Thursday, December 30, 2010

Challah Bread

Okay, so I know it's been a long long time since I wrote on here, but I have good excuses (moving into my new apartment, preparing for teaching high school, graduating college, etc.) I think I am justified in not writing in a while!
So, with that out of the way, I'm pulling a recipe that I did for Thanksgiving; Challah Bread. It is so very good. It's sweet and had a little bit of a crunchy top.
What literary work could I use for Challah Bread? Well, now that I've graduated and I have a little bit more free time on my hands, I have been able to start reading for fun! I gave into the peer pressure and I have begun to read The Hunger Games. Now, I've JUST started reading it, so I don't know what happens so don't tell me! But so far, a big part of the book has to do with bread in one way or the other. Let's get some quotes in here:

"'Look what I shot.' Gale holds up a loaf of bread with an arrow stuck in it, and I laugh. It's real bakery bread, not the flat, dense loaves we make from our grain rations. I take it in my hands, pull out the arrow, and hold the puncture in the crust to my nose, inhaling the fragrance that makes my mouth flood with saliva. Fine bread like this is for special occasions". -pg. 7

"It was a boy. In his arms, he carried two large loaves of bread that must have fallen into the fire because the crusts were scorched black...The boy took one look back to the bakery as if checking that the coast was clear, then, his attention back on the pig, he threw a loaf of bread in my direction. The second quickly followed and he sloshed back to the bakery, closing the kitchen door tightly behind him. I stared at the loaves in disbelief. They were fine, perfect really, except for the burned areas. Did he mean for me to have them? He must have. Because there they were at my feet. Before anyone could witness what had happened I shoved the loaves up under my shirt, wrapped the hunting jacket tightly around me, and walked swiftly away. The heat of the bread burned into my skin but I clutched it tighter, clinging to life." -pg. 30-31

So bread is obviously a big part of this book. I don't want to give the story away but a lot of things come back to bread or the bakery or the baker and especially the baker's son. In the first quote, Katniss says "fine bread like this is for special occasions" and I think Challah Bread is just that!

Challah Bread
4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 eggs
3 1/2 to 4 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon salt
Place the yeast, sugar and warm water in a mixing bowl. Stir and let stand for about 10 minutes, until creamy and foamy. Add the melted butter and eggs and mix well.Combine the flour with the salt. Add it to the yeast mixture, 1 or 2 cups at a time, until it forms a soft dough. Place the dough on a well-floured board and knead until the dough becomes smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Place the dough in a large, well-greased bowl, then flip the dough over to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap or a towel and let stand in a warm place for about 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Punch the dough down, form it into a loaf and place in a greased loaf pan. Bake for about 1 hour, or until the bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped. Let cool before slicing.

This was incredibly easy to make and so so sooooo good! Eat it warm with some butter and it is money money money! You really don't need jam or honey or anything else.

This recipe made these two loaves. Delicious!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Roasted Chestnuts

Please enjoy The Christmas Song while you read this post:

Because of this song, which I thought was called “Chestnuts Roasting” until a couple years ago due to the opening line, I always wondered what roasted chestnuts tasted like.  

Here in California, chestnuts are very rare and very expensive ($7.99/lb!).  My mom never bought them for that reason.  I grew up thinking that buckeye nuts, which are native to the NorCal foothills, were the same as chestnuts, because their shells look pretty similar.  The only differences are that buckeye nuts are a lot bigger and, unfortunately, poisonous.

Anyway, the point is, I was clueless in the chestnut department, so I felt I had to try them.  

As I was reading up on how to roast chestnuts (and getting sad that people didn’t actually roast them over an open fire as the song indicates), I heard people mention how sweet the chestnuts were, and how divine they smelled while they were in the oven.  Reviews on recipes gushed about how it wasn’t the Christmas season without chestnuts, and yada yada yada.  

So this is where I get to be the stuck-up westerner who disagrees.
Stuck up, not stickup!  And not that kind of westerner!

Yes, I really am that nerdy. :)  Moving on.

First off, yes, roasted chestnuts are sweet.  Barely.  Like a sweet potato is sweet.  In fact, that’s the best description for both their flavor and texture.  They’re starchy and heavy like a sweet potato, with that pleasant but subtle sweet flavor.  Only you’re eating it plain, with no butter or sugar added.  Try taking a bite out of a plain baked sweet potato – it’s not bad, but not all that exciting either. Maybe California chestnuts are just defective, but I doubt it. If there's one thing California is good at, it's growing good produce.

And maybe it’s because I wasn’t cooking very many, but I could barely smell them while they were in the oven.  Just a faint woody odor.  So that was a bit of a let down after all the reviews lauding the sweet chestnut aroma filling the whole house.

Lastly, they’re kind of a lot of effort for such a little treat.  It wasn’t a big deal for me, because I only made four, but if you made over ten (and sometimes people make like 50!), it would be a gigantic pain, particularly since you only have a certain amount of time to peel the shells off before they cool and become impossible to work with.

