Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Blog Tour: The Stars of Summer by Tara Dairman

Good morning!

I'm honoured to be hosting today's blog tour stop for The Stars of Summer by Tara Dairman. You might remember this middle-grade series which started with All Four Stars when I participated in my first book blog tour last year (and made osmanthus crème brûlée). In the first book, we're introduced to eleven-year-old foodie Gladys Gatsby who has to convince her takeout-loving parents that cooking is fun as well as plan her first restaurant review and remain an anonymous critic for the city's largest paper. All while fitting in to do "regular" activities that kids her age do (you know, make a few supportive friends and get invited to the most exclusive birthday party).

In the sequel, we follow twelve-year-old Gladys Gatsby on her summer plans. I don't know about you, but I'm really looking forward to summer and reading about Gladys adventures brought me back to fond camp memories and a longing to visit New York City again.

The Stars of Summer
Written by Tara Dairman
Hardcover | 366 pages | Ages 8–12
ISBN 978-0-39917-069-0

Gladys is looking forward to a quiet summer at home, learn a few new dishes and cooking techniques, and hopefully get assigned another restaurant review. But first, a birthday!

To celebrate turning twelve, Gladys' parents take her to a Spanish restaurant in Manhattan for tapas, joining her are her friends Parm Singh, Charissa Bentley, and Sandy Anderson. Personalities clash, but once they plan their food orders (to try as many dishes as they can on the menu), and the food arrives, the chaos begins! The worst part is . . . the gifts! Charissa gives Gladys a whole summer of joining her at Camp Bentley. Yup, the one Charissa's parents run.

Camp life isn't easy. There's an annoying "celebrity" camper (spoiler: the celebrity is an author. I love that authors are considered celebrities here), she has to learn how to swim, and she's not exactly loved and praised for her lunch-making skills. On top of that, she's been assigned to find the best hot dog in New York City.

I thought it would be fun to plan a hot dog taste test in my own city. So if I were ever assigned to look for the best hot dog in Toronto, here are three spots I would visit:

There are so many sausage options here! Playing it safe, I would want to try the beef/coriander, pork/chili paste, or turkey/cilantro/jalepeño. The lamb/harissa, pheasant apple/sundried tomato, and wild boar mushroom/tea. All on a toasted fresh bun of course!

No question about it, I would pick the Korean beef ribs, kimchi, sasame seeds, and scallions hot dog to try first. I love it when Korean food is paired with anything. Then the Po'Boy hot dog with panko fried shrimp, lettuce, Horseradish mayo, and hot sauce. Just because I love the n'walins vibe!

They have a Toronto dog, so I think it's a given to try the one named after the city! It features berkshire pork belly, peameal bacon from St. Lawrence market, cheddar mayo, and onion strings. My next pick would be the Spicy Thai Dog with chicken breast, green curry, lime leaves, basil, mango salad, peanut satay sauce, and toasted coconut. Then, the Chicago Shout-Out featuring local beef chuck and pork shoulder, yellowy mustard, sweet pickle relish, raw onion, tomato, pepperoncini, and celery salt.

But, like Gladys, I find that it's the people you're with and the experiences you're sharing that make the hot dog meal memorable. For instance, I have fond memories of eating hot dogs with my family at Ikea or Costco. Simply because it's a treat to get something to munch on when your parents are shopping. As a kid, you're given a few dollars to exchange it for a hot dog and drink. There's something fun about getting that foiled wrapped hot dog or packaged in identical paper holders. Or the meals you have on the sidewalks when you're downtown and the sizzling hot dog is the most delicious thing you've eaten all day. Everyone's standing around with their own customized toppings, while the ketchup is dripping down your shirt and pants (no? just me?). Or the times when you're on holiday or visiting a tourist attraction and it's hot dogs for everyone at the zoo, amusement park, or museum. Those are the moments when you have the best hot dog. Years later, I don't think it would be one at a sit-down restaurant that I'll remember.

