one at a time, fold each square diagonally onto itself (forming a triangle, with corners lined up neatly). Leaving a thin border, cut a thin line starting from the bottom right corner of the triangle, parallel to the edge, almost up to the top. Repeat on the other side, leaving the tip attached. Unfold the package, brush with egg wash, then pull one of the cut edges over the other, lining it up with the interior edge of the square. Do the same with the other side, pressing lightly to seal, then place on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining squares.

Spread the well of each shaped Danish with about 1 tablespoon of almond cream. Remove rhubarb from the sugar syrup, draining any excess liquid back into the dish. Trim the rhubarb to fit the pastries and line them up to cover the almond cream. (There may be rhubarb left over, do not discard.) Sprinkle entire Danish with sugar. Set aside to rise in a warm, draft-free area for 20 minutes. 

Meanwhile, pour the rhubarb sugar macerating liquid into a saucepan along with any remaining rhubarb, cut to into chunks. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring, but not breaking up the rhubarb, until the liquid has thickened to a light syrup. With a slotted spoon, remove the rhubarb from the syrup. Turn off the heat but leave the syrup on the stove to keep warm.

Bake pastries in the preheated oven until puffed and golden, around 20 minutes. With a pastry brush, glaze the rhubarb and almond filling with the syrup. Remove the pastries to a baking rack to set for a few minutes, then serve warm. 

The Danishes are best eaten the day they are made. 

 

Notes: 

  • You may have egg left over from making the almond paste.  This can be kept aside and used for the egg wash. (If amount looks scant, you can bulk it up with a bit of heavy cream.)
  • The rhubarb removed from the syrup can be recombined with any extra glaze and served over ice cream or yogurt.  
  • If process shots will be of some aid, here is one, and another
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