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naramata-blend

Life in a slow place that quickly steals your heart.

Sweet salty chocolate cake with an almond bark crown and a secret sauce

IMG_4647.jpgThis rich and satisfying little chocolate cake has a secret sauce that makes it unforgettable. The salty component of this beauty comes from tamari (Japanese) soy sauce and it’s in the cake batter and the crunchy almond topper. Easy to make, this six-inch cake is perfect for eight small slices or four huge ones.

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  1. Tamari almonds
  • 2 cups raw almonds
  • 1 tbsp tamari or Japanese soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp neutral oil, eg grapeseed

Preheat oven to 350°F. Place almonds on a baking tray. Pour over tamari or Japanese soy sauce and oil and mix through evenly. Spread almonds evenly in dish and roast until fragrant and crisp, about 15 minutes. Cool before storing in a sealed jar. They will keep for several weeks.

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2. Chocolate Cake

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp cocoa powder sifted
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp tamari soy sauce
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup milk

Directions

With the rack in the middle position, preheat the oven to 350F. Butter the sides of a 6-inch springform or cake ring and line the bottom with parchment paper.

In a bowl, whisk together the egg, sugar, oil, soy sauce and vanilla. Stir in the dry ingredients alternately with the milk until smooth. Spoon into the prepared pan.

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IMG_4616.jpgBake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Let cool for 15 minutes. Unmould and let cool completely on a wire rack. Clean the ring or springform ring.

3. Almond Crisp

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Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp tamari almonds, coarsely chopped from step 1

Directions

Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. Place the ring of the springform pan on the prepared sheet.

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter with the brown sugar and soy sauce. Simmer for 30 seconds and remove from the heat. Stir in the flour. Working quickly, pour into the ring and spread into a thin layer. Sprinkle with the almonds.

Bake for 10 minutes in a 350F oven. Let cool completely on the baking sheet, then unmould.

4. Ganache

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Ingredients

  • 170 grams good quality dark chocolate, chopped
  • 2/3 cup 35% heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

Directions

Place the chocolate in a bowl. In a saucepan, bring the cream to a boil. Pour over the chocolate and let melt for one minute without stirring. Using a whisk, stir until smooth. Stir in the butter. Cover and refrigerate for a half hour or until the ganache is spreadable.

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Some Assembly Required

Slice the cake in half horizontally to obtain two layers. Spread the ganache onto each layer and stack them. Top with the almond crisp.

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Naramata Seed Company – farm-based rare and historic seed varieties – what’s old is new again

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Some of the Naramata Seed Company’s unusual varieties illustrated by Tim himself.

“I’ve been doing this for a little more than 20 years, ” says Naramatian Tim Skrypiczajko as he shows me around one of the two plots of land he farms on North Naramata Road.
“I learned to garden from some old-school organic farmers, they saved their own seed, so to me it’s always been a part of the process.”

Over the past 50 or so years seed growing has changed dramatically as part of the industrialization of agriculture that resulted in commercial vegetable seed growing becoming specialized and in the hands of a relatively few companies and people. Farmers like Tim are working  hard to preserve and maintain unique seedstock suited to particular micro-climates. He quotes John Navazio, the author of The Organic Seed Grower, “The seed was part of their farm and their farm was part of the seed. Each variety that was selected over time to meet the environmental conditions and the farmer’s needs became part of the whole system used on the farm.” That was the way it had always worked and Tim is doing his part to continue that valuable tradition in Naramata.

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Tim takes me on a tour of one of the plots he farms along North Naramata Road on late winter’s day.

Germination

“I’m a curious person by nature, so I just started to try to grow as many different things as possible. If it was something I’d never heard of before, even better.” Tim started saving seeds and expanding the variety of seeds he grew in earnest. “I would seek out new and different varieties from small seed companies here and there, as well as a few other sources and started to amass a large collection.” His collection grew to the point that he turned his hobby into a business in 2010 and began selling seeds. He has now at the point that the Naramata Seed Company is his primary focus.

“I still treat it like a hobby though. Growing so many different things keeps it interesting. The only part of the business that feels like a real job is the marketing stuff,” he adds.

Tim says his philosophy has always been to work with the farm — it’s soil, climate, topography… and farm in a way that’s suitable for that. “At some point I realized the place where I live is the ideal place to produce seeds so it made sense to focus on that. I feel the plots I farm are the best place in Canada to produce certain kinds of seeds.”