With that being said, roasted chestnuts aren’t bad.  They taste soft and sweet while they’re warm and they are fairly simple to roast.  I’m glad I decided to make them, because I learned something new and now relate better to “The Christmas Song.”  I would even go so far as to recommend that those who have never eaten a roasted chestnut try them.  Just don’t expect too much, and you’ll be perfectly satisfied.

And now, without further ado, here’s how you roast chestnuts (source: Kathy Maister at

Roasted Chestnuts
-Salt (1 tsp for every 4 chestnuts)
Make sure your chestnuts are healthy-looking before purchasing (no holes or mold, not squishy).

Oven temperature: 425 degrees Fahrenheit

1. Using a small, sharp knife, cut large Xs on the top of each chestnut (the flat side is the bottom) through the thick brown shells.  
*This step is important!  It lets out the steam as the chestnuts cook.  Otherwise they will explode as they bake.  It also makes them easier to peel.
2. Put salt in a bowl or pot (depending on how many chestnuts you’re using), fill with enough water to dissolve the salt and submerge the chestnuts.  Add the chestnuts to the water, Xs face down, and let them soak for at least 1 hour.
3. Remove the chestnuts from the water and dab them dry.  Place them on a cookie sheet flat side down and put them in a preheated oven.  Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the brown shell peels back and the nut becomes a light golden brown.  Do not overcook them, or they get chewy and gross.
4. To peel, wait until they are just barely cool enough to touch (be careful!) and then start pulling the shells off.  Don’t wait too long, though, because once they cool, they get much more difficult to peel.
~~ I actually didn’t wait at all – I picked each nut up with a hot pad and used my knife to break away the shell.  It was really easy that way, and I didn’t risk burning my fingers.

When they’re peeled, pop ‘em into your mouth!  They’re great warm!

Cutting the X
Soaking in salt water
The shell peeling back after it's cooked

Peeling the chestnut with a knife

All peeled
Trying it. Mmm... sweet potato.
Apparently there are street vendors in New York who sell boiled chestnuts that are really good.  According to a comment made by Anthony P. on’s “How to Roast Chestnuts” page,
“The secret is to cut the X on the chestnuts, then boil them (in unsalted water) for about 15-20 min. Drain and let them cool.  That’s it you’re done.  If you like you can broil them for a few min to give them the ‘roasted look’ like the vendors do.”   
Maybe someday I’ll try that, because apparently they’re juicier that way (so they would taste less like a potato).  I might consider roasting them with cinnamon, too.  For this year, though, I’m fine without any more chestnuts.  I'll just stick with my caramels and Austrian nut bars this Christmas. 

What is your favorite Christmas treat?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Truth about Sugar Plums

It’s Christmastime!  I love this time of year.  It’s an excuse to bake constantly.  I’ve got a list of a million wintery treats I want to make, such as peppermint bark, gingerbread, Austrian nut bars, chocolate truffles, and so on.

As I was on the prowl for a treat I could make for the blog, I ran across something simple and yet completely unfamiliar in the classic poem, “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” by either Clemente Clark Moore or Henry Livingston Jr. (Mysterious author... How intriguing).  That treat would be sugar plums.

I had a hard time chopping out a quote from this poem, because I love it all so much.  So you can listen to the narration of the entire story on this youtube video if you're like me and want to hear the whole thing. Otherwise, see the quote below the video.

I'd like to highlight the important line: “The children were nestled all snug in their beds, / While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads” (Twas the Night Before Christmas).

As a child, whenever I read or heard this story and thought of sugar plums dancing in children’s heads, I would picture something like this:

You know, plums with sugar on them, dancing.  The ballerina bit might be The Nutcracker's Sugar Plum Fairy getting in the way, but this is mostly what I pictured.  Oh how inaccurate I was. As it turns out, the name of this Christmas treat is extremely misleading.  Sugar plums have nothing to do with plums.  They have no plums in them, and they bear little resemblance to the pre-pruney fruit.  Apparently in the old days, plums referred to any dried fruit.  So I guess it kinda makes sense that sugar plums consist mostly of almonds, dried apricots, and dates.

Now, if you are like me, you’re probably wrinkling your nose right now.  I despise almonds, along with almost every other nut, and dried apricots are far too sweet.  Not to mention dates, which taste alright, but every time I look at them, I can’t help but picture this:

Don't worry, this is photo-shopped. But still gross.

Sorry, I’ve probably ruined dates for everyone now.  Just be thankful that I didn’t go all OCD on you and get really detailed in my cockroach representation.  I almost did.

