Apple and berry crumble


I needed the soothing feeling of crumbling butter into flour today. And with an average indoor temperature of 19°C, it was clear that my packets of frozen strawberries and blueberries were not going to see their way into an ice-cold smoothie anytime soon.

They, partnered with Bramley cooking apples, formed the fruity base of quite a wonderful crumble.

The crumble topping is from the consistently amazing Felicity Cloake’s How to make perfect crumble, in which she also suggests softening the apples by cooking them briefly in a bit of water and sugar.

I spread the frozen strawberries and blueberries on top of the still-hot apples to help them reach room temperature before sprinkling over a bit of granulated sugar mixed with cinnamon and nutmeg, the fridge-cold crumble topping and a handful of rolled oats.

The result is a homey and not-too-sweet panacea for all that is wrong with the world. Serve warm, pour over a little double cream, some custard, or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. C’est-ça.

Pumpkin ice cream

pumpkin spice ice cream

Pumpkin ice cream

I’ve unapologetically jumped onto the pumpkin spice bandwagon. Okay, I’ve got one apology for and their completely appropriate and timely diatribe on pumpkin spice fatigue. But the rest of you don’t get one.

This ice cream is too good. With fresh grated ginger and nutmeg infusing the milk and cream along with a cinnamon stick (and ground cinnamon), it was one of the most fragrant custards I’ve ever cooked. Stirring in the pumpkin puree at the end was almost anti-climactic, although the transformation to a beautiful pale orange was all kinds of gorgeous.

I used David Lebovitz’s recipe who in turn adapted it from The Craft of Baking by Karen DeMasco & Mindy Fox. I used pure canned pumpkin because that’s what I had in the house, and froze the rest of the can’s contents in 3/4 cup portions.

I’ve always struggled with the best way to keep myself entertained while constantly stirring a custard and I think I’ve finally hit on a winning strategy – I listen to documentaries on BBC Radio 2.

Today I listened to one called Orson Welles and the War of the Worlds: Myth or Legend? which reminded me of the year my dad, driving me home from trick-or-treating on Halloween, went along with the joke when a local radio station played it. He was all like “Oh my god – that’s not far from us!” and “What are we going to do?!”. It freaked the living hell out of me – I was just old enough to understand what they were saying, but too young to realize it was a hoax (and a very old one at that).

I miss my dad.

Cardamom ice cream

Cardamom Ice Cream

Cardamom Ice Cream

The idea of this ice cream started out as a short phrase in Nigel Slater‘s amazing cookbook, Appetite, in which he suggests, ever so briefly, while describing cardamom pods that “they make the most mysteriously scented ice cream, especially when you add a little rosewater”.

Anyone acquainted with Nigel Slater (if you aren’t, you must rectify that immediately) knows that his recipes are glorious, but you’d be missing something very special if you fail to see the additional multitude of recipes he quickly sketches throughout his chapters on ingredients, equipment and seasonal eating. A cursory flip through Appetite may make you think that the recipes begin on page 158, but there is so much more going on.

Let me put it to you this way: Years ago, when I had just purchased this book and stopped at a nearby cafe to start reading it, a friendly, handsome guy tried to chat me up and I basically told him to eff off. Not because I am married, because flirting doesn’t stop when you’re married, I just told him to leave me alone because I was reading the best cookbook I’d ever read in my life and he was interrupting me. I was reading Nigel’s essay on SALT and it was a revelation. I can only imagine that the dude quickly realized he’d had a close call with a crazy woman and left me alone after that.

Anyways, I digress. Appetite is full of great little suggestions and this ice cream is one of them. I love serving it and making people guess what exactly they’re tasting.

I’ve adapted the Vanilla Bean ice cream recipe that came with my ice cream maker for this, and it’s actually less expensive to make cardamom ice cream than vanilla bean ice cream. I never seem to have any vanilla beans on hand, while I always have a good supply of cardamom pods. I found rosewater fairly easily at a health food store, but you could leave it out without sacrificing much flavour.

