memories light (like?) the corners of my mind… sing it Babs.

I’ve been flooded with waves of nostalgia for the last 24 hours — first, sorting all my worldly belongings and then cramming the stuff that made the cut (sorry, faux-suede boots from 2002) into a cargo van and trucking it for two hours, from Mtl to home sweet home in the Gatineaus. Saying goodbye to Mtl and all the memories it holds wasn’t the easiest way to spend a Saturday afternoon, but two hours in the car can do a lot to erase tension… and coming home-home can work miracles. I thought I was I was feeling pretty much fine by the time we approaching the final hill before Chelsea on the A5, but as we dipped down the last little gully and I saw the “Chelsea” sign, every muscle in my body let go just a little bit more.

After we unloaded the van, we used it to truck some family belongings from my grandfather’s house to my dad’s and then from my dad’s to my mum’s. Out it all came: photo albums (my first bike, my first ice cream, my first laugh), Barbies, Polly Pockets, Littlest Pet Shops, Playmobile, those crazy Bossons heads that always hung on my grandad’s mantle.

And then the third wave of nostalgia. My month-long orientation for this Kenya trip is being held at Carleton University. So here I am, seven years later, back in residence. Walking through the tunnel to the residence commons, the murals on the walls made me nostalgic to the point of dizziness.

So that’s what’s been going on… but enough about me. Here is some news you can use: butter, brown sugar, peaches.

peaches, butter, brown sugar. Come to mama.

Fannie Farmer’s Peach Upside-Down Cake

This is wonderfully retro, but not in the canned-fruit-whipped-cream-and-Jell-o way. It also fits with the nostalgia theme, since it was one of the few desserts my mum made as a treat. Warning: extremely sweet.

Preheat oven to 400. Get yourself a 9×9 baking pan or large cast iron frying pan. In it, place:

  • 3/4 c butter

Into the oven it goes. It doesn’t have to be preheated yet, we just want the butter to melt. Once it has (3 to 5 min), remove from oven. Pour off 1/2 c of the butter into a measuring cup to use in the cottage pudding (this will make sense in a minute). I repeat, pour off 1/2 cup and reserve — this recipe will be a heart-stopping/clogging disaster if you don’t heed my words. Now, add to your 1/4 c melted butter:

  • 1 c brown sugar
  • chopped pecans to taste (completely optional. I never do this.)

Mix it all together and spread it out evenly on the bottom of the pan. Now, lay out on top of the butter/sugar mixture, in a single layer, cut side down:

  • one 28-ish oz can (the big cans) halved peaches — about 9 halves

Try to put them as close together as possible, and let them drain at least a little bit as you go. Now you have a little landscape of peachy mountains. Sprinkle with:

  • lemon juice

Next, you need to make cottage pudding (which you can bake on its own if you want to skip the peach upside-down part, a.k.a. you are crazy). I really hate the name cottage pudding because it reminds me of the term “cottaging” — it’s not the gay part that turns me off, it’s that while I’m making dessert I don’t want to think about anyone having random sex in public washrooms. Anyway. Beat well:

  • your 1/2 c melted butter from before (you followed my directions, right?)
  • 1/2 c milk
  • 1 egg

Whisk together, in a separate bowl:

  • 1 and 1/2 c flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c sugar

Frankencake: it all tastes the same in the end.

Stir the wet mixture into the dry one, spread it over your peachie bumps, and bake for 30-35 minutes — until golden brown on top and cooked through. Insert a knife to check for doneness. Otherwise you’ll think it’s done, start to serve, and then have to Frankencake the thing back together so it can bake longer. (See right.)

Once it cools a little, you can flip it out onto a serving platter, or just cut-and-scoop it out of the pan if it’s just you, your manfriend and a terrible movie. (The first time I made this we were watching Twilight. Didn’t even bother to pause the movie while we baked. Oh the nostalgia.)

Top with ice cream or whipped cream. Praise be to peaches.

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Will and Kate, plus eight… scones. Half of which I already ate.

it's scone-a be amazing.

Getting up at 5 a.m. to watch strangers get married is an opportunity that comes along once every, oh, 30 years. Seriously. Charles and Diana got married in 1981. The next direct heir to the thone isn’t even born yet. And I’m the kind of person who feels the need to participate just because it’s there.

I’m even sleeping at my mum’s tonight so we can get up and watch together. (That’s not pathetic by the way, that’s bonding. Like the time we spent two full days watching the last Liberal leadership convention. I still give Gerard Kennedy a big frigging F for that one.)

However, I figure I’ll still need a little incentive to shake off the sleep deprivation and get excited about who designed the dress. Hence: scones for breakfast.