Anywho, despite my dislike for the three main ingredients, I decided to make a very small batch, so that I could say I had actually tried sugar plums.  And also so I would have something to post this week.  Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised.  They weren’t overpoweringly nutty or apricotty.  The flavors blended together well and once I finished one, I immediately wanted another.  The sugarplum recipe is nearly universal on every site.  My source is the Use Real Butter blog.  I cut the recipe back to a third, which is why the measurements are a little odd.

Sugar Plums
(Servings: 7 large sugar plums or 12 small ones)

2/3 cup whole almonds
1 tbsp + 1 tsp honey
1 tsp grated orange zest
1/8 - ¼  tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 – ¼ tsp ground allspice
1/8 – ¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/3 cup dried apricots, finely chopped
1/3 cup pitted dates, finely chopped
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
Optional: whole cloves, for stems

Preheat oven to 400F. Arrange almonds on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast in oven for ten minutes. Set aside to cool and then finely chop or blend in a blender.  Meanwhile, combine honey, orange zest, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg in a small bowl. Mix almonds, apricots, dates and spice mix in a large bowl. Mix well, using you hands (make sure they’re clean!). Pinch off rounded tabelspoon-sized (for large) or teaspoon-sized (for small) pieces and roll into balls. Dust the sugar plums with powdered sugar, place a clove in each as a stem, and refrigerate in single layers between sheets of wax paper in airtight containers for up to one month.


As luck would have it, I already had toasted almonds, so I just tossed them into a blender.
Blended almonds
Grating the orange peel.
Due to my own idiocy, I accidentally grated 2 tablespoons of orange zest instead of the recommended 1 teaspoon.  I didn’t realize it until I’d already mixed in the honey.   Surprisingly, this wasn’t such a terrible goof.  It just made the sugar plums have a stronger citrus flavor.  If you’re worried about not liking sugar plums, but you like orange, try grating a ½ tsp or so extra orange zest.

Honey mixture.  Imagine this with significantly less orange zest

Chopping apricots.  I only used about 7 of each fruit.
All ingredients.  You will have to use your hands to mix beyond this point.
Now, I have an issue with sugar plums being called such when they look nothing like plums.  The original recipe doesn’t even have the cloves for stems.  So I took the liberty of adding the stems, as well as dying the confectioner’s sugar a light purple.

In order to dye the sugar, stick it in the blender.  Then make a small well in the center of the sugar and drop in a couple drops of blue and red food coloring.  I used a tiny bit more blue than red.  This actually works way better if you have the watery food coloring instead of the fancy gel colors.  Blend the powdered sugar a minute at a time and keep adding coloring until it gets to a tint with which you are satisfied.

I used gel coloring, and I got little chunks of coloring that didn’t blend, which you can see sitting in the sifter.

Finished!  There's a traditional white one in the center with the purples
Presenting sugar plums.  I promise they're actually purple.
It was exciting to make something I had only heard about in a children’s poem (and seen as a fairy in a ballet).  I’m happy to be a little less ignorant about traditional Christmas treats.  And despite my assumptions when I read the recipe, it actually turned out to be really good!  Not to mention very easy to make.  I definitely recommend it.

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Pumpkin Smash Bars

Alright, sorry I haven't been posting lately. You probably won't hear from me for the next few weeks because I'm graduating and you know...finals...etc.
Anyway! I had a fabulous Thanksgiving. I had the opportunity to make an entire Thanksgiving dinner with my brother and sister-in-law. It was so fun! I love to cook =)
This post has nothing to do with literature, I just wanted to brag about the fact that I MADE UP A RECIPE! That's right, on the spot, no list. I saw things, and threw them in the bowl and baked it. I'm not even sure I remember all of what I did, so these will be estimates. I didn't take many pictures because I wasn't sure how it would turn out. However, I loved it and my brother loved it too! Kayla said it was kind of like a fudge almost, but I like the name Pumpkin Smash Bars! Here we go!

Pumpkin Smash Bars
3/4 Can of pure pumpkin (this was a leftover I had in the fridge)
approx. 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk (also a leftover)
approx. 2 cups of flour (I didn't write down measurements...I just kept throwing it in until I was satisfied
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 egg
1/3 cup of sugar
vanilla extract?
coconut flakes (also a leftover)

So what I did was throw everything into a bowl and mix it together except the coconut. I spooned the mixture onto a greased baking dish and topped it with the coconut flakes. I baked it at 350 for...30 minutes? I have no idea.'s the picture proof! It was really yummy and I was/am proud!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Baked Apples

Happy Thanksgiving! 

On this wonderful, joyous holiday that is mostly celebrated with large amounts of food, I felt it was my duty to post a new recipe. After our wild week last week with recipes every day, things have significantly toned down.  But don’t worry, we’re still here!  And for those of you Harry Potter haters... we got it out of our system.  You can read now.