1½ cups homogenized milk (whole milk)
1½ cups whipping cream (heavy cream)
The seeds from two cardamom pods, crushed in a mortar and pestle
2 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon rosewater
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Heat the milk and cream in a medium saucepan and toss in the crushed cardamom. As the milk/cream mixture heats to a slow boil on medium heat, the cardamom will infuse the liquid. Reduce the heat and let the mixture simmer for half an hour, stirring occasionally.

Mix the eggs, egg yolks and sugar with a stand mixer or hand mixer until the mixture is creamy, thick and pale yellow in colour.

Slowly add one cup of the hot milk to the egg mixture while mixer is on a low speed, then pour the combined mixture into the saucepan containing the rest of the hot milk and cook on low to medium heat, stirring constantly – you’re making custard at this point so make sure you’re comfortable and don’t have anything else on the go. At this point you’ll have to use you own custard making prowess but you’re done when the custard coats the back of a wooden spoon. I don’t have any words of encouragement for you if it curdles or any first hand experience of bringing something curdled back. It happened to me once and I cursed and we didn’t have ice cream for dessert that night. I usually avoid the unpleasantness by having the heat a bit lower – it takes longer but it’s safer than getting impatient and turning the heat up.

Once the custard is done, mix in the rosewater and vanilla, (taste it and add a smidge more of either if you like), pour into a glass bowl or pitcher, making sure to cover the surface of the custard with cling film and chill for a few hours or overnight in the fridge. When it’s chilled, follow your ice cream maker’s instructions, and then finish off the task by freezing it solid for a few hours. I store my ice cream in old 750 gram yogurt containers.

Triumvirate of yum

Triumvirate of yum

An interesting aside – I don’t actually make that much ice cream in the summer due to the amount of time I must spend over a hot stove to make the custard, so this is more of a “winter” ice cream for me. And, although there are other cardamom ice cream recipes out there (tip: google both cardamom and cardomom [sic] ice cream), this one is on the subtle side – simply add more cardamom if you want something less “mysterious”.

And I usually serve this ice cream with Nigel Slater’s Sea Salt Chocolate Snaps.

Damson Plum Clafoutis

damson plums

It’s a beautiful September day today, with golden light and an air of richness and plenty. I decided to have a go at our long-neglected, weed-filled backyard this morning, which we barely sat in all summer.  We must not have noticed our damson plum tree blossoming in the spring, but today on the branches hung just enough ripe plums to fill a small colander. This is only the second time it has produced fruit since we moved here three years ago, and the first time we managed to harvest the plums ahead of the squirrels.

In a further nod to kismet, I just happen to have all the ingredients in the house to make a clafoutis. It’s in the oven right now, and the lemon/vanilla/cinnamon scent is starting to waft through the house.  Between tending to the garden and doing some spur-of-the-moment baking, I feel like quite the domestic goddess!

damson plum clafoutis

Chocolate birthday cake

There’s magic in the phrase “chocolate birthday cake”. It makes me think of childhood birthday parties, with silly paper hats, off-key singing by kids missing their front teeth and pink and blue candles from the grocery store.

I baked this for my older brother, whose birthday lands just a few days after my own. In fact, I was brought home from the hospital on his birthday, and as family folklore has it, he was disappointed that his “birthday gift” wasn’t a puppy.

We’re both a bit nuts for chocolate – growing up I had to hide my holiday candy stash and keep close tabs on how much of my solid chocolate Easter bunny was left each time I took a bite. This is the kind of cake batter that we would always fight over to see who got to lick the bowl clean.

Chocolate layer cake
1 cup butter, softened
1½ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1½ cup buttermilk

In large bowl, beat butter with sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time; beat in vanilla.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir into butter mixture alternately with buttermilk, making 3 additions of dry ingredients and 2 of buttermilk.

