What is Fika?

What is Fika?

In Swedish tradition, Fika is a break - a pause - in your day to indulge in the simple pleasures of a good cup of coffee or tea, some sweets or pastries, and time shared with friends and loved ones.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Vanilla Cake with Raspberries

I love Bulk Barn.

But Love is always a fickle mistress. You think everything is going well, the future is bright, and endless opportunities are constantly unfolding and presenting themselves.

This is how it went with the recent spate of gluten-free baking I've been trying. I've been doing gluten-free baking for a while, but these were mostly recipes that avoided flours altogether. Rather than deal with cumbersome substitutes, I just took alternative routes. Potato-crust quiche? Flourless chocolate cake? ... More flourless chocolate cake?

The issue I've always had with trying direct substitutions of non-wheat flour mixtures was that they seem so daunting and intimidating. 4 different flours, plus xanthan gum just to replace 1.5 cups flour? And which types? Rice flour? Bean flour? Pea flour? Potato starch? Millet Flour? Sorghum flour?

When I found that Bulk Barn carried a ready-mix gluten-free all purpose flour, I was excited. I was able to try some recipes without all of that painful mixing, and also at the low prices that I've grown accustomed to at Bulk Barn. Gluten-free baking mixes can be expensive, so I was really hoping that Bulk Barn could be a ready supply.

The various tarts and tartelettes previously featured were all a result of this recent discovery. I made another recent discovery when I shared the apple frangipane tart with a friend who actually is gluten intolerant.

Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, gluten managed to weasel its way into the final product, making for an unpleasant day for my friend and despondency on my end. I am fully aware of the issues of contamination in my own kitchen, having lived two years with a seriously gluten-intolerant housemate, so I am very careful to prevent any cross-contamination and to enforce dutiful, thorough dish washing.

However, in Bulk Barn, the regular flour bins sit directly across from their gluten-free alternatives. This makes the possibility of cross-contamination too likely to be of any comfort, and so I've aborted my current plans to feed my gluten-free friends with goodies derived from Bulk Barn products. I can't take that chance.

The problem was that I already purchased gluten-free vanilla cake mix to try. Although I couldn't share it with any gluten-intolerant friends, I still decided to give it a go. Just to see what would happen. I also had half a dozen egg whites left over from making those pie crusts, so I thought I would try making a layered cake with raspberries and a meringue frosting.

The cake turned out well enough - the directions from Bulk Barn were simple and easy enough to follow, pretty much the standard procedure for any ready-mix cake. The cake baked and rose well, the texture was light and open, not heavy and dense, and, when sliced, the layers held together well when handled.

The meringue turned out the same. The egg whites were heated with sugar on a double boiler just until the sugar completely dissolved. The warm mixture was removed from the heat and whipped until I could hold the bowl upside down, over my head, and the meringue wouldn't budge an inch. (This is always a good party trick, but don't be impatient unless you want to also impress your friends by ending up like a baked Alaska pie).

The cake layers were filled with the meringue, layered with raspberries, and then covered on all sides with more meringue. I haven't gotten my meringue-patterning technique quite down pat yet. It's difficult to make those peaks and swirls look convincing, graceful, but never over-thought or overwrought.

Mountains and valleys in a mini-meringue landscape.

I was tempted to brown the meringue in the oven, just to give it a touch of gold, but was too concerned about melting the entire cake into an indistinguishable mess over the oven bottom that I didn't bother. I think the snow-white look has a lot going for it. I don't think any icing holds a candle to meringue to getting this pure a look.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Almond and Raspberry Tartelette

Williams-Sonoma is a dangerous store for me to walk into. The most idle mosey can quickly turn into a intense conscious weighing of the value-per-dollar benefit of a new offset spatula versus that of a jar of demi-glace.

Have you ever seen a more seductive label? How stylish! How elegant! How restrained!

Not today, despite all appearances. I have had my eye on these tartlette pans for a long time.

You don't see "Made in France" often enough in stores these days.

Tartelette pans are not just glorious, shiny things of beauty which appeal to my inner magpie. No - they are functional and ever-so empowering in the kitchen for multiple reasons. Their small size reduces the scale of overwhelming failure should a recipe go astray. Individual portions allow you to cater to a wide range of dietary preferences at the same time. Smaller things are intrinsically more aesthetically appealing because of their proportions to regular-sized things. "Oh, look at the little pie! It's so cute!"