 

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Tim at the top of one of his plots.

“I discovered that growing and selling seeds is a good way to make a viable income from a couple acres of land, while being able to do most of the work by hand and not having to use lots of machinery, which I like.

“Sometimes I wonder how I ended up doing this, and think that somehow the seeds chose me to be their custodian, not the other way around.”

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Tim cleaning some seeds before packaging.

The Naramata Seed Company’s seeds are open-pollinated, untreated and of course non-GMO and Tim farms using traditional chemical-free farming techniques. He is dedicated to the preservation of genetic diversity and is focused on rare and historic varieties.

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Starting your own seeds is easier than you think

Tim says it’s easy to grow plants from seeds and encourages everyone to give it a try. “You will soon realize it’s not as daunting as it seems. There are lots more people who want to try growing from seed all the time.”

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My greenhouse where I grow many of Tim’s seeds every year.
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Farming is not for the faint of heart. After years working around a large rock Tim has decided this is the winter it’s going.
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Along with growing seeds, Tim loves illustrating and his to scale and beautifully coloured pictures are on his seed packages.

A tomato is born

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New for this year, is the Sweet Pit Tomato, which Tim developed out of an accidental cross between Summer Cider, a large orange tomato and another unknown variety. It is a unique colour, a dusty orange with green shoulders and when sliced is orange in the centre and the edges with green gel around the seeds. It has a creamy texture and sweet rich flavour.

Naramata is a great place to grow anything, he says. North Naramata’s isolation from other farms and gardens reduces the risk of potential cross-pollination he adds.

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Tim’s land as a summer storm sweeps in. Photo by Tim Skrypiczajko.

Growing the company

As for the future, the Naramata Seed Company will soon have an upgraded website making online ordering easy. His goal is to grow the company to the point where he can focus on the growing and seed cleaning and turn the marketing over to someone else.

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Slow & Seedy Sunday

Tim is playing a key role in Slow & Seedy Sunday taking place in Naramata February 11 from 11 – 3 at Columbia Hall. The free event hosted by NaramataSlow will include seed and garden-related vendors, a preserve exchange and information on a backyard chicken project. Speakers include James Young, who has obtained farm status on a relatively modest plot of land in the Village, beekeeper Tim Bouwmeester of Desert Flower Honey and Chris Mathison, the owner/operator of the Grist Mill Garden who will talk about seed starting and diversity. Check out the NaramataSlow Facebook page to learn more.

Butterscotch whiskey tarts

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There is a hint of nostalgia that comes as you eat these tarts. It’s from your mum’s instant jello pudding days. But these beauties made with cream, milk, fresh farm eggs, bourbon vanilla bean and whiskey are very much a cut above.

You’ll notice that I add a splash of whiskey, (not scotch but rye in this case) but the tart’s pudding filling is not likely named after ‘scotch’. One theory is that the name ‘butterscotch’ is a derivation of ‘butter-scorched’. Others say it that it meant ‘scotching’ or cutting, which they did to slabs of buttery, creamy caramels when making candy.

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Ingredients

(18 tarts)

  • 6 farm-fresh egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons whiskey (some dad nostalgia here too…he used to rub whiskey on my teething gums and have a dram himself)
  • 3 Flake bars for decoration
  • 18 frozen tart shells (I usually make my own pastry but elected to go the easy route…if you are feeling ambitious homemade pastry shells will make the tarts even more delicious. An oat wheat pie crust would be even nicer…)

 Directions

Bake the tart shells following package directions.

Put the egg yolks in a large heatproof bowl and set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine the granulated sugar with a 1/4 cup of water and stir gently with a spatula being careful not to splash the sides of the pan. Cook over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved, then increase the heat to medium-high and cook until the mixture begins to turn a dark amber colour. Swirl the pan but do not stir. Remove from the heat, let stand one minute then stir in the cream. Pour the caramel into a small bowl and set aside.

In another saucepan, combine the brown sugar, cornstarch and salt. Stir in the milk and whisk to combine.

Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the saucepan with the milk and toss in the vanilla bean into the milk as well. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and add the caramel. Whisk together until combined, then pour a third of the mixture over the eggs. Keep whisking the eggs and add another third of the hot milk mixture. Transfer the egg mixture back to the saucepan with the milk mixture and whisking constantly, bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil for 2 to 3 minutes, or until very thick.