A bit of sad news that is slightly Harry Potter related – I left my beloved camera, a graduation present I got in May, at the movie theater that night.  When I came back to the theater the next day to look for it, it was gone, and not in the theater’s lost and found.  I’m really really depressed about it.  I'm a very responsible person - I don't lose things, particularly not expensive things.  I really miss it.  I know it’s just a thing, but I loved that camera.  I used it all the time.  It’s my own fault, though, I suppose.  If I could physically give myself a roundhouse kick to the gut, I would.  It sort of feels like I already did.

So because of my camera loss, I had to use my webcam today, which is less than stellar quality.  In fact, it’s sort of like looking through a really blind person’s glasses.  The pictures are pretty blurry.  I’ll fix this camera situation soon, though, don’t worry.  This is just a temporary fix.  I hope.  (What I really hope is whoever took my camera will return it, but who am I kidding?)

Anywho, there have been a couple of granny smith apples sitting in my refrigerator for a while now, and yesterday my mom suggested baked apples.  I had never tried one, so, interested, I looked up a recipe.  It seemed easy enough.  And then as I looked at my notes for the blog, I realized that baked apples were actually mentioned in literature!  Here’s a quote from Jane Austen’s Emma.  For those of you familiar with the story and characters, this is the overly talkative Mrs. Bates speaking.

“About the middle of the day [Jane] gets hungry, and there is nothing she likes so well as these baked apples, and they are extremely wholesome... I have so often heard Mr. Woodhouse recommend a baked apple.  I believe it is the only way that Mr. Woodhouse thinks the fruit thoroughly wholesome.” (Austen 210)

Well if Miss Jane Fairfax likes nothing so well as a baked apple, we’d better try it.  I got my recipe, slightly adapted, from  That site is so awesome.

Baked Apples
Servings: 1

1 granny smith apple
1 tbsp cubed butter
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp apple juice
Cinnamon and nutmeg to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).  (As my oven was preheating, it started to smoke heavily.  Word to the wise – make sure your oven is clean before you undertake a baking project.  Fortunately the smoke cleared by the time I was ready to pop my apple in the oven.)
  1. Core the apple completely. Not the prettiest coring job, but it works.
  1. Stuff each apple with 2 tablespoons brown sugar and 1 tablespoon cubed butter (pre-mixed together).  I also peeled a ring around the center of the apple to vent.
  1. Add the apple juice to the baking dish, as well as just enough water to cover the bottom.  Place the apple in the baking dish.  Sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg.
  1. Loosely cover apple with foil and bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes.  Uncover and bake an additional 10-15 minutes, until the apple is tender.

My apple took a while to get to the tenderness I wanted.  I was hoping for a super soft apple, like in apple pie, but it was a little firmer than that.  It was still delicious, though, and with the uber buttery sauce, it was a “wholesome” yet tasty fall treat.  If you want, you can even thicken the sauce by putting it in a pan and boiling it down into a sugary syrup, or just add a little corn starch.  Then you could have vanilla ice cream with your apple and drizzle your apple-cinnamony sauce over all of it.  Mmmm...

The beauty of this recipe is that you don’t have to worry when you make more than one.  It’s the same for each individual apple.    

Well, I’d better go.  It’s nearly 4:00 a.m. and I’ve got stuff to cook tomorrow.  Again, Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

P.S. We have over 1,000 hits.  That is SO COOL!!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Butterbeer...with special guest Pumpkin Juice!

The long awaited post is finally here! Now that many of us die-hard Harry Potter fans have already seen the movie, time to celebrate the actual day of the release! Woohooooo!!
I had a great time seeing the movie last night/this morning. It was so good. I can't even explain how much I enjoyed it. I'm still paying the consequences of staying up too late because I'm dead tired and this post won't even be well written...I'm sure.
Anyway, Butterbeer: a Harry Potter staple. People have been fascinated with this made up beverage since the beginning of the book series. I always imagined that it would be sweet and warm and taste a lot like whipped cream and melted butter. Let's see what the Harry Potter wiki says:

"Butterbeer was a popular wizarding beverage described as tasting "a little bit like less-sickly butterscotch."[1]
It had a very slight alcohol content, which could get house-elves fully drunk,[2] but seemed to have a less pronounced effect on humans.[3][4] In 1996, Harry Potter wondered what Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger might do at Professor Horace Slughorn's Christmas Party "under the influence of Butterbeer,"[3] indicating that it could lower inhibitions. Winky, a house-elf, took to getting drunk on Butterbeer after losing her job with the Crouch family[2] — an addiction from which she never fully recovered.[5]

Butterbeer was served cold in bottles and hot in "foaming tankards."[6] In Hogsmeade, it was sold at the The Three Broomsticks[6] and The Hog's Head,[7] although the fact that the latter pub's stock was described as "very dusty" suggests that it was not sold there very often. In Diagon Alley, the drink is sold at the Leaky Cauldron.

At the Hog's Head, customers were charged two sickles per Butterbeer,[7] but it is not certain whether this is a universal price for the drink, or if the price of the drink varies from location to location."