Unless it's a boy who likes you and takes you to a restaurant where there's a sandwich named after you. But, let me get back on track here. Gladys learns to survive camp and even enjoy it. She bonds with her parents through private swimming lessons and city shenanigans. And she learns how to deal with tricky people in sticky situations. If you're looking for a heartwarming, funny, and food-filled read, this is it. You can't help but crack a smile when you start, chuckle quietly as you're a few chapters in, then laugh out loud and shake your head at the same time. The ending makes you want to applaud and cheer for the good guys. Gladys will remind you of yourself as a kid and for children reading it, they'll want to be in Gladys' group of friends. I hear there's a third book in the works and I can't wait to read it!

Thanks for stopping by, please visit the other bloggers on the tour:
Monday, April 27: Katie/Bookish Illuminations
Tuesday, April 28: Aeicha/Word Spelunking and Emma/Awkwordly Emma
Wednesday, April 29: Sylvia/A Baked Creation (that's me!)
Thursday, April 30: Bonnie /For the Love of Words
Friday, May 1: Lisa/Fic Talk
Monday, May 4: Lucy/The Reading Date
Tuesday, May 5: LAUNCH DAY!
Wednesday, May 6: Dahlia/Daily Dahlia
Thursday, May 7: Karen/For What it’s Worth
Friday, May 8: Jen/Pop! Goes the Reader
Monday, May 11: Stephanie/Kitchen Frolic
Tuesday, May 12: Brenda/Log Cabin Library
Wednesday, May 13: Michael/Project Mayhem and Wendy/The Midnight Garden

Tara Dairman is the author of All Four Stars, which was named an Amazon Best Book of the and a Mighty Girl Top Book of 2014 for Teens and Tweens. She is also a playwright and recovering world traveler. She grew up in New York and received a B.A. in Creative Writing from Dartmouth College. After surviving the world's longest honeymoon (two years, seventy-four countries!), she now lives in Colorado with her husband and their trusty waffle iron.

Credits: Blog tour button / Kristin Rae; Book cover / Kelly Murphy

Disclaimer: An ARC of The Stars of Summer was sent to me from Putnam/Penguin for the blog tour.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Cheddar Swirl Buns

One day, Howard and I came upon a bagel bakery that also sold other baked goods. Browsing up and down the small aisles, we came upon cheese buns. Howard gave me that look, you know the one when the other person wants to buy something? He wanted to buy the cheese buns. Instead, we walked over to the grocery store and bought cheddar. I convinced him that I knew of a great recipe and I'd make it for him at home.

What I had in mine were the Smitten Kitchen cheddar swirl breakfast buns. I remember having them at the blogger brunch years before and have been waiting for a good time to make them. I guess this was as good as any other time. I also want to make that apple pie from the brunch one day!
I didn't start out very well, as I opened a package of gelatin instead of yeast. Oops!
Cheddar Swirl Buns
Recipe adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
(Makes 12 buns)

3 cups of all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon of salt
Black pepper
1 tablespoon of sugar
2 1/4 teaspoon of instant yeast
1 cup of milk
4 tablespoons of melted unsalted butter
1/2 cup of grated white onion
1 1/2 cup of grated cheddar cheese
2 teaspoons of minced fresh dill (I omitted this)
1/4 teaspoons of salt
Black pepper
  1. Whisk the flour, salt, pepper, and sugar in a bowl. Set aside.
  2. In your stand mixer, whisk the yeast with the milk until it dissolves. Add in the dry ingredients and melted butter. 
  3. Using the dough hook, mix on low for about 6 minutes.
  4. Place the dough in a covered bowl and let it rest for 2 hours.
  5. Make the filling by mixing the onion, cheese, (dill if using), salt, and pepper together.
  6. Scoop the dough out and roll out into a 12-by-16 rectangle on a floured surface (or baking pan in my case).
  7. Spread the filling over the rectangle dough and roll into a log.
  8. Use a sharp knife to cut the log into twelve 1-inch bun.
  9. Line the bottom of a baking pan and arrange the twelve buns, with some space in between them. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest for another two hours.
  10. Preheat your oven to 350°F, bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the tops are golden and the cheese is bubbling. Serve right away!
You want to know what else is wonderful from making this recipe? Your place will smell amazing. Savoury cheese and onion wafts in and out of your kitchen, making your stomach grumble with hunger.
Somebody forgot to brush the tops with melted butter. Another oops! If you've been counting, that's two mistakes (where oh where is my memory going). So much for the golden colour, but the cheese was bubbling! So the buns were looking pale, but they still tasted great.
We were able to keep these in the fridge and warm them up during the the week. Just so you know, we didn't gobble all twelve buns in one sitting. That should be made clear. Although it was tempting to reach for another one, especially when they were fresh from the oven. We would suggest making these for a brunch or group gathering so they can all be eaten at once.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Basic, Great Chocolate Chip Cookies