Remove from the heat and add the butter and whiskey.

Keep whisking for about a minute to cool the pudding slightly. Let sit for about 15 minutes, then remove the vanilla bean.

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Here there are with some other boozy homemade pals. The lemon tarts are topped with amaretto meringue and the chocolate ganache are have a splash of Legend Manitou.

Some assembly required

Whisk the pudding one more time until smooth. Divide the pudding equally among the baked tart shells and sprinkle with some crumbled Flake bar. Cover the tarts and refrigerate for about two hours before serving. Store any leftovers, tightly covered, in the fridge for up to two days.

 

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Naramata artist captures the whispering of our landscape

 

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GATHERING Dennis Evans, Acrylic on Canvas, 36″ x 48″ x 3″ (Note, photography (lighting) are not doing full justice to his work)

Noted Naramata artist Dennis Evans unveiled his latest work at an exhibition entitled Messengers last evening. Hauntingly beautiful, Evans has captured the unique resonance of Naramata in these 14 major works.

“When the iconic jazz saxophonist and composer, John Coltrane, visited Nagasaki, his guide found him on the train playing a flute,” Evans says. “The man asked Coltrane, ‘why are you playing the flute?’ He answered, ‘I’m trying to find the sound of Nagasaki.”

Evans has found the sound of Naramata and its sacred resonance in this body of work. Anchored by his Celtic ancestry, the artist has imbedded Celtic images into his landscape paintings.

“It’s my way of  communicating a special resonance with the land and communicating this connection to the viewer,” he says. “It’s an invitation to the viewer to meditate on the universal bond between nature and humanity and what we define as our sense of place.”

 

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SUNSET OVER GIANT’S HEAD, Dennis Evans, Acrylic on canvas, 24″ x 48″ x 3″

The Celtic symbol appears in sharp focus in some works or it subtly emerges or recedes into the landscape in others. The symbols connect with the sky, the earth and everything in between. Evans says the image is intended to highlight the non-physical aspect of the landscape or the landscape whispering to the painter.

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Dennis Evans introducing his show at Leir House in Penticton with my favourite painting in the exhibition, Sacred Grove, in the background.

Messengers is Evans’ second instalment in his quest to capture, visually, the unique resonance of a particular place. It follows on from Songs in the Landscape which also exhibited at Leir House in the fall of 2016.

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SOLSTICE: SPIRIT OF WINTER, Acrylic on Canvas, 36: x 48″ x 3″
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The exhibition also contained a small sampling of new works, including this stunning painting of clouds over Giant’s Head.

A life-long artist, Dennis has the good fortune or as he would interpret it, fate, to end up in a place that speaks to him. Having moved from Calgary to Naramata a decade ago, he says,” I am much more connected to the landscape here. Pretty much all my landscapes are within walking distance of the studio. I have enough inspiration in Naramata to last a lifetime.”

What’s special about Naramata? “We didn’t really know how amazing it really is until we landed here,” says Dennis. “It has an aura about it. I don’t know if it is because it’s isolated being at the end of the road as it is. It was also special to the First Nations people. They didn’t live here but came to the area for their ceremonies. It’s also home to a proportionally large number of artists, which must be for a reason, and home to an incredible concentration of unique individuals.”

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Music throughout the opening evening was played by Don and Debbie who took us on a journey through their interpretations of Evans’ work, including EQUINOX: SPIRIT OF SPRING, which is hung behind the musicians.
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Lucky guests of the opening left with a catalogue and a mug potted by Evans. The mug was filled with Meadow Vista (Kelowna) Cloud Horse mead, made by fermenting BC honey. Born in Viking, Alberta, Dennis began his art career at the Alberta College of Art (now the Alberta College of Art and Design) in the 1960s and graduated with a major in pottery and ceramics, a first love which he still practices.
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Evans and ROCK SPIRIT, Acrylic on canvas, 36″ x 48″ x 3″
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Detail of Evan’s signature
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One of the smaller works which caught my eye.
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RESONANCE: Self portrait, Acrylic on canvas, 36″ x 48″ x 3″

Messengers will be exhibited at Leir House in Penticton until February 16th and most of the works are for sale.

Evans’ wife Patricia Evans read some of her poetry at the opening including this piece which perfectly suited the ambiance created by the art, music, hospitality and the warmth of the historic Leir House:

Unravel the sunset.