This was my first attempt at scones and they were magnifique. Thank-you, Joy of Cooking. Apparently scones are easy. Who knew?

Preheat oven to 450. Sift together:

  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 2 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tbsp sugar (half that if you don’t like sweet scones)
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Add:

  • 1/4 cup cold butter

Cut in that butter until the mixture resembles large-ish crumbs. Use two knifes, a fork or a pastry cutter. Or your hands (but try not to let your hot little hands melt the butter).

In a small bowl, whisk well:

  • 2 large eggs

Remove 2 tablespoons of the eggs and set aside for your glaze, then add to the remainder:

  • 1/3 cup heavy cream (or, since I didn’t have cream, 1/4 cup milk topped up with yogurt to make 1/3 cup. And maybe toss in a little extra butter during the previous step.)

Pour your wet mixture into you dry and stir together with the minimal amount of strokes. This is where I would add lemon zest or currants or some delicious surprise. I’ll experiment and get back to you. Add more milk/cream if necessary, but only so it JUST sticks together. Turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface and flatten it out until it’s about 8 inches round and 3/4 inch thick. Cut it into 8ish pieces (triangles, squares), place on an ungreased cookie sheet, and brush over the remaining 2 tbsp egg. Or if you don’t have a pastry brush, your fingers will work just fine. Sprinkle with:

  • sugar or coarse salt

Bake 15 minutes. Serve with butter, more butter, and jam. Or marmalade if you’re into that kind of thing. OR! Devonshire cream.

Fly that Union Jack high, put on a British accent, and remind yourself that Harry’s the good-looking one, anyway.

The Ultimate Muffin Champions

good for the guts.

These are my muffriends. I spend a lot of time with them. They’re low-fat, high-fibre, all-delicious. Brantastic, one might say.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line or grease a muffin tin (12 normal-sized muffins or 6 behemoths). In a large bowl, combine:

  • 1 and 1/2 cups wheat bran
  • 3/4 cup yogurt + 1/2 cup milk (OR: 1 cup buttermilk) (OR: 1 cup milk with 1 tbsp lemon juice added, allow to sit for a few minutes before you add it)

As you can see this isn’t very precise… basically you just want the wheat bran to get all damp and delicious. Allow the bran/dairy to sit for 10 minutes. In a second bowl, combine:

  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup applesauce (most muffin/loaf recipes call for oil… use applesauce instead! Vegan, fruity, moist. Triple threat.)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla

In a third bowl, sift together:

  • 1 and 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Add the wet mixture to the bran/dairy and stir to combine. Then fold in the dry mixture until just combined. (Do not overstir! This is the trick to fantabulously light muffins.) Now, add whatever treasures you want to find inside your muffriends:

  • 1/2 to 1 cup: raisins, small chunks of fruit, berries, nuts, etc.

I usually use apples and strawberries, deeeee-lish. Blueberries would also be bomb. Stir to combine, with as few strokes as possible, and then fill your muffin tin (you can fill each cup basically to the brim), and add toppings. I covered mine with flax seeds, since I have a kilo of them in my pantry. (The bag was only $1.69! I couldn’t resist! And now everything I bake for the next month will be high in omega-3s!) You can use any nuts or other seeds. Or nothing. Whatever man.

Bake 15-20 min for 12 normal-sized muffins and 20-25 min for 6 giant muffins. When a toothpick inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out clean, they’re done (but make sure you’re inserting into batter and not fruit, since cooked fruit mush can look like uncooked batter).

Eat for breakfast, snacks, even dessert. Give them to your kids for all-day energy, so that they fight less like this…

…and more like this:

The next Georges St. Pierre? Bien oui!

you, me, and a little challah on the side: it’s bashert

The Mrs. got lucky and had two birthday parties, and at celebration-the-second, the topic of baking bread came up. I lament the day humanity became too busy to devote hours on end to waiting for little yeasticles to elaborately construct flexible strands of gluten. (Clearly I have no idea how the science of bread works.) I think the lack of bread-baking going on in the modern home has a lot to do with the fact that women aren’t just hanging around the kitchen all day, hanging out laundry and scrubbing floors between rises. Those uppity bitches.

I agreed to share my challah recipe with another charming party-goer. And then I thought, faithful reader, why not just do it up style: bake some challah and share it with the world.

Challah is the first bread I ever baked. I’ve since moved on to a five-minute no-knead bread as a standby, but nothing beats the egginess and the lightness and the faint sweetness of challah done right. I tend to eat the entire loaf within 24 hours of baking it — most of it directly after it comes out of the oven — so my suggestion is to just slather with butter and die a thousand little deaths of happiness. I swear to god if Gaddafi got a taste of this there would be peace in Libya. I’d say it has the power to bring peace to the Middle East, but when we consider the religious origins of challah the argument falls apart.