There has been so many great new cookbook releases this spring, I can barely keep up! What's wonderful about these titles are the quality of material coming from Canadian authors: Sara Britton of My New Roots, Rosie Alyea of Sweetapolita, and Tara O'Brady of Seven Spoons. I meant to do a post for each book as they released, but the weekends just seem to fly by (why aren't weekends three days instead of two?).

But I had three beautiful bars of chocolate, the cookbook, and Tara's post to get me off my butt to make something. Plus, who can resist basic, great chocolate chip cookies?
Look how beautiful the tasting bars are! I've never used Valrhona chocolates before, but I've heard about their excellent reputation. Plus, they're always getting mentions in cookbooks where chefs repeat: use quality products. Really, I felt like Charlie from the Chocolate Factory when I ripped off the gold foil and saw the gorgeous design on these bars.
I felt like I was destroying art chopping up the chocolate bars. But at least they had a guideline of grids on it. You can chop them up a bit smaller, but I wanted to be able to taste each different chocolate piece in the cookie.
Do you like the sweet and salty combination? I found that the little sprinkle of sea salt on top was strong, so don't go overboard! Just put less than a pinch on top of the batter.

Basic, Great Chocolate Chip Cookies
Recipe adapted from Seven Spoons by Tara O'Brady
(Makes about 24 cookies)

1 cup of unsalted butter
3 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 1/2 cup of brown sugar
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
210 grams of chopped chocolate (Tara calls for 340 grams of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate)
Flaky sea salt (optional)
  1. Preheat your oven to 360°F (180°C) - don't forget to check with an oven thermometer. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Place the butter in a saucepan and melt on the lowest setting. You want the butter to melt, but not sizzle and lose moisture.
  3. Take a chef knife and chop up your chocolate. I used three 70 gram bars of 32% cacao, 46% cacao, and 72% cacao. I combined all three together so that the cookies would get a mix of blond, milk, and dark chocolate bits in it.
  4. In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  5. Using a stand mixer, pour in both sugars and the melted butter. Whisk until combined. Add in the eggs one at a time. Pour in the vanilla extract. Once it's blended, switch the whisk attachment to the paddle or use a spatula.
  6. Carefully add in the dry ingredients and mix a little bit (doesn't have to be well blended at this point).
  7. Add in the chopped chocolate and fold into the batter until well combined. The less mixing you do when the dry ingredients are added, the better. You don't want the batter to become too doughy and smooth.
  8. At this stage, you can refrigerate the batter. I did for 5 minutes because the batter was looking a bit shiny and it is mentioned in Tara's notes - thanks for troubleshooting!
  9. Scoop out about 3 tablespoons of batter and form it into a ball. Place on parchment paper and space each one 3 inches apart. Optional, sprinkle the top with flaky sea salt. I did for 12 and left the other 12 as is.
  10. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. When you take them out, let them rest for 2 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.
I love how quickly the cookie batter came together, there's no need to chill the dough for hours or overnight. All about the immediate gratification here.
Unbelievable. Just because I'm standing on a chair taking cookie photos, it doesn't mean someone should swoop in and grab one. Luckily, I caught the thief red-handed in the photo and was able to confront them later.
Oh these cookies are good. They're soft and chewy on the inside. And yes, they're cookies worth dreaming about and craving for. They would make a great base for nutty cookies too (walnuts or pecans anyone?).
Happy publication day Tara!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Canelés (Cannelés)