Watch its colours rain down, 

holding close, the sacred.

Spirits from the land call to the sun.

We, descendants of the stars, 

need hearing aids.

Five Naramata secrets too good to keep

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Photo by Preserved Light
1.Where the Universe Aligns

For a fleeting time every June, around the time of the summer solstice, the setting sun lines up to shine its dying rays through the Kettle Valley Railway’s Little Tunnel, above the Village of Naramata. Photogenic on any day of the year, this tunnel engineered by Andrew McCulloch more than 100 years was blasted out of a rock cliff that hangs dramatically over the Okanagan Lake.

The summer solstice,  June 21st, is the longest days of the year for anyone living north of the equator and marks the beginning of summer. If pagan rituals are your thing, how cool would hiking up (or driving) to the tunnel to mark the occasion be?

No one really knows why Stonehenge was built some 5,000 years ago. But one possibility is that it was used to mark solstices and equinoxes. That’s because during the summer solstice, the sun rises just over the structure’s Heel Stone and hits the Altar Stone dead centre. I wonder if McCulloch knew about the solstice magic he created?  Bring your camera. Preserved Light‘s Caillum Smith often offers photography workshops at Little Tunnel during the solstice.  If you go, don’t touch the tunnel walls when the sun’s rays pierce through it as you will likely be transported through the stone and back in time and find yourself in the middle of the Battle of Culloden. Right?

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The views from the Kettle Valley Rail Trail, called the KVR by locals, are so stunning that I can still conjure up the feeling I had when first gob-smacked by them. The KVR is a notable part of the Trans Canada Trail.
2. We Love our Public Art 

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Photo by Preserved Light

Although I don’t want to reveal the exact location of this amazing art to help preserve it, Naramata has some very special rocks.  Some of the most intriguing images of Canadian rock art or pictographs are painted on cliffs in interior British Columbia. The Okanagan Valley of British Columbia was the traditional territory of the Interior Salish peoples, hunters and gatherers who followed a seasonal migration. Their material culture was simple and easily transportable, and they had very little impact on their environment. They did leave behind one sign of their presence however – their paintings on stone, or pictographs.

Painted in red ochres, iron oxides mixed with clay, the designs were applied with fingers or sticks and were thought to be painted by teenagers as part of their puberty rituals or by adults painting images from dreams.

3. We Aren’t Afraid of the Dark

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Photo taken in my very dark yard.
A big part of the appeal of Naramata is what we don’t have such as no fast-food outlets, no traffic lights, no industrial development and very few streetlights. It’s dark at night, inky black in some spots and this is rare today and valuable.

Star gazing, Northern Lights watching and awareness of the phases of the moon are a special part of life here and should not be undervalued according to Elizabeth Griffin, Visiting Astronomer at the NRC, and also Member of the Light Pollution Committee, Royal Astronomical Society of Canada – Victoria Centre. “Light pollution affects astronomy in a big way. Stars are faint and distant and the scattered light from our cities makes them hard to see. Observation now requires costly equipment in remote locations,” she says. “All this light is bad for us as well. We don’t sleep as well when its not dark meaning we have less melatonin that we need to repair our bodies. Light pollution damages sensitive eco-systems like those of insects and birds, and eventually damages the whole bio-system upon which we depend for food.”

(This helps explain why our guests from urban areas talk about how well they sleep here…)

Dr. Griffin tells me a story passed on by the director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. “There was a significant earthquake in 1980 in the LA area and it disrupted electrical cables plunging LA into darkness. The switchboard at the observatory became jammed with calls by people reporting that they had seen something unusual. It turns out that they were able to see the Milky Way for the first time. There is something so sad about that.”

We can see the Milky Way here and many other constellations and planets by lying on our backs on our lawn and gazing up. “You are lucky,” says Dr. Griffin. “Municipalities are doing quite a lot like ensuring street lights are angled down and shutting off sport’s field lights at night but there are no laws regulating the use of domestic lights. All we can do is try to educate people that all this light is damaging and unnecessary and that they are missing out on something special.

“The Okanagan is good for star watching,” adds Dr. Griffin. “You are relatively sparsely populated there and there are a lot of pockets behind the mountains where you are quite well shielded from lights.”

