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It’s nice when things that don’t take much time accidentally turn out awesome, isn’t it? When apples are in season, they make me want to bake – pies are nice in theory, but I’m not always in the mood to make one. An apple cake is a lovely thing, especially when it’s more apple than cake, and when you have a buttery dough you can stir together in a few minutes and know by heart, so that in spring it can be berry or rhubarb cake, in summer it can be a peach or plum cake. This is the sort of cake I like best – I think most days I’d choose this over a fancy chocolate tower held together with ganache.

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If we were to compile a book of family recipes, this upside down pear gingerbread may just be on the cover. We have it every Thanksgiving – it’s our pumpkin pie – and although gingerbread in general is not my favourite, this cake is. It’s special but not fancy, with a soft interior and chewy, caramelly edge, and is one of the very best vehicles for whipped cream there is. One of the biggest selling points of an upside-down cake is the fact that it needs no decorating. When you invert the cake the pear slices end up on top, making it look gratifyingly complete with no need for frosting. It does, however, scream for ice cream or whipped cream – provide a bowl of it alongside for people to serve themselves, or put a dollop on each slice. Pear gingerbread is also perfectly suitable for breakfast – in wedges with hot coffee, or smothered in thick Greek yogurt.

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I am blessed with a son who doesn’t ask for elaborate cakes on his birthday. He did once, when he turned 5 and requested a How to Train Your Dragon cake. Mike and I worked all night to piece together whatever specific kind of dragon he wanted made out of cake and frosting. We were proud – but it looked like a five year old made it. When we presented it in all its green glory to the table full of kindergarteners, one (having not touched or tasted it) said, “it tastes like toothpaste”. They collectively recoiled in horror over the suggestion of a mint-flavoured cake, and despite our protests that it was just green, it didn’t taste like mint, none of them would take a bite. W goes for substance over appearance, which I hope translates to other things in life, which is a relief because I have very little patience for cake decorating. Also – his birthday falls on the August long weekend,Continue reading

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I impulsively made my mom’s chocolate pudding cake for dinner tonight. My dad was coming by to eat with us, and his presence triggered a memory of my mom cobbling together some sort of dessert at the last minute when there wasn’t a little something sweet in the house, as he opened all the cupboards in search of a square of chocolate. She had a few standbys and this was one of them. Since chocolate is his thing, I mixed it together and slid it into the oven alongside the pork tenderloin. (At the table, W asked me how long it had taken me to make it. About ten minutes, I said. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I absolutely must have this recipe!’) This request was followed by a handful of others on twitter, so I thought I’d post it. Partly in order to bookmark it myself.

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I love this old photo of a birthday cake I’ve been making for years – my mom and sister share a birthday, which was this week, and for as long as I can remember (since my mom was a kid, so far before that) they’ve had this spice cake with penuche icing. They’re the only ones in our family with a standard cake that cannot be strayed from – the rest of us jump from chocolate to cheesecake to ice cream cake to croquembouche – but they’re never even asked what kind of cake they want. I personally am a fan of the old-school wobbly layer cake slathered with buttercream. (We also have a tradition of making money cakes – with foil-wrapped coins between the layers. Is this a thing where you are?)

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Although I scour garage sales at this time of year in search of vintage cookbooks, and love flipping through them, recipes of a certain vintage tend to be less than appetizing, laden with Spam and cocktail wieners, pineapple rings and glace cherries. Some creations don’t deserve the ingredients they were born with – but it’s generally an easy upgrade. Real cherries for the candied ones (seriously – who thought turning a naturally red, juicy fruit brilliant green and solid with sugar was a good idea?) and fresh pineapple for the canned rings is an easy but extreme(ly delicious) makeover. There’s no pressure to make proper caramel – you just whisk the butter and brown sugar – and a squirt of honey or syrup to get things going – until it’s smooth and bubbling. As the pineapple cooks it releases its juices and helps things along. And why, especially in summer, would someone opt for neon Christmas cherries when there are fresh Bings available? Isn’t peachContinue reading

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When I was a kid, I thought only girls drank milk. This belief was almost certainly born from our dinnertime ritual: my mom would ask my sisters and I what we wanted to drink as we sat down to dinner. As we came to the table and sat in a row on the homemade wood (railway-tie, in fact) benches, she would say, “milk or water?” and usually we’d say milk, because it was more interesting than water. But my dad didn’t like milk. So most nights the four of us (two sisters, my mom and I) would drink milk while my dad had water. Which is how preconceived notions about things come to be. And then one night my uncle came to visit from the west coast, and he asked for milk with his dinner. It was so weird, this dude sitting at the dinner table, drinking a glass of milk like it was the most normal thing ever. (Which of course it was…)

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You may have figured out by now that it’s birthday season around here – as in most families, our birthdays come in clusters, most of them in January and October, with two double birthdays included in this month. This weekend was the end of the January run, as B turned 10. He couldn’t decide between cream puffs and cake (takes after his aunt, he does) and so I made sunken chocolate cakes, their concavity perfect for a pile of cream puffs. Let me pause here before getting into the sticky details of spinning sugar and dribbling chocolate to use this as a segue way to introduce a fun new series my friend Jan and I have been scheming. Although there is no shortage of recipes on this world-wide interweb, what we love most about food is its ability to bring people together; not just families at mealtimes, but extended families – relatives and friends and strangers connecting around food, whether it’s a celebration or anContinue reading

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A busy day. At the end of the afternoon (and overlapping dinner) I found myself judging a chili cook-off at the ATCO Kitchen for the Boys’ and Girls’ Club of Calgary (not the best reintroduction to regular food after two days with an unhappy gut), and soon after was at an organizational meeting for Ramsay Rocks, our community event which is now -gasp- only a week and a half away. I was relieved at close to 11 pm to come home, take out my contacts and sit down at the computer with a mug of tea and wedge of plain cake – aptly named busy day. Of course the busy days of Edna Lewis’ childhood were filled with altogether different tasks: “Our busiest days were, of course, when we were canning, putting up watermelon-rind pickles and Seckel pears, making blackberry jelly, and preparing the brine for cucumber pickles.” Edna Lewis is perhaps the most well-known Southern cook of our time; a Southern Julia Child, theyContinue reading

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