Spoon into 2 greased and parchment-paper-lined 9-inch (1.5L) round metal cake pans. Bake in centre of 350°F oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until cake tester inserted in centre comes out clean.

Let cool on rack for 20 minutes. Remove from pan; let cool completely on rack.

Chocolate icing
1½ cup butter, softened
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 tbsp vanilla
3 cups icing sugar
6 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped, melted and cooled

In bowl, beat butter until fluffy; gradually beat in cream. Beat in vanilla. Beat in icing sugar, adding about 1 cup at a time. Beat in melted chocolate until fluffy.

Makes 16 to 20 servings.

Red Velvet Cake

I’m a big fan of Philosphy’s bath & shower gels. I give them out as hostess and birthday gifts and love receiving them too.

Hmmm - how do these recipes taste?

They always smell amazing and the recipes printed on the bottles give me something to read while I’m soaking in the tub. I’ve often wondered what the recipes would taste like. So, when I got Red Velvet Cake bath gel, along with Sweet Creamy Frosting (body lotion) for Christmas and with Valentine’s Day around the corner, I decided to give ’em a try.

The verdict? The cake was extremely delicious, if on the very sweet side. There’s a lot of sugar in there! And, it’s not every day that I go through an entire pound of butter –  two sticks in the batter, two in the frosting. The recipe calls for two ounces of red food colouring, but I only had one 28 ml bottle, which is about half of what the recipe calls for –  but it didn’t seem to matter.  As you can see in the photo, the batter is a perfect colour match to the bath gel! Not that it matters for epicurean purposes, but it proves that Philosphy’s chemists did their homework!


Oddly enough, there’s a distinct cherry note in the bath gel fragrance that doesn’t correspond with the flavour of the cake – it tasted more like a light chocolate cake than anything else.

Red Velvet Cake; in all its triple-decker glory

Red Velvet Cake

And, if you’re curious, here are the recipes from the containers:

Red Velvet Cake
2 cups sugar
2 sticks butter – room temperature
2 eggs
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2 oz red food coloring
2½ cups cake flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, cream sugar and butter, beat until light and fluffy, add eggs one at a time, mix well after each egg. Mix cocoa and food coloring together, add to sugar mixture; mix. Sift flour and salt. Add flour mixture to the creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk. Blend in vanilla. In small bowl, combine baking soda and vinegar and add to mixture. Pour batter into three 8-inch round greased and floured pans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

Sweet Creamy Frosting
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 cup butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 to 2 tbsp whipping cream

In a standing mixer fitted with a whisk, mix together sugar and butter. Mix on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes. Add vanilla and cream and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream if needed for spreading consistency.

Note: I don’t have a stand mixer (yet) and normally my trusty little hand mixer can handle any job that calls for mixing or beating. However, this recipe almost killed the motor of my little guy. It might have had something to do with how cold the butter was – room temperature in the depths of Canadian winter in an old house does not make for silky, easy mixing butter! At any rate, it made my want-o-meter for a stand mixer flare up.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

This is the second year I’ve baked this cheesecake for our family Thanksgiving dinner. Last year it was such a hit, Jeff had to hide a piece for me so I would have a chance to taste it! We have big family gatherings, so I find it’s a nice balance to the apple pie I also make, giving people more choices – cheesecake or pie, while still allowing them to get their annual pumpkin fix.

This version of pumpkin cheesecake is straight from Nigella Lawson’s Feast. I love that it doesn’t call for any spices at all. That may seem boring if you’re used to adding ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves to your pumpkin recipes, but trust me – the simplicity of pumpkin, cream cheese, sugar, eggs and lemon juice is perfect here.

My family didn’t grow up on pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving and they tend look rather askance at anything made with  pumpkin in general, so it’s a great testament to this cheesecake that it disappears so quickly.