Along with embracing the darkness, Naramatians are also treated to quiet that allows us to hear birds and wildlife. My current favourite thing is opening my deck door early in the morning to listen to a pair of owls talking to each other. Also part and parcel of life in our Village are the wonderful scents of sage and pine that are released in summer evenings on hot days.

 

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A requirement to see and photograph the Northern Lights is darkness. Photo by Preserved Light
4. We Let it All Slip Slide Away

There is a little-known spot on Naramata Creek where a waterfall has some chutes and pools suitable for a little sliding.  Tucked away up Arawana, an old forest service road, and along a trail, these rock slides provide a bit of cool fun.

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Photo by Preserved Light

5. We are Internationally Recognized for our Slow Pace of Life

Naramata is one of only three Canadian communities with a special status as a “slow city” bestowed on us by Cittaslow, an international organization formed in Orvieto Italy in 1999.  We join Cowichan Bay and Wolfville as places where the pace of life is a bit more human.

To quote from the charmingly translated Italian on the Cittaslow website, “A Cittaslow place is motivated by curious people of a recovered time, where man is still protagonist of the slow and healthy succession of seasons, respectful of citizens’ health, the authenticity of products and good food, rich of fascinating craft traditions, of valuable works of art, squares, theatres, shops, cafes and restaurants. These are places of the spirit and unspoiled landscapes characterized by spontaneity of religious rites and respect the traditions of the joy of slow and quiet living.”

As a way of celebrating our Cittaslow status, Naramata holds a harvest dinner in the fall. One of the organizers of the dinner, Miranda Halladay, said, “ Naramatians have an encyclopedia of reasons why they feel lucky enough to call this place home, covering the spectrum from peacocks (a secret for another day…we have resident peacocks that wander around in our Village) to people. The Cittaslow designation prompts us to think and to talk about these aspects of our community, to protect and foster these elements that are integral to living NaramataSlow.

“Creating and sharing a meal focused on the immense and delicious bounty our community produces with friends, neighbours and visitors alike feels like a natural tradition in the making, and the right way to foster conversation.”

Thanks to Preserved Light for collaborating with me on this post!

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My photo from the first dinner in 2016 now well on its way to being an annual tradition.

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Photo by Preserved Light

Mallomars or Whippets cookie hack

 

IMG_3984.jpgThis recipe for the humble chocolate-covered marshmallow cookie that has a cult-like following in New York and Quebec is made in three steps: a shortbread cookie base, homemade marshmallow and a chocolate coating. The advantage of making them yourself are their freshness and the quality of the chocolate you can dip them in making them even more addictive than the store-bought versions. If you make them with kids, be warned the marshmallow step can turn into a sticky situation. The recipe makes about two dozen cookies.

A bit of delicious history

Mallomars’ origins are in New Jersey in 1913. Kraft, whose Nabisco division markets Mallomars, says the first buyer was a grocer in West Hoboken, which was consolidated to form Union City in 1925. Their New York-area roots are the reason Mallomars sales are so heavily concentrated in the Northeast.

But they are made in Toronto, the home territory of Whippets, which arouse the kind of passion among Canadians that Mallomars arouse among New Yorkers. Whippets are made by Dare in Montreal.

Part of the cult following of Mallomars are their availability only from October to April as the cookie melts in the summer months. (Maybe just a marketing ploy at this point but it’s their story they are sticking to.) Mallomars get a mention in When Harry Met Sally they are so iconic.

An international treat, a marshmallow topped biscuit dipped in chocolate is sold as chocolate fish in New Zealand, chocolate teacakes in the UK, Konfesksiya in Turkey, Flodebolle in Denmark, Krembo in Israel, Schokokuss in Germany, Brunberg’s Kisses in Finland, Melo-cakes in Belgium. Looks the world knows a good thing when it tastes it.

 

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Shortbread Cookies

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup (180 ml) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1 ml) salt
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) vanilla extract

Directions

In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture has the texture of sand. Add the egg and vanilla. Pulse again until the dough just begins to form. Shape into a disc with your hands and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

With the rack in the middle position, preheat the oven to 180 °C (350 °F). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

On a floured work surface, roll out the dough to about 3-mm (1/8-inch) thick. Cut 30 cookies using a 4 ½-cm (1 ¾-inch) round cookie cutter. )I used a small drinking glass of the right size in place of the cookie cutter.) Place the cookies on the baking sheet.

Bake for about 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool.