I've tried a lot of different Butterbeer recipes and none of them really tasted like how I imagined it to taste. I'm so glad I had this excuse to try more Butterbeer recipes! I decided to have a butterbeer tasting party...And I have three different recipes, here we go!

ButterBeer Recipe #1
2 1/2 cups of milk
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp butter

1. heat milk in saucepan over medium high
2. Add ingredients
3. Blend with mixer to make frothy
4. Bring to almost a boil
5. Serve.

ButterBeer Recipe #2
2 1/2 cup of milk
1/2 cup butterscotch chips

1. heat milk in saucepan over medium high
2. Add ingredients
3. Blend with mixer to make frothy
4. Bring to almost a boil
5. Serve.

ButterBeer Recipe #3
1 1/2 cans of cream soda (or to taste)
1/2 cup butterscotch syrup/chips
1/2 tbsp butter

1. Heat butterscotch and butter in pan until melted
2. Stir in soda slowly.

Ladies and Gentlemen, your ingredients (some of these ingredients are for Pumpkin Juice...we'll get to that later)

Left: ButterBeer 1 Right: ButterBeer 2

This is ButterBeer 1. It was the palest of them all because it didn't contain butterscotch. It tasted a lot like slightly altered milk. If you don't want a strong flavor, but still long for sweetness, this is a good one for you.

This is ButterBeer 2. This one is significantly sweeter and is DELICIOUS warm!

These are the three butterbeers. Top of triangle: ButterBeer 3 Left: Butterbeer 2 Right: ButterBeer 1

Before we move on to the results of the taste test, let's introduce Pumpkin Juice! Pumpkin juice was another one of those fascinating drinks in Harry Potter. I always expected it to taste a little like liquid pumpkin pie but not thick. Oh how naive of me. What does Potter Wiki say about this drink?

"Pumpkin juice is a cold drink favoured by the wizarding world, and among the students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It is drunk at any occasion, such as breakfast, lunch, at feasts or on other occasions. It seems to have taken on the same role that orange juice has in the Muggle world.
Pumpkin juice is readily available, and can be purchased on the Hogwarts Express. Severus Snape threatened to Harry in his fourth year that he might slip Veritaserum in his morning pumpkin juice while believing that Harry stole his potion ingredients. Dolores Umbridge offered Harry Potter pumpkin juice in 1996 when she wanted to secretly administer Veritaserum to him, but he chose tea instead. Prior to a Quidditch match in his sixth year, Ron Weasley believed that Harry had slipped Felix Felicis into his morning juice to help him play perfectly."

Very interesting! So here's the deal. Pumpkin juice is not sweet. My roommate Jessica said "It tastes like you just picked up a pumpkin and put it in your mouth!"
My other roommate Tara said "It tastes kind of like baby food".
So, be the judge for yourself. It was not what i expected but it didn't taste bad by any means. I added a little sugar substitute to it but it didn't change much.

Pumpkin Juice
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 cup pineapple juice
2 cups apple juice
1 cup grape juice (Grape juice was too expensive so I got Cranberry Raspberry, tastes pretty similar).

The pumpkin. I realized at this point that I should have put this in the blender. I recommend you put it in the blender otherwise you will be chewing your pumpkin juice like we all did. I just told people it was "pulp" not chunks.

No matter how much you stir it, it will settle and separate. So stir often!!

Close up on the pumpkin floaties!

And on with the party! I had my roommates Sam, Tara and Jessica as well as Sam's friend whose name escapes me at the moment because I'm sleep deprived, and my friend Spencer sample all three butterbeers and the pumpkin juice

This is Spencer. He was pretty excited about the butterbeer opportunities. His favorite was number 2 because it didn't give him a sugar attack like number 3 and it had more flavor than number 1. He's such a silly man!

This is Sam and friend. They both liked the 2nd one also, for basically the same reasons. Sam's friend called it "medium froth" because he tried to froth it into submission like Butterbeer 1 and it only kind of frothed. Good times my friends...good times.

And this is Jessica! She, too, liked the 2nd one best. She was a good sport about it; she was super full when I trotted out the butterbeer.

Now, my opinion? I LOVED the third butterbeer. True it was SUPER teeth and "stay awake for days" kind of sweet but it tasted the most authentic of the three to me. Number 1 was a little too bland, but kind of malty in a weird way. Number 2 was a duller taste but still a very nice hot beverage. Number 3 won in my eyes because it was authentic; it tasted EXACTLY how I thought butterbeer should taste. However, everyone else voted for number 2.
Ironically, at the end of the night, I had to combine the three leftovers into one pot and when I heated it up the next morning, I think it tasted better than any of them did separately.

Try these out and let me know which was your favorite. =) Mischief Managed.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Pumpkin Pasties

Tonight is the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1!  I am beyond excited.  I'm leaving in soon with some friends to go wait in line outside of the theaters.  Midnight couldn't come soon enough!