Canelés are finicky. So much so that there are different spelling variations of this pastry. Before I started this project, all I knew about canelés were that you made them in these beautiful copper molds and that these molds were expensive. Very expensive. Then I did some research and found out that they're from the Bordeaux region in France and are custard cakes! That sounds wonderful, I love Portuguese custard tarts, so I'm sure I would love these, let's get started!

First, let me just find a place in Toronto that sells canelés so I can try them and then look for a recipe. Thanks again to all the lovely people online that pointed me in the direction of Nadège Patisserie. They opened up a new location in Richmond Adelaide Centre in the PATH, so I was able to go during my lunch break to scope out their selection. On top of the gleaming counters filled with macarons, cakes, and other tempting treats, I saw the canelés. Mini canelés to be precise, I bought six (they're mini and it's for research, six isn't too much) to take home and dissect.
Above: canelés from Nadège showing uneven mahogany colouring and a crispy exterior.
Below: canelés from Nadège showing the custard interior with a good amount of airiness
Verdict: canelés from Nadège are delicious! One of those "wow" moments when you try something good for the first time. I was so excited. I'm going to make these! I'm going to eat so many canelés in my lifetime now.

Time to look for a recipe! Who has the most reliable one? The tastiest one? One that will work with silicon canelés molds?

Stop. Wait. If you're about to embark on a canelés project, read as much as you can about these tricky pastries. Seriously, they're complicated - with varying factors affecting outcomes - and the key to your happiness is in their hands. Evil canelés. I think they're just as troublesome as macarons.

My reading material included Chez Pim who warns you with the word "madness" in the blog title. Yes, these little buggers can cause you to go mad. I was devastated to learn that silicone molds did not yield perfect or consistent results. My silicone mold was not the one recommended and I worried about the quality of silicone mold in my possession. But there was hope, you could make almost perfect canelés. Then there was the issue of beeswax. Where was I going to get beeswax?

I was teetering on hopelessness for short time but then saw these lovely canelés videos from ChefSteps and read about their experiment. Turns out, they found little difference between using beeswax or butter in lining the molds. They included temperatures for both convection and household ovens. They were able to incorporate other flavours. Explained the results comparing all-purpose flour, bread flours, powdered sugar, granulated sugar, and most importantly, the molds. Turns out they were able to make canelés in ramekins, cast iron pans, tart tins, and cupcake trays. But again, silicone molds were not recommended.

But the best part of the posts are reading everyone's comments. You get to see what worked for others, what didn't work - like the silicone mold. One of the commentators was using a similar one as I was and found that if you cut up the mold so that they were singles, the canelés baked more evenly thanks to better air circulation and helped avoid the little collapses.
I spent late nights reading more and more. I scoured my pastry cookbooks and French food cookbooks, only finding two recipes. I read posts from Chocolate and Zucchini, Mimi Thorisson, and followed #projectcannelé online to see how eat. live. travel. write.Crumb, and Now You're Cooking were doing.

Then I came upon Eat, Little Bird; Butter and Brioche, and Notes from My Kitchen and saw that they were able to make beautiful canelés with silicone molds from the same recipe. So began my journey on a Friday night. 

Recipe adapted from My Little French Kitchen by Rachel Khoo
(Makes about 20 canelés)

500 milliliters of 2% milk
50 grams of unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean pod, split
100 grams of all-purpose flour, sifted
250 grams of granulated sugar
1 teaspoon of salt
2 eggs
2 egg yolks

In a small saucepan over medium heat, pour in the milk, add the butter and vanilla bean. Bring the mixture to a light boil them remove from heat to cool.
Sift the flour into a large bowl.
Gently add the granulated sugar and salt to the sifted flour and stir to incorporate a bit.
In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs and egg yolks together.

