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.

 

Posted
Authortara
Categoriesbaking, dessert
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A warm nibble for the cooler days ahead; spiced pumpkin scones. Photos courtesy of Deep Media.

“Don't you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils ..."

Sometimes I think I would really like to go back to school.

I could say that it was because I wanted to be surrounded by knowledge, or that I long for the daily exchange of ideas or that I crave an opportunity to stretch my mental boundaries. But, while all of that is well and good, I must be honest.

The thing that would most excite me about back-to-school would most likely be the stationery.

My love of lists is old news, I know. But it is a continuing, relentless habit. What you might not realize though is that the quirk is even deeper-rooted than the itemized collection of things to do; in fact, lists only scratch the surface of my fondness for writing things down, getting organized, and the supplies associated with both.

The whir of a label maker makes me happy. I have spread sheets detailing gifts given for holidays over the last five years. I was recently miffed to find out that Ikea had discontinued the glass jars I like for pantry storage. I have been known to colour code paper clips to best suit the subject matter they clamp. Seriously. And yes, I got made fun of for that one.

As you can well imagine, my level of commitment to eccentricity has led me down many an aisle of a stationery store. And so then you can imagine, I have bought enough stationery to be particular in my purchases. Rollerball, not ball point pens please. A mechanical pencil with no more than a 0.5 millimetre lead, thank you.

But back to the lists. My incessant scribbles need a home, and this brings me to my greatest love of school supplies - notebooks. Oh, how I adore a brand-new notebook. Whether tiny or fat, simple in its decoration or elaborate, a notebook smacks of promise and new beginnings. Some notebooks seem to make ideas flow easier; inspiring one to sit down and put thoughts to paper.

Throughout our house, our car and in my purse, you will find notebooks. Teeny tiny scratch pads for quick reminders are tucked in the junk drawer in the kitchen. On the desk is a thin, spiral bound notepad of my father's, containing a story about a squirrel I wrote in elementary school. A collection of journals line a shelf in the den, their contents spanning years of our lives. Innumerable recipes and food thoughts are jotted down on scraps of paper and tucked into random books and magazines, or take up books of their own.

It was in one of these (many) notebooks that I came upon a recipe for Spiced Pumpkin Scones and, as a bonus, a mystery. Reading it over, I realized that I had absolutely no recognition of the words whatsoever. Though in my handwriting, with notes and substitutions in the margin, I have absolutely no remembrance of where the recipe came from, or when I heard of it.

Mysterious provenance aside, I was charmed by prospect of lightly-spiced scones; perfect for the cooler weather forecast for the weekend. They were quick work through the use of a stand mixer. Butter is blended into dry ingredients, then liquids are added to that. Dump everything out onto a work surface, knead lightly, and you're done. All that is left is to cut the dough into the desired size and bake.

A scant 15 minutes later a tray full of proudly-puffed scones are yours to be enjoyed. The addition of cake flour helps to keep them tender, while the pumpkin purée adds moisture and pleasing saffron yellowness. Lovely on their own, even better with a smear of butter and a cup of tea. Simply delicious.

Wherever this recipe came from, I am so glad I had someplace to write it down.

Some of my favourite stationery sources are:
Russel + Hazel, See Jane Work, Etsy, and of course the classic, Moleskine.

Spontaneous moments often end up overshadowing the most stylized effort. While enjoying these little bites outside, the cooling rack was momentarily placed amongst the stones. I was so taken by the texture of the crumbly, crackled scones against the gravel, I felt compelled to include the image here.

Spiced pumpkin scones
Of unknown origin, but so tasty that I am tempted to claim them as my own.

Ingredients
2 cups cake flour
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground clove
1 cup (1/2 pound, 2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, diced
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup canned pumpkin purée (unsweetened)
2/3 cup 18% (table, coffee) cream, chilled
1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons of milk or cream, for egg wash
Granulated or sanding sugar, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Use parchment paper to line a standard baking sheet and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, combine the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. On the machine's lowest setting, cut in the chilled butter until the mixture resembles course meal. The butter should be in small pieces approximately the size of peas.

Lightly whisk together the eggs, pumpkin purée and cream. With the machine running still on low (or stir), pour the liquids slowly into the flour and butter mixture, stirring until just combined. Small bits of butter should still be visible, but almost all the flour should be incorporated.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Working quickly, gently knead the dough, folding and pressing gently until fairly smooth. Divide the dough into four, and shape each ball of dough into a 4" round about 3/4"-1" thick. Cut each round into six wedges, and place on the prepared baking sheet. Once finished, brush each scone with the egg wash and sprinkle with granulated or sanding sugar.

Bake in preheated oven for about 15 minutes, or until the the tops are lightly golden and the cut sides look flaky and dry. When fully cooked, they should feel light for their size and sound almost hollow when tapped underneath. Cool on a wire rack for at least 5 minutes. Best served warm.

Makes 24 medium scones.

Notes:

• 1 tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice can be substituted for the individual spices.
• The scones can be frozen before baking. After cutting them out, place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze uncovered. Once firm to the touch, remove to an airtight container or a freezer bag and store. To bake, take the scones from the freezer and preheat the oven. Wait 10 extra minutes after your oven has reached temperature, then egg wash and sugar the scones. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until cooked through.
• These can be made without the aid of a stand mixer. Use a pastry cutter or two knives to cut the butter into the flour, then stir in the wet ingredients. Do not over mix, stir until just blended. From here, the method remains the same.
• If your kitchen is very warm, chill the cut scones for 15 minutes before baking for best results.