As a treat to munch on while we're waiting in line for hours, I made pumpkin pasties.

Cornish pasties (the ‘a’ is pronounced like the ‘a’ in ‘crash’ or ‘at’) are a common treat in Britain. They are basically beef stew packed into a flaky, folded-over pie crust.  They are delicious and portable, which is awesome.  You might be picturing hot pockets right now, but I assure you, pasties are way better.   I got to try one in Oxford for lunch while I was strolling through the town, and I think it was among my favorite English foods.

Pumpkin pasties are J.K. Rowling’s invention, so there’s no particular recipe to go with them.  But if you think about it, it’s logical to assume that they are like pumpkin pie, only in a pocket.  So basically, they’re destined to be delicious.

Pumpkin pasties are first mentioned in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone in England), when Rowling describes Harry’s first experience on the Hogwarts Express.  The food trolley rolls up to Harry and Ron’s compartment, and “a smiling, dimpled woman slid back their door and said, ‘Anything off the cart, dears?’” (Rowling 101).  From there, Harry beholds a cornucopia of Wizarding treats.

He had never had any money for candy with the Dursley’s, and now that he had pockets rattling with gold and silver he was ready to buy as many Mars Bars as he could carry – but the woman didn’t have Mars Bars.  What she did have were Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, Drooble’s Best Blowing Gum, Chocolate Frogs, Pumpkin Pasties, Cauldron Cakes, Licorice Wands, and a number of other strange things Harry had never seen in his life.  Not wanting to miss anything, he got some of everything and paid the woman eleven silver Sickles and seven bronze Knuts.

Ron stared as Harry brought it all back in to the compartment and tipped it onto an empty seat.

“Hungry, are you?”

“Starving,” said Harry, taking a large bite out of a pumpkin pasty. (Rowling 101)

Pumpkin Pasties were Harry’s first taste of the Wizarding World.  Will they be yours, too?

Pumpkin Pasties
Recipe courtesy of

Makes about 2 dozen miniature pasties.

2 eggs, slightly beaten
2/3 cup sugar
1 1 lb. can pumpkin
½  tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
½  tsp. ginger
¼  tsp. cloves
1 2/3 cups evap. milk (1 can)
½  tsp. allspice
¼ tsp nutmeg

9 oz pie crust pastry (enough for two single standard pie crusts)

Add all ingredients except for the pie crust into a mixing bowl.  Beat the filling ingredients together until consistent.  Bake the pie filling in a large casserole dish in hot oven (425 degrees) for 15 minutes. Keep oven door closed and reduce temp to moderate (350 degrees F/180 degrees Celsius) and continue baking for 45 minutes or until table knife inserted in center of dish comes out clean. Cool on wire rack.

Adding evaporated milk (not to be confused with sweetened condensed milk)
Make or purchase pie crust pastry. Roll thin on lightly floured wax paper and cut into circles approx 4" in diameter. Put a spoonful of the cool pumpkin mixture towards one side of the center of the circle. Fold over the crust into a half-circle and firmly crimp the edges closed (This is sort of a pain.  Be prepared for a mess). Slice three small slits in the top for venting and place on a well-greased cookie sheet.  (I also coated some of them with my leftover egg wash from the treacle tart and then sprinkled some sugar on the top).  Bake at 400 F only until crust is a light golden-brown (about 15 minutes). Serve at room temperature so you don’t have to worry about people burning their mouths.

I rerolled the dough I bought.  It was thinner and more even that way.
I used a lid, not a cookie cutter, because it was 4 " in diameter.

I held them in my hands when I filled them, and then folded them like a taco.
Egg wash
Sprinkling sugar
And here are Barrett and Brandon enjoying them as well.  Brandon is faceless in this picture, but he enjoyed them!

Okay, I've got to go watch the movie! *squeals with excitement*  Cheers, mates!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Treacle Tart

Treacle Tart is known well among Harry Potter fans.  It is mentioned in the majority of the books for a particular reason – Harry likes it.  In Order of the Phoenix, at the start of term feast, Rowling writes, “Harry was too used to their bickering to bother trying to reconcile them; he felt it was better use of his time to eat his way steadily through his steak-and-kidney pie, then a large plateful of his favorite treacle tart” (Rowling 210).  Harry points out that treacle tart is his favorite dessert – so much so that he can ignore Ron and Hermione’s bickering.  That’s pretty impressive.

Then in Half-Blood Prince, when Harry smells the Amortentia (a love potion that smells like whatever attracts you to a person) in Slughorn’s class, he mentions treacle tart again.  “They chose the [table] nearest a gold-colored cauldron that was emitting one of the most seductive scents Harry had ever inhaled,” writes Rowling. “Somehow it reminded him simultaneously of treacle tart, the woody smell of a broomstick handle, and something flowery he thought he might have smelled at the Burrow” (Rowling 183). 