Cheesecake Base
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 stick butter, softened and cut into pieces

The Filling
15 ounces of unseasoned pumpkin purée
1 ½ lbs cream cheese (3 packets, each 250 grams)
1 cup sugar
6 eggs
juice of ½ lemon

Cheesecake Base
Place graham cracker crumbs in a food processor, adding the butter pieces, processing until combined. Press the crumb mixture into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan and put in fridge while you make the filling.

Preheat the oven to 325˚F

The Filling
Combine the cream cheese and pumpkin in the food processor. When blended, add the sugar. While the processor is running, add the eggs one by one and finally the lemon juice, stopping the processor from time to time to scrape down the mixture.

Wrap the outside of the springform pan with plastic wrap to make sure that the pan is completely waterproof, and then cover this with heavy duty aluminum foil. Place the foil covered pan in a roasting pan.

Pour the filling into the pan, and then fill the roasting pan with hot water about halfway up the springform pan.

Bake for 1 ¾ hours. Place on cooling rack and remove foil. Refrigerate overnight before serving.

Notes: The smallest can of pumpkin I could find was 796 ml. I used my kitchen scale to weigh out 15 ounces.

It may seem weird to wrap the pan in plastic wrap, but the foil protects it and it doesn’t melt.

Source: Feast, by Nigella Lawson

Raspberry Sorbet

A refreshing, deeply flavoured dessert. Total prep time clocks in at 7 hours, but most of it is freezing time. Start this recipe when you get home from your shopping. If you’re short on time, cut the second freezing time from 4 hours to 3, and eliminate the suggested 40 minutes in the refrigerator to soften. This recipe has been adapted from Classic Step-By-Step Cookbook by Moyra Fraser. Pairs well with squares of dark chocolate.

1 lb (500 g) raspberries
2 tbsp (30 mL) lemon juice
2 tbsp (30 mL) Crème de Cassis
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) sugar syrup (recipe follows)
2 egg whites

In a blender or food processor, puree the raspberries with lemon juice and Crème de Cassis. Press through a nylon strainer. Add to sugar syrup, stir to combine. Pour into a shallow non-metal, freezerproof container. Cover and freeze about 3 hours or until mushy. Beat egg whites until stiff. Turn sorbet into a bowl and beat gently to break down the ice crystals. Fold in the egg whites. Return to the container, cover and freeze 4 hours or until firm. Leave in refrigerator about 40 minutes to soften slightly before serving. Scoop balls of sorbet into martini glasses. Serves 6.

Sugar Syrup
2/3 cup (150 mL) sugar
1 1/4 cup (310 mL) water

Put sugar in heavy-based saucepan. Add water and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Using a wooden spoon, occasionally loosen the sugar from the bottom of the plan to help it dissolve. Bring to a boil and boil 2 minutes. Decant to a large glass bowl, cool and use as required. Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Rustic Apple Pie

I love homemade apple pie, and I have been using this recipe for over 10 years. Back then the idea of a free-form pie was new to me, and seemed much easier than the usual two crust number in a glass pie plate I was used to seeing.

I had always heard that pie crust was really difficult, so I waited a long time before I gave it a whirl. Then one day I read somewhere that the only thing that happens when you make pie dough “wrong” is that it is just less flaky, but still tastes as good – c’mon – how wrong can you get it when you mix butter with flour? That statement took the fear out of pie crust for me, and I’ve never had a bad experience. The trick is to keep things cool. I’ve had good luck by placing the stainless steel bowl in the freezer for a few minutes, placing the cut up cubes of butter back in the fridge to get really cold again, and using the iciest water possible.

After you’ve had this, you’ll turn your nose up at all but the fanciest store-bought pie.

Basic pie dough (recipe follows) or 1 refrigerated (not frozen) piecrust
Flour for dusting
Apple Pie filling (recipe follows)
½ tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces

Let dough (homemade or purchased) sit at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes. On a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin, roll dough into a circle about 13-inches in diameter. Fold dough into quarters, then unfold it onto a baking sheet or a 10-inch pie plate. Refrigerate dough while you prepare fruit filling.