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Marshmallow

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) powdered gelatin
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) water
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) light corn syrup (You can substitute golden corn syrup in a pinch as I did…the marshmallow still comes out a nice white colour.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) vanilla extract

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Directions

In a small saucepan, sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let bloom for 5 minutes. Add the sugar. Melt over low heat, stirring until the sugar and gelatin have dissolved. Pour into a bowl. Add the corn syrup and vanilla and beat with an electric mixer until soft peaks form, about 10 minutes.

With a pastry bag fitted with a 2-cm (3/4-inch) diameter plain round tip and filled with meringue, top each cookie with a dome of meringue. Work quickly filling the pastry bag and piping as the marshmallow will get hard to work with as it sets.

Let cool for 30 minutes at room temperature.

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Chocolate Coating

Ingredients

  • 8 oz (225 g) good quality dark chocolate (70 per cent) , chopped

Directions

In a bowl, over a double boiler or in the microwave oven, melt 140 g (5 oz) of chocolate. Remove from the double boiler and add the remaining chocolate. Stir until the chocolate is smooth. If necessary, put back over the double boiler for a few seconds if the chocolate does not melt completely. Be careful not to overheat the chocolate, it might bloom when cooled.

Dip the cooled cookies, marshmallow side down, in the chocolate, flip and remove from the chocolate with a fork. Shake to remove any excess chocolate.

Place the cookies on a lightly oiled wire rack or a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes. Serve at room temperature.

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Milk is the perfect companion for these nostalgic cookies.

 

French buttery, hazelnutty, chocolatey Christmas cookies – Flours de Lin

IMG_3917.jpgThere is no better combination in French baking than a tender butter cookie made with ground almonds, sandwiched with hazelnut spread and dipped in dark chocolate. These Flours de Lin are relatively easy to make and have become a staple in my Christmas baking.  Even if your piping skills aren’t up to scratch they are so tasty it won’t matter.

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  • Cake flour – 125 grams (1 cup plus 4 teaspoons)
  • Room temperature butter – 150 grams (5 1/4 ounces)
  • Sea salt – 1/8 teaspoon
  • Granulated sugar – 80 grams (1/3 cup)
  • Ground almonds – 60 grams (1/2 cup plus 1 tbs)
  • Egg whites – 30 grams (1 extra-large white less 1 to 2 teaspoons)
  • Vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste – 5 grams (1 teaspoon)

Directions

Line two sheet pans with parchment paper.

Sift the flour into a bowl and set aside. Place the soft butter with the sea salt and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer and mix with the paddle attachment for 1 minute on medium speed. (Note…if your butter isn’t soft these cookies will require Popeye muscles to pipe) Add the almond flour, egg whites and vanilla and mix until incorporated. Add the sifted flour and mix for 30 seconds only on low speed. Do not over-mix as it will spoil the delicacy of the cookies.

Scrape the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a 3/8 inch star tip. Pipe 1 1/2-inch-long flat teardrop cookies onto the parchment-paper-lined sheet plans, leaving 1/2 space in between them and staggering the rows.

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Hold the pastry bag with the tip at a 45-degree angle, close to the sheet pan. Continue to press on the bag and swing the tip toward you while you progressively stop pressing, so that the teardrop ends in a tail.

Let the cookies rest at room temperature for 1 hour. Thirty minutes before baking preheat the oven to 375 F.

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Bake the cookies for 15 minutes, until golden brown. Cool completely.

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Filling and dipping ingredients

  • Hazelnut paste (such as Nutella) – 200 grams (2/3 cup)
  • Good quality dark chocolate – 200 grams (7 ounces)

Assembly directions

Once cool, flip half of the cookies over and pipe a small amount of the hazelnut paste. Top with another cookie and press down lightly to sandwich.

IMG_3878.jpgSlowly melt the dark chocolate over a double boiler. Dip the tail of each cookie into the chocolate and place the cooke on parchment paper. Let the chocolate harden and then store the cookies in an airtight container. Do not refrigerate.

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(You can substitute the hazelnut paste with a chocolate ganache or raspberry jam if you like.)

