This morning I went to an Italian market in town to buy jars. There, the jars are for sauce and soups, but each year around this time I snatch empty ones for eggnog. I never liked eggnog much until I started making it; this one has rum and bourbon, and gets aged for 10 days before we start sipping. It is a work in progress— I've never even typed up the recipe, but it feels like it'll always be a part of our holidays.

I started writing on November 30th, but never got far. I've spent the last half hour trying to remember where I was planning to go from that paragraph, and what I'd hoped to say, but I can't reconstruct the memory. Maybe it's still as good as a start as any, because I'm happy to be here and talking again. 

Rum Ginger Sticky Toffee Cake | Tara O'Brady

The bulk of that eggnog went to the annual holiday party Nikole hosts at the Herriott Grace studio. I held some back for our household supply, but went through it faster than expected and December 15, the fridge was dry. We made another batch, the halls were decked, and the holidays were as bright as we could make them.

There was a rice pudding I forgot to serve one night that was eaten in the morning as porridge, dusted aromatically with Ceylon cinnamon. I made gingerbread dough and the boys decorated cutout snowflakes on Christmas Eve. (On the topic, do you have a favourite gingerbread cookie recipe? I wasn't thrilled with the one we used.) The trifle on Christmas Day was one of the best in recent memory, its surface regal in gossamer silver leaf. Instead of the usual sponge, the base was an egg-rich coconut cake. It was heavy with vanilla and woolly with shredded coconut, and it held its own against the black raspberry filling, custard, and cream.

Through the days, and those meals, all the things I've wanted to mention have been rattling around my brain. So, we've got ground to cover.

I've been revising favourite essays of the year and finding new ones by working my way through this list: Longreads best of 2016.

Speaking of Herriott Grace, Sean and I have a pair of these little earthenware cups for our household nog—they are matte and feel like velvet in the hand. At the party we served it in these beauties, and they were equally perfect. 

George Michael rehearsing for the Freddie Mercury tribute concert . (Yes, that's David Bowie watching from one side.) 

Back in September, I started another column with The Globe and Mail. I am still in the Life section every month, and now in the Style section too, as part of Kitchen Cabinet. It a feature in rotation with three other cooks—they're proper chefs, actually, and I'm chuffed to be the odd one out. That cake up top was for my December column, and it was inspired by both sticky toffee pudding (a cake I enduringly associate with winter) and the Dark and Stormy cocktail (a drink I'm happy to have in hand any time of year). The cake is vaguely stodgy, freckled with waxy nubs of walnut, the leathery chew of dates, and fiery flecks of candied ginger. You soak the cake with some toffee syrup while it's still hot, then save the rest to offer at the table. I think it's a cake that will take us to spring.

A friend was looking for vegetarian recipes and one I recommended was Heidi's Green Lentil Soup with Curried Brown Butter. It's terribly good.

I want to make these for the lads before the winter break is over. And I'm bookmarking this cake

Ashley wrote about the Everyday Yellow Dal from Seven Spoons; I've often said that dal and rice, finished with a pat of ghee, flaky salt, and finely minced onion, is my never-fail comfort food. Ashley's words, capturing the fortifying effect of gathering at the table, are its ideal partner.

And finally, if you haven't seen it already, this piece by Molly isn't to be missed. 

May this new year bring you such happiness. xo

 

RUM AND GINGER TOFFEE CAKE

FOR THE CAKE

Butter for pan

  • 3/4 cup | 180 ml water
  • 1/4 cup | 60 ml dark rum
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
  • Zest of half an orange, finely grated
  • Zest of a lime, finely grated
  • 12 ounces | 340 g pitted dates, Medjools preferred
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 ounces | 60 g walnuts, toasted and cooled
  • 2 1/4 cups | 290 g all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Scant 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup | 215 g dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup | 170 g unsalted butter, soft
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup (50 g) finely diced candied ginger

FOR THE SAUCE

  • 1/2 cup | 115 g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 1/4 cup | 260 g dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon black treacle or molasses, optional
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum
  • 1/2 cup | 120 ml heavy cream
  • Seeds scraped from half a vanilla bean, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

METHOD

Please refer to my column in The Globe and Mail. 