Heat oven to 400°F. Remove dough from refrigerator. Arrange fruit filling evenly in the centre of dough, leaving a two-inch border fruit-free. Fold edges of dough up around fruit to form sides of pie. Pinch folds of dough to secure sides. Dot fruit with butter.

Bake 30 to 40 minutes, until crust is lightly golden and fruit filling is bubbling. Cool pie 10 minutes. Makes 8 servings.

Basic Pie Dough
1¼ cups all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons lard or vegetable shortening, chilled
3 to 4 tablespoons ice water

In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Add butter and shortening and, using your fingertips or a pastry blender, blend butter and shortening into flour until mixture looks like coarse crumbs. (Or place all ingredients except water in a food processor and pulse 30 seconds.) Sprinkle water over dough and stir with a fork to incorporate. (If using a food processor, sprinkle water over dough and pulse 10 seconds. Dough should still look like coarse crumbs.) Turn out dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap. Using your hands, gather dough into a rough ball, adding a few more drops of water if needed to make dough hold together. Press dough into a 1-inch thick disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 3o minutes. Makes enough dough for one 9-inch pie.

Apple Pie Filling
1½ pounds apples, such as Northern Spy or Spartan
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Peel and core apples and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices. Place in a bowl with other ingredients and toss.

Source: Gourmet on the Run by Susan Quick, July 1996, Glamour

Notes: As good as this pie is on its own, I’ve always placed a large scoop of premium vanilla ice cream on top.

Traditional English Trifle

Trifle looks spectacular when you bring it out, and tastes even better. But really, especially if you buy some stuff (canned custard, sponge cake from the bakery section of the grocery store) pre-made, it’s the easiest thing in the world to make.

I like to imagine that trifle was invented by a couple of food lovers who said; “Hey, you know what tastes good with sponge cake? Berries.” “Hey, you know what else does? Custard.” “Oh yeah, and how about some whipped cream and let’s soak the cake in some alcohol and sprinkle almonds over everything”.  At any rate, that’s all trifle really is – layers of booze-soaked cake, berries and custard and whipped cream. You’ve just put it in a large bowl for everyone.

At any rate, here is how I make it every year for Christmas Dinner. I’m a very recent convert to canned custard (I’m updating this post as of December 2009).

24 ladyfingers or 9″ sponge cake

1/4 cup orange-flavoured liqueur (such as Grand Marnier)
2 pkgs (300 grams each) frozen unsweetened raspberries, thawed
2 tbsp granulated sugar
2 cups real whipping cream, divided (500 ml carton)
4 cups custard (recipe below) or 2 cans (14 oz/398 ml) each, vanilla
1 tsp vanilla
Sliced almonds, toasted

1. If not using ladyfingers, cut sponge cake into thin slices. Arrange the ladyfingers or slices of sponge cake in the bottom of a large trifle or glass bowl. Sprinkle with liqueur.

2.  Spoon the thawed raspberries over ladyfingers in bowl; set aside.

3. Beat 1/2 cup of the whipping cream until light. Fold custard into the whipped cream. Spoon custard mixture over fruit layer in bowl.

4. Beat remaining whipping cream until light, flavouring with the sugar and vanilla.  Spoon over custard layer in bowl.
5. Chill for at least 3 hours or overnight. Decorate with sliced, toasted almonds.

Trifle Custard
4 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
3 cups milk
3 tbsp custard powder
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp lemon juice

1. In a bowl, beat the eggs and add sugar, beating until the sugar has been incorporated. Add remaining ingredients, beating until well combined.
2. Pour into a large saucepan and heat over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. (If the heat is too high, the custard will curdle.)
3. Slowly bring the custard to a boil and continue to stir until it thickens (about 10 min). Let cool before using. (If cooling it in the fridge, cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming.)

10 to 12 servings

Adapted from: James Barber, Milk Calendar (year unknown)


  • Travels well for potlucks – just remember keep the box your trifle bowl comes in. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and pop it in the box.