Challah At’cha Boy
…I think that’s Yiddish for “this bread is bomb diggity”

This recipe makes two large loaves and is an all-day affair. Give yourself five hours start to finish (most of this is waiting for your rises, during which time you can paint your toenails or throw cats at the neighbours’ kids). You can easily halve the recipe — I usually do so, because I know if I make two loaves, I’ll eat two loaves. Unwise.

We start with the liquid ingredients. In a medium saucepan, bring just to a boil:

  • 2 c milk
  • 6 tbsp butter
  • 1/3 c white sugar

Pour it into a large bowl and let it cool to lukewarm, about 105-115 degrees farenheit. This is where a kitchen thermometer comes in handy, but if you don’t have one just cool it until you can comfortably leave your finger in the mixture for more than 10 seconds, but it still feels plenty warm to the touch. Too cold and your yeasticles won’t wake up, too hot and they’ll die. Fussbudgets. Stir in:

  • 2 packets (4 and 1/2 tsp) active dry yeast — if you have a jar of yeast refrigerate it after opening, I learned this the hard way

Let sit for 10 minutes, while you get out a small bowl and beat:

  • 3 eggs — this is where it’s a little tricky if you’re halving the recipe. In that case, you’ll need to beat 2 eggs and reserve about 1/4 of the eggies until the last stage in the process (egg wash!).

Once the yeast is all cozy and snuggly, add in:

  • your eggs (minus 1/4 of them if you’re halving the recipe)
  • 2 tsp salt

Mix well, then add:

  • 5 c flour, one cup at a time

Now, you should have a sticky dough. Flour a (clean!) work surface and turn your dough out onto it. Gradually sprinkle over the dough:

  • 1 c flour

And begin to knead. This part isn’t hard, per se, but I always find it a challenge to know when the bread is kneaded enough. You want a smooth, elastic dough. As you’re kneading, add more flour as necessary (beyond the 6 cups we already put in). You want to knead for about 5-10 minutes, until it springs back to the touch when poked. Alternatively, you can rip off a small piece and try to stretch it out in a sheet — if it gets to the point where it’s so thin that light can get through, without ripping or stretching unevenly, then it’s good to go. Wash your big bowl, and smear it with:

  • 1-2 tbsp butter

Toss your doughball in there, and turn it to coat lightly with delicious buttah. Cover the bowl with a tea towel, and put it somewhere warm — but not hot, or you’ll kill our yeasticle friends!* On top of the fridge is good, or on top of the stove if you’ve recently been baking/cooking.

Once your doughball is tripled in size (1-2 hours), re-flour your work surface and introduce it to your risen dough. Cut your dough in half, and then cut each half into three even pieces. Roll each piece out into long “snakes” of approximately 18 inches. Take three snakes and braid them together, pinching the ends together and then tucking them under the loaf (pinching them onto the bottom of the loaf to make sure they stay). Repeat with the other three snakes.

Dust a large baking sheet with:

  • corn meal/corn flour

And put your loaves on the sheet, with room in between them so they can rise again (it’s Jesus bread!) (oh wait it really is, he was a Jew too!). Allow to rise for one hour. About 10 min before they’re ready, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In your egg bowl, beat together:

  • 1 egg — if you’re halving the recipe, you already have half a beaten egg set aside.
  • about 1 tbsp cold water

Brush this egg wash over the top and sides of your loaves. It will make your bread shiny and even fancier-looking, like it’s not impressive enough to boast that you baked bread from scratch. Sprinkle over the loaves:

  • poppy seeds or sesame seeds, to taste

Pop those buns in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until they sound hollow when their bottoms are thumped. Sounds weird, but you’ll know exactly what I mean.

When it comes out of the oven, tear into that baby! I’m writing this as my batch bakes, and it’s all I can do not to wrench that oven open right now, open my mouth and bury my face in its half-baked splendour. It’s great with anything: butter, honey, jam… whatever cranks your caboose. When it’s hot it almost doesn’t need anything.

I know this recipe is a little involved, but I mastered it my first time out and I think you can too! It is guaranteed to impress the most difficult people in your life, with the added bonus that it’s so good they’ll stuff their faces and eventually end up fat.

* should vegetarians and vegans technically be eating bread that has yeast in it? Doesn’t it kill a living thing? Think of all those little yeasticles sacrificing their lives so we can have fluffy, magnificent loaves of joy! Sounds like we’re getting into slippery slope territory here.