Pies that fit in the palm of your hand - brilliant!

The final and primary reason why these tartelette pans are fantastic and why I bought them is that you can use up whatever remnant or scraps from a previous recipe. Leftover crust, sitting around? Pie for one or two, coming right up!

As easy as 1-2-3! Tart and tartelette crust edges are super simple. Using your thumb, press against the edge of the pan to cut off the excess dough. Done!

This week could be essentially called "Fun with Frangipane," to which I have no objections. I was also eager to try making my own version of the Almond and Raspberry Tartelettes that we made in the bakery in Ottawa. I think they're Italian in origin, but I'm not too sure.

Raspberry jam at the bottom like a delicious hidden treasure. These crusts were blind-baked before filling, although I don't think that it is as crucial when they are this small.

It really is quite simple enough: raspberry jam and frangipane. I used the same frangipane as in this recipe that I also posted earlier. Topped with some sliced almonds and baked to a rich gold, they're hard to resist!

Perfect individual portions.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Gluten-free Tarts

What's wrong with this tart? Find out below. (And no, it's not moldy).

Alternative blog post title: "When You Like to Bake But Live Alone."

For a duration of approximately six years of my life, I have worked on-and-off at a little French bakery in Ottawa. This spanned both high school and university years (summers during university). At university, even though I was away from the bakery, there was always an occasion to bring out pastry bag, electric mixer and cake pans: birthdays, holidays, potlucks, or any other casual social happenstance. Spontaneously saying, "Let's bake!" was reason enough, if there were enough witness present.

Now that I've graduated, I'm now pursuing my professional career, living out on my own, away from home; all things proper for a young adult. On the flip side, I'm no longer a short walk or bus ride away from the fabulous and fantastic friends I've made in the past four years, or from my family or friends back at home.

What this has done, other than simply curtail my social life for the time being, has taken a toll on my motivation to cook more than minimally required. The sense of occasion is harder to come by, and thus the impetus to put in that little bit of additional craft to make something extra-ordinary, in the most basic sense of the term.

There is also the other logistical issue of the excess of food produced by a cooking spree. Time and time again, people have said that my weight is incongruous with the apparently prodigal amount of baked goods and sweets I make.

The fact of the matter is that I rarely, rarely, hardly ever bake for myself. This is only accounting for non-bakery associated baking. The vast majority of what I bake I don't eat. It's always for a birthday, for a potluck, for a dinner with friends. It is as simple as this: the true value of food comes from sharing it, not from eating it (although the two usually overlap. Usually).

No matter how delicious it is, I always have a hard time consuming something entirely by myself if I'd made it myself. It seems narcissistic and self-indulgent, like working out just to admire your reflection in all reflective surfaces you pass. Not that I do that.

Lavishly-illustrated and beautifully-photographed cookbooks are so appealing to look through, even if you'll never stuff a sea cucumber or stack a Lane Cake. Like an escapist novel, or interior design magazines, they sell a fantasy of graceful living frequented with masterfully-prepared meals.

Similarly, cooking blogs are not just about the food. They have all the appeal of the static cookbook with an added social element that is infinitely evolving. You don't just read the recipes and look at the pictures - you join the author and are invited into his or her life for a brief moment in time. This intimacy and baking is a potent emotional combination, like romantic comedies. Even when there's a sad moment, there's always something saccharine to pick it up.

When you live alone, in a new city, in the suburbs, it's a little more difficult to achieve this dynamic. When I bake something, it usually ends up like this:

Exhibit A: Tart, frozen, unloved, and ready to be wrapped and put back into the depths of the freezer.

However, I am not just here to bemoan my lack of a social life and woe is Audric etc. etc. I'm here for some serious eats! The tart in question is a gluten-free peach and frangipan with cardamom, adapted from Helene's fantastic blog, Tartelette.

Frozen = clean cuts!