 

 

 

 

Posted
Authortara
9 CommentsPost a comment

Making puris with my parents

Puri, or poori, are deep-fried Indian breads made from atta (whole wheat flour). The dough is rolled into a thin disc, then dropped into hot oil. Using a spatula the puri is held under the oil's surface, trapping the resulting steam and puffing the dough into a golden pillow. One quick flip to brown the other cheek and they are done. I will admit a certain sense of accomplishment when a puri emerges perfectly formed - lightly tanned, slightly flaky but really more tender. Here they are served with Mum's spiced potatoes, yogurt and lime pickle. These beautiful photographs are courtesy of my rather talented brother; many thanks to him and to my parents for a delicious afternoon.

With our impending arrival well on its way, we are currently attempting to reiterate the importance of sharing to our first born. Though his universe has happily (and steadily) revolved around Ben for the past two years, we have come to the point when patience, respect and understanding are becoming part of our daily conversations.

I am terribly thankful for his gaggle of contemporaries who help him in his education. He has had to learn that not everyone plays with blocks in exactly the same way, that many little hands can create stories with the Little People and that cuddles can be given to cousins and friends - not just Mummies and Daddies. He has started to learn to take his time with those younger, to allow for the independence of those older, and to realize that he is not the only one who would like a cookie. He has seen that our lives are interconnected with those of others; we share our days and ourselves, as well as our toys.

Such is the case with our Valentine's Day festivities. Even though Sean and I will have our own evening out, the day itself is saved for the shared celebration of both the sweethearts in my life. Each bring me such happy contentment, Benjamin will see that instead of choosing just one (something I could never do), I would rather choose to spoil everyone. He will see that treats, consideration and hugs can be shared equally, and that there is as much joy in the giving as in the receiving.

A weeknight family dinner calls for a dessert that is special but does not take too much attention away from enjoying everyone's company. Nothing too elaborate or fussy, an offering as perfectly sweet as those gathered around the table.

This cake is dense and moist, with the fine texture of a pound cake. The richness of butter and cream cheese is underscored by mellow almond and luscious bits of white chocolate that only almost melt into the batter. Perfect on its own, sublime when topped with raspberry sauce, and decadently stodgy as the base of a midwinter trifle - it is sure to send more than one heart aflutter.

If one happens to have miniature tube or Bundt pans, this batter makes adorable little plated desserts; the perfect size for two, or in our case three, forks to share.

White chocolate almond cake
From a variety of inspirations.

Ingredients
Melted butter for greasing the pan
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
3 cups granulated sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup finely chopped white chocolate

Almond simple syrup (optional)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C). Using a pastry brush or kitchen towel, lightly coat a 10" tube pan with melted butter.

Sift together flour and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or with an electric beater, cream together the softened butter, cream cheese and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. This will take about 5 minutes, being sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl periodically. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides again and beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and almond extracts.

With the mixer on low, add the flour in two additions, alternating with the milk. Mix until just combined. With the mixer still on low (or with a rubber spatula), stir in the white chocolate. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, mounding the edges up slightly and leaving a bit of a furrow through the middle. Hit the pan against the counter to remove any trapped air bubbles.

While cake is baking, combine the water, sugar and almond extract in a small saucepan over low heat. Cook until the sugar is dissolved and the syrup becomes thick.

The cakes should be done after 75-85 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the centre comes out clean and the top is golden brown. Allow to cool in pan, on a wire rack, for 10 minutes.

Turn the cake out onto the rack (see note) and, use a pastry brush to coat the cake entirely with the syrup. Allow to cool completely.

Notes:

• You will want to suspend the rack over a sheet pan to catch the excess glaze. A spoon can also be used to glaze the cake, but I prefer the finer finish a pastry brush offers.
• For a citrus variation, omit the almond extract and white chocolate from the cake. Add 1 teaspoon grated zest of your choice and one tablespoon of freshly-squeezed juice replaces the same amount of milk. For the syrup, omit the extract and substitute juice for the water.
• For a chocolate chip version, the white chocolate can be substituted with 3/4 cup bittersweet and the almond extract can be omitted (but this is not necessary). The syrup is made more of a glaze, substituting the extract with 1 teaspoon cocoa powder and boiling the mixture gently for 5 minutes. Spoon this over the top of the cake, allowing it to dribble down the sides.