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Finnish Christmas bread and the most amazing bread-baking smells ever

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Pulla is a traditional Finnish sweet bread that is flavored with the unique scent of cardamon. Your kitchen, whole house actually, will be filled with the scents of yeasty bread-baking with an amazing cardamon finish. It makes a stunning braided loaf, or can be baked into individual rolls for easy eating. Finnish Pulla is very similar to challah, with its eggs, milk and butter additions but interestingly fragrant with a warmth of spices. It’s fascinating how Scandinavians have the tradition of pulling cardamon, a spice native to India, into their bread baking. It was the Vikings who brought back this spice from their plundering expeditions. How cool is that?

This is my dad’s recipe, scrawled rather cryptically on a hard-to-read recipe card. After some code-breaking and further research, here it is. The recipe originated from a Finnish friend of the family who not only made us Pulla but made it at our house, hence my strong scent-filled memories of this wonderful bread.

Side note about Cardamon

Scandinavians not only use cardamon in their breads, but also in mulled wine, cookies, cakes, pastries and meatballs too.  Cardamon, the third most expensive spice after saffron and vanilla beans. My small bottle cost $10.95. It is a part of the ginger family. Indigenous to South India, and according to some accounts to Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Nepal as well, it was brought to Scandinavia by the Vikings, a thousand years ago, from their travels to Turkey. Cardamon appears in written Nordic cookbooks as early as 1300AD.

Side note about Finnish swearing

This recipe makes two braids. One I’m bringing to Master’s Swimming this morning to present to a Finnish swimming mate, Jarkko. Every swim practice I google a Finnish word and try it out on my pal. Today’s is “jumalauta” which translates to holy shit, or God help me, a good word to use after a tough kick set. (Jarkko hates kick.)

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Ingredients

  • 2 cups milk, heated to 115°
  • 1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cardamon
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 9 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1 (2.5 tsp) packages active dry yeast
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Sliced almonds
  • 1 tbsp heavy cream
 Directions
Warm the milk in a small saucepan until it bubbles, then remove from heat. Let cool until lukewarm. Dissolve the year in the warm water. Stir in the lukewarm milk, sugar, salt, one teaspoon of cardamon, 4 eggs and enough flour to make a batter (about 2 cups of the nine). Beat until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add about 3 more cups of the flour and beat well, the dough should be smooth and glossy in appearance. Add the melted butter and stir well. Beat again until the dough looks glossy. Stir in the remaining four until the dough is stiff.
Turn out the bowl onto a floured surface, cover with an inverted mixing bowl and let rest for 15 minutes. Knead the dough until smooth and satiny… at least 10 to 12 minutes.
Transfer dough to a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap; let sit until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
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Risen dough after an hour

 

Punch down dough; cover again with plastic wrap and let sit until fully risen, 30 minutes.
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Who needs a proofing drawer when you have a warm spot in front of the fire.

 

Heat oven to 400°. Transfer dough to a work surface and divide into 3 equal pieces. Set 2 pieces aside and divide other piece into 3 equal portions. Roll each portion between your palms and work surface to create a 16-inch rope. Pinch the three strands together and braid ropes together to form a loaf.
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Transfer loaf to a parchment paper–lined baking sheet. Repeat with second and third dough pieces. Cover loaves with plastic wrap and let sit until slightly puffed up, about 20 minutes.
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Whisk together remaining 1 tsp cardamon, cream, and egg yolk in a small bowl; brush over loaves. Sprinkle with almonds and a bit of white sugar.
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Bake, one loaf at a time, until golden brown, 20–25 minutes. Transfer to a rack; let cool 10
minutes before serving. (Pulla makes wonderful toast too.)
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It is all solved by Chocolate Salted Caramel Cake

IMG_3637.jpgWhen you combine vast quantities of Swiss chocolate with Dutch cocoa powder, French fleur de sel, fresh Canadian whipping cream and buttermilk there is no possibility on earth that this little gateau is not going to solve your problems.

The combination of rich chocolate cake, velvety frosting and a hidden layer of salted caramel is a perfect antidote to winter’s grey skies.

A single layer of luscious chocolate cake is carefully cut in half, spread with homemade salted caramel, topped with a chocolate ganache frosting and finished with a gorgeous glacage. An added bonus, the cake can be baked, frosted and frozen ahead of time with only the glacage step required before serving.

This recipe was adapted from the amazing Duchess Bake Shop Cookbook by Giselle Courteau. The shop is located in Edmonton if you get a chance to stop in, and this cake is their number one seller.