There are several people in my life who have Celiac disease and cannot have gluten. It is found in wheat, which rules out a lot of typical baked goods that call for all-purpose flour. However, for those unfamiliar with the gluten intolerance, gluten is everywhere. Literally. In potato chips. In dressings and sauces. In almost every processed food product available.

My housemate of two years often talked about the pure torture of going to grocery stores and walking through the bakery section, tempted by the smell of bread baking. Which would made me feel terrible, since I would probably be baking a batch of muffins or a cake at the time. Living with her got me interested in gluten-free baking for the first time. When I found the blog Tartelette, I was thrilled, and I had to try some.

My recent attempt at a Peach and Frangipan tart turned out pretty well... except that the frangipan did not cook through as it was too thick. The intended recipient was actually out of town as well. Faced with the alternative option of eating the semi-failed tart, I opted to freeze it instead.

Onto attempt number two, keeping in mind that frangipan should not be set too thick or it won't set, period. This time, not with peaches, but with Gala Apples. A proper Frangipan and Apple Tart, just like at the bakery from Ottawa (but gluten-free!).

Gluten-free tart shell, rolled and ready to go!

Success! And yes, that is a random wheel/caster you see in the background.

Gauging from where this post ended up, the response to the query of "When You Like to Bake But Live Alone," is that you write rambling posts that really don't follow any predetermined, concise logical path. I don't think that sentence makes much sense, either.

Gluten-free tart, ready to be delivered!

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Candied Orange Petit-Four

Plate from Royal Copenhagen. They make desserts look better.

I made a batch of these last Christmas, should any stray relative or friend amble by our home for a holiday tea. In the worse-case scenario of unexpected company, these cakes could be taken from their stasis (i.e. the freezer), thawed, plated, and quickly decorated. Potential social disasters averted!

The details: The cake is a simple white cake, baked in a slab, and sliced in half. Each half way brushed with a simple syrup (it may have had Amaretto in it as well). Orange marmalade was sandwiched between the moist cake-halves. The entire cakewich was then covered in marzipan and then cut into individual pieces.

Ok, so it actually isn't a traditional petit-four. It's more of a lazy man's take on the delightful French treat - keeping the marzipan but losing the fondant. Nevertheless, they fulfill one of the golden rules of cooking: if you serve it small and on a big enough plate, it'll look good.

I jest; thought did go into the presentation of these little gem-like cakes. The toppings are homemade candied orange peels, diced and tossed in sugar, and melted sugar, pull and spun around a wooden dowel to make delicate coils. Large spirals are carefully snipped with scissors into small sections, and then placed as the finishing touch.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Rustic Peach and Berry Pie

Clouds over Lake Ontario, as seen from the GO Train.

Fall may not be here to stay, but it definitely feels like it. A cool crisp breeze has been pervasive through the long weekend and makes me think of all good things autumnal.

I have always believed that Fall is Ontario's best season. It's not hard to see why I look to it with such anticipation: the decline of oppressive summer heat and humidity; the sudden invasion of vivid golds, oranges, reds and browns; the simple pleasures of anything warm and cozy; the piling up of fresh local produce.

The extra piece of pie crust pastry, saved from otherwise being forgotten forever in the fridge.

On these last two notes did I decide to mark the transition into this great season, however premature. I had a little extra gluten-free pie crust pastry left over from a gluten-free Peach and Frangipan Tart, so decided to whip up a (mini) rustic Peach and Berry Pie.

Fresh peaches and [frozen] berries, tossed with a little granulated sugar, and left to macerate on the counter.

The pastry ball, cold from the fridge, rolled thin. The marble rolling pin seems a bit overkill for the task. What looks like flour is actually a gluten-free mixture of different non-wheat flours and starches. This particular mixture was sold ready-mixed from Bulk Barn, but there are other recipes that I'm looking to try. (There's a slightly funny taste to this one.)

Berries piled on top and the edges pulled and tucked over. Rustic, n'est-ce pa?

Definitely a two-bite piece of pie, but not bad nonetheless!

Overall, everything turned out pretty well. The berries could have used a little more sweetening, but that just may be me. As frivolous and tedious as it looks, these mini rustic pies are quick and simple to make - no tart or pie pans required, no fancy edges, no leftover pastry, less dishes to do at the end. Definitely will keep this in mind for the next party!