So not only is treacle tart Harry’s favorite dessert, but he considers it a seductive smell.  “Okay,” I thought when I read that for the first time (and the ensuing 500 more times), “I have got to try that stuff.” Therefore, Treacle Tart was at the top of my list of things to make for this blog. 

You may be thinking, “That’s all fine and dandy, Mary, but what the [insert expletives Ron would use here] is a treacle tart?”

Treacle is typically referred to as golden syrup in England.  It is a mixture of molasses (sugar cane boiled twice), corn syrup (composed mainly of sugar), and some more sugar.  It is a very common sweetener in England.  It’s not all that common here in America, however, which makes it sort of hard to find in stores.  So in order to make treacle tart, I just used a really light molasses.  I, personally, like molasses just fine, so this suited me.  I’m a fan of gingerbread, and the main flavor in that is molasses.  But if you can’t stand molasses, you can still make this and like it.  Make a golden syrup out of 1/3 light molasses, 2/3 light corn syrup. That would be 3 tbsp molasses, 6 tbsp corn syrup for this recipe.

For those of you unfamiliar with tarts, I think of them as really short pies, with crust on the bottom, then a thin layer of whatever kind of tart it is, and either no crust on top, or just a little for design.  This is definitely applicable to treacle tart.

So here it goes.  I got this recipe from BBC, so it is definitely a legitimate British recipe.

First let's start with the crust, also known as shortcrust pastry.  I know many may be tempted to just buy two sheets of Pillsbury unbaked crust and then move on, but trust me.  This recipe is awesome and it’s not too much effort.  Just keep in mind that these measurements are for 6 oz of pastry, and you will need 12 oz for the treacle tart.  Don’t forget to double it! 

Shortcrust Pastry
·         125g/4oz/ ½ cup plain flour
·         pinch of salt
·         55g/2oz/ ¼ cup butter
·         30-45ml/2-3 tbsp cold water

Preparation Method

Before you begin, make sure your kitchen is no hotter than 70 degrees, or your butter will melt and the dough won’t work (the small chunks of unmelted butter are key to flaky crust).  Be sure your butter is fresh out of the fridge when you use it, too.
     1.       Put the flour and salt in a large bowl and add butter.
2.      Using a pastry blender (click here for a picture or refer to picture below) cut the butter into the flour until you have a mixture that resembles coarse breadcrumbs with no large lumps of butter remaining. Try to work quickly so that it does not become greasy.  (If you don’t have a pastry blender, click here to learn about other options).
Before I started blending
Finished cutting in/blending
3.      Using a knife, stir in just enough of the cold water to bind the dough together (I used 2 ½ tbsp out of the 3).  Don't over stir.  It may seem too dry, but it’s probably okay.  The way to tell if it has enough water is by picking up the dough in your fist and squeezing it.  It should be able to hold together once you unclench your fist.
4.      Cover the dough in plastic wrap and chill for at least 10-15 minutes in the freezer before using.  When you need it, take the dough out of the freezer, squeeze it into a ball, and roll it out on floured wax paper.  Roll it as thin and even as you can get it without tearing holes.

Alright, now that we have the shortcrust pastry taken care of, on to the tart! 

Treacle Tart
·         350g/12oz shortcrust pastry
·         135g/9tbsp golden syrup (reminder – 3 tbsp light molasses, 6 tbsp light corn syrup)
·         125g/9tbsp fresh white breadcrumbs - about 2 slices (Yes, you do have to tear bread into little tiny pieces.  Yes, it’s tedious. Yes, it's worth it.)
·         grated rind and juice of 1 lemon (have fun cleaning the grater/zester after you do this)
·         1 tsp ground ginger
·         egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tsp water)

Preparation Method
1.      Roll out two thirds of the pastry and use to line a 25cm/10in pie plate or flan tin. (I used a 9” spring form pan.  It worked perfectly).
Roll it on wax paper.  Flip paper over and fit crust into baking dish.
2.      Warm the syrup over a gentle heat and add the breadcrumbs, grated lemon rind and 15g/1 tbsp of the juice, and the ginger. Pour into the pastry case.
Pouring in molasses.  This will be golden syrup for you.
Freshly grated lemon zest.
Try not to think about what it looks like.  It gets better, I promise!
3.      Roll out the remaining pastry case and cut into strips; use these to create a lattice design on the top of the tart.

4.      Fold any excess crust over the edges of the lattice. Decorate the sides of the crust with a fork, being sure to press the ends of the lattice well in.  Brush the pastry with the egg wash and bake in the oven at 190C/375F/Gas 5 for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden.  Serve warm.
Egg wash
Pulling cooked tart out of the oven
Treacle tart out of the spring form pan
I read somewhere that Treacle Tart is supposed to be served with clotted cream.  Clotted Cream is a treat native to southern England, particularly Devonshire.  It is unpasteurized cream that is lightly cooked and often served with scones or desserts.  It has a thick, sweet, creamy consistency.  Sounds delicious, right? 