Step one

Salted CaramelIMG_3537.jpg

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp unsalted butter cubed
  • 1/4 cup finely ground almonds
  • 3/4 tsp fleur de sel

IMG_3526.jpgDirections

Heat the cream in a small saucepan on the stove until scalding. Set aside and keep hot as you melt the sugar.

Place about a quarter of the sugar in a wide-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Gently melt the sugar, swirling the saucepan around occasionally. Do not stir. Once the sugar is almost melted, add another quarter and repeat twice more until all the sugar is completely melted and has turned amber coloured.

Remove from heat and slowly pour in the hot whipping cream mixing with a spoon or spatula until the smooth. Using a fine mesh strainer, immediately strain the caramel into a bowl.

Mix in the butter, ground almonds and fleur de sel into the hot caramel until the butter is melted. For extra smooth caramel, use an immersion blender. Transfer the caramel into jars, let cool and refrigerate until set. It will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks and is an amazing ice cream topper.

Step two

Chocolate Cake

IMG_3547.jpgIngredients

  • 1/2 cup hot brewed coffee
  • 3 Tbsp dark chocolate
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup quality cocoa powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract or paste

IMG_3562.jpgDirections

Preheat your oven to 325F and line an 8-inch cake pan with parchment paper and spray it with vegetable oil.

In a large bowl, pour the hot coffee over the chocolate, whisking until all the coffee is poured in and the chocolate has completely melted. Set aside.

Sift all the dry ingredients together and set aside.

Whisk the egg, oil, buttermilk and vanilla together in a bowl. Slowly whisk the mixture into the melted chocolate and coffee.

Add the sifted dry ingredients and whisk until the batter comes together. The batter will appear a bit lumpy. Don’t be tempted to overmix.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 45 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Cool completely. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and flip the cake out.

Step three

Ganache Frosting

IMG_3569.jpgIngredients

  • 188 grams of good dark chocolate (I love Lindt)
  • 1/2 tsp fleur de sel
  • 2/3 cup whipping cream
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp light corn syrup
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature, cubed

Directions

Slowly melt the chocolate over a double boiler. Once the chocolate is melted, add in the fleur de sel. Set aside.

Heat the whipping cream on the stovetop until scalding. Set aside while keeping hot.

Place the water, sugar and corn syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook until the sugar turns amber coloured. Do not stir. Remove from the heat and slowly pour in the hot cream and stir until combined. Pour this mixture over the chocolate and fleur de sel in three parts, mixing until smooth between additions.

Transfer this ganache into a stand mixer bowl and cool to room temperature Ensure both the ganache and butter cubes are at room temperature.

With the mixer on low speed, add the butter cubes to the ganache a few at time until all incorporated then turn the mixer up to medium and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy.

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Step four

Assemble the cake and frost

Using a sharp serrated knife, cut the cake in half horizontally into two layers. Flip the top layer so its cut side is facing up.

If the salted caramel has been in the fridge, warm it in a microwave for a few seconds to soften it slightly. Spread about 1/2 cup of salted caramel over the bottom layer of the cake leaving about 1/2 inch around the edge.

IMG_3589.jpgSpread about 1 cup of the frosting over the caramel, leaving a bit of space around the edges. Place the other cake layer on top, cut side up that your cake will have a flat top and gently press down. Transfer the cake to a turntable and spoon about 2 cups of frosting on top, reserving extra frosting to finish the cake. Spread it evenly over the top and sides of the cake and smooth it out with an offset spatula. The smoother the better as the glacage will show all the imperfections.

Transfer the cake to a flat plate and freeze for at least two hours (or up to a week, if making ahead).

Step five

Glacage

IMG_3597.jpgIngredients

  • 1 cup good dark chocolate
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp whipping cream
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 3 Tbsp light corn syrup

Directions

Slowly melt the dark chocolate over a double boiler. In a saucepan heat the whipping cream, water, and corn syrup until just scalding. Pour the hot cream over the dark chocolate in three parts, mixing in between additions until smooth.

Step six

Final assembly

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Remove the cake from freezer and place it on a flat cooling rick with a pan or foil underneath to catch the drippings. Using a measuring cup or ladle pour the glacage over the top of the cake. Using an offset spatula spread the glacage over the sides, making sure to cover the whole cake. Immediately move the cake to a serving plate using a long offset spatula.

Decorate the cake with the reserved frosting. Pipe five dots on top and a decorative border around the bottom. The cake will keep at room temperature up to four days.

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