It's snowing outside, and the view is so lovely that I can almost forget the fact I just set fire to my oven. The flames are out, and I'm telling myself the smokiness just adds an "open fire" note of festivity to the evening. These are the moments we remember for years to come ...

Hope your holiday season is as memorable as this has already been, without the unexpected flambé of course. All the best to you and yours.

Posted
Authortara

Blackberry jam thumbprints have been a popular tradition for us. For further information on Menu for Hope 4, a worldwide list of prizes and full bidding details, please see yesterday's post.

I am a person who gets completely caught up in anticipation. I love the planning, the preparation and underlying sense of excitement that comes with any special occasion or event. There is a specific feeling to that time, a buoyancy of spirit that carries us through our days.

As one would assume then, this is the time of year that I hit my stride. November kicks off with a spate of family and friend birthdays, then leads into Diwali; December begins with more birthdays, rushes into the holidays and we are brought, breathless, to the New Year. Did I mention that we have five more birthdays to celebrate in January?

It is a blur of celebrations and smiles; a time when somewhere in between all the tinsel and merriment we take time to reflect on the greater gifts, the intangible ones, we have received throughout the year. I think it is this realization of how truly lucky I have been that gives me an extra push as we move through the season.

The lists are made, I am actually looking forward to wrapping, and the menu for our holiday meal is shaping up quite nicely. The last thing to do is probably my most treasured, and that is my holiday baking. After the five birthday cakes I have done in the last month, the switch to cookies marks a change of pace and a turn towards tradition. My offerings, for the most part, remain the same from year to year; half as a nod to the past and half in response to the requests of the recipients.

Today I am thrilled to add another name to my holiday list - yours. In support of this year's Menu for Hope campaign, I am offering a box of homemade goodies to the winning bidder. I will provide you with a list of treats, both savoury and sweet, and the choice is yours. And if you are extra nice, I may throw in an extra surprise or two. Shipping will be included, unless restricted by law.

Bidding may only give you a chance at winning, but it guarantees a little bit of joy to someone in need this holiday season. What is more worthy of celebration than that?

To bid, go to Firstgiving; the code for this prize is CA02.

*Please see recipe added below.

Once these, the long legged days of August saunter in, I find it impossible to focus on anything other than gallivanting about. But who can blame me? With peach festivals, Rotary-sponosed rib cookoffs, world-class food fairs, you can understand my distraction.

Case in point. When you find yourself making espresso-laced versions of (almost kitch) molten lava cakes, for the simple reason that it is Tuesday night and it is a gorgeously cool evening, you know that you are lost.

Though my school days are a distant memory, my thoughts have turned towards notions of holidays and diversion, of idle pastimes and fleeting pleasures. But lest you think I have abandoned all thoughts of responsibility, I shall be taking you all along with me on a little field trip to St. Jacobs later this week. We will wander through aisles upon aisles of antiques, take a gander at local artisans and gather up armfuls of gorgeous produce, baked goods and specialty meats from the farmer's market.

My apologies for my absence, but please don't turn me in.

Espresso and chocolate fondants
My variation of these recipes.

Ingredients
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pots
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 eggs
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup caster sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Grease 4 x 150ml ramekins with butter (see note).

In a double boiler, or a bowl placed over a pan of just simmering water, melt the butter and chocolates together. Stir to ensure even and gentle melting of the chocolate; when just melted, remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile in a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, espresso, vanilla and sugar until the mixture becomes thick and slightly pale in colour. Add the cooled chocolate, whisking to blend well. Finally, stir in the flour until just combined.

Divide the batter among the prepared ramekins; bake on a baking sheet for 17-20 minutes, or until the tops are crevassed and cracked while the oozing underneath. Cool only for a moment and serve hot.

Notes:

• I use these little 150ml pots that I'm terribly fond of as the cakes will soufflé up just a bit and offer a charmingly springy top. However, you can also use a slightly larger ramekin (though I would not go larger than 250ml or 1 cup) for a denser, more deeply cracked fondant.