The problem is, they don’t exactly sell unpasteurized cream in the grocery store.  Trust me, I looked. So I found a recipe for a substitute.   It’s not really a substitute, because according to my mom it tastes nothing like clotted cream.  It’s delicious in its own right, however, and we enjoyed it. It tastes like light whipped cream with a little bit of a cream cheese flavor. 

Substitute Clotted Cream
3 oz cream cheese
2 tbsp sour cream
1 cup (240 ml) heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 or 2 tablespoons granulated white sugar
Place all the ingredients in a large bowl and beat until the mixture holds its shape and looks like softly whipped cream.  Use right away or cover and refrigerate the cream until serving time.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups (we made a half recipe, which suited the tart perfectly).
Pseudo-Clotted Cream
 And now for the epic story of my adventures making the treacle tart.

The Story of the Me, My Mom, and the Treacle Tart
(For the following story, please keep in mind that I used all molasses, which made it stronger than it is really supposed to be.)

For those of you who don’t know or haven’t already figured it out, I live with my mom.  I learned 95% of my cooking skills from her, and we often cook together.  When I told my mom that I wanted to make treacle tart for the blog (and subsequently explained to her what treacle is), she said “Molasses?  That doesn’t sound good.” 

I wasn’t too pleased with her lack of confidence.  “It’s Harry Potter’s favorite dessert,” I protested.  “It has to be good.” 

Mom was unmoved by my plea to authority.  Neither she, nor anyone else in my family, likes Harry Potter.  She instead went off on a story from her childhood.  “When I was a little girl, my mother used to put blackstrap molasses in my milk every day, because she thought it would keep me from getting sick.  I got sick all right – of the molasses!  I’ve hated molasses ever since.”

I gave her my condolences for her unfortunate childhood and continued with my plans to make treacle tart.

As I began to make it, however, I started to have my doubts.  “It says fresh white bread crumbs,” I called out to my mom as I reviewed the recipe.  “Does that mean I have to tear slices of bread into little pieces?”

Mom laughed and said, “You wanted to make it.”

I was pretty concerned about the whole endeavor as I sat in a chair tearing a single slice of bread into little tiny bits.   

“The British are weird,” I said.  “Harry is weird.  Bread crumbs and molasses?  Who thinks of these things?”

“I know,” said Mom, while she too tore up a little slice of bread.  “Especially molasses.  I really don’t like molasses. When I was a little girl, my mother-“

“Yeah, I know, Mom,” I said.  “Blackstrap molasses in the milk.  You told me.”

“Well it was really traumatic,” said Mom with finality.  We continued tearing in silence.

When it came time to mix the molasses and breadcrumbs together, I gazed upon the lumpy brownish mixture.  It looked unappetizing and smelled horrifically strong.  At that moment, I struggled to accept the fact that I would probably not like treacle tart.  I didn’t have to like the dessert as much as Harry, right?  As I considered this, though, a part of my childhood curled up into the fetal position and started whimpering.  I think it’s the same part that still has a slight crush on the aforementioned fictional character.

As I laid the lattice work on the top of the crust, though, I felt a resurgence of hope.  At the very least, the tart looked nice.  I showed it to my mom, and she admired it as well.  “I might actually try that,” she said. 
But as I popped into the oven and thought I heard her muttering incredulously, “Molasses...”

Twenty-five minutes went by.  When the tart came out – What a glorious moment!

“Oh wow!” Mom exclaimed.  “It looks great!”

“Hm!” I said proudly. “See!”

“I don’t know if I’ll like it, though,” Mom warned.  “That blackstrap molasses-“

Mom,” I groaned.  “Just try it.”

So we sat down at the table to partake of my curious creation.  I cut myself a nice 2 ½ inch wide piece, and then gave Mom a sliver about a centimeter wide.

“That size good?” I asked, pointing to her splinter of a slice.

“Yes,” said Mom.  “Perfect.”

Then we tried it. The first bite had a great texture – the crust was flaky and crisp, and the treacle portion was gooey and warm – but it did taste pretty molassesy.  I took a second bite, and while I could still taste the molasses, I also tasted the prominent zing of lemon!  It was a wonderfully surprising combination!  That, topped with the pseudo clotted cream, and I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

“Okay,” I said happily, “maybe Harry isn’t as crazy as I thought.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty good!” said Mom as she reached over to cut herself another piece.  

The treacle tart is gone now.  Mom ate more than half of it.  It was a delicious treat that we both enjoyed.  Through this experience, I learned two things above all others.  First, Harry Potter still is and forever will be awesome.  Second, traumatic childhoods can be overcome with an open mind and a little British cooking.

The End