When the milk has slightly cooled, remove the vanilla bean pod. Pour the milk and eggs into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Remember, the milk can't be too hot here or your eggs will cook and become scrambled! Gently stir together until smooth (you do not want to incorporate too much air into the batter).

Strain the batter though a sieve into a new clean bowl (preferably one that comes with a lid) until a smooth batter forms. Cover with plastic wrap or the bowl's lid and refrigerate for 48 hours or longer. I gave it a stir after the first 24 hours. So I made the batter Friday night and baked them on Monday morning. This stage is important! Resting the batter yield in a more successful result for most people.
When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 240°C (460°F). I did not butter the silicone molds. After all that reading material, I felt that the consensus was that it wasn't necessary for silicone molds.

I used an ice cream scoop to pour the batter in, helping me get an even fill in the silicone molds.
Place filled silicone molds on baking tray and slide into oven. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 190°C (370°F) and bake for 50 minutes. To quickly lower the oven's temperature after the first 15 minutes, I left the oven door open and watched my oven thermometer.

I felt that my oven ran hot as the canelés had very dark tops (also, it was hotter there because of the baking tray). For my second batch, I reduced the baking to 10 minutes at 240°C (460°F) (or you could try reducing the baking time to 45 minutes at 190°C (370°F) if you also have a oven that runs hot). It'll be tricky as I don't want the custard to be under baked.
Fresh out of the oven, most of the canelés were the same height, with a few exceptions. You want to take them out of the molds as soon as possible so they can start to cool and harden for the crispy shell.

As you can see up top, the two in the middle and the one above it decided to lean and slant. The rest stayed upright and didn't slouch their backs. Three out of fifteen, not bad for my first try!
Aside from the obvious ones, a few had soft divots on the side, so tiny collapses. This was puzzling as I didn't incorporate any air, but they still puffed up on the oven before turning to a more acceptable size.
Moment of truth, was the centre a nice custard? I sliced through the crunchy exterior and to my delight, found that it was nice and airy inside. Not dense and not too many air pockets, just the right ratio that I like. The perfect crunch and chewy combination!

The original recipe called for powered sugar, but looking at the cross section of those canelés (Butter and Brioche was the only one who posted a photo of the interior), I saw that they were too dense. Recalling the ChefSteps experiments, they found the same results with powered sugar (although the browning on the exterior is more even), so I used the Redpath Special Fine Granulated Sugar. It's not as course as granulated sugar, so a nice medium between powder and granulated. But honestly, I would have went out and gotten powdered sugar if it came with the better result!

Now the trouble I had was storing them. Yes, I didn't gobble all of the canelés up (very tempted to, but I wanted to share these at work) so I placed them in containers and shut the lid on them. I think this created an environment that caused the canelés to soften up and lose their crunchy shell. They were all moist and spongy the next day. Not having that much luck finding lots and blog posts about this next step!

The most helpful thing I could find was from Dominique Ansel website, if you purchase their canelés box, they recommend that you store it in a cold, dry area. Do not refrigerate and they're best consumed fresh but will keep for up to three days. 

No comments on the type of storage, but I guess a pastry box is implied!

Disclaimer: The silicone mold, apron, vanilla bean, and sugar was sent to me from Michelle Galluzzo on behalf of Redpath Sugar. Thank you!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Favorite Jelly Roll

Are you ready for this jelly? Have you ever wondered how jelly rolls were made? I did, I didn't believe you could roll a sheet of cake - surely it would break and be uncooperative. I thought they were machine made and sold in stores. So when I saw this recipe and the instructional photos, I knew I wanted to tackle it. So today, I'm sharing an excerpt from What to Bake and How to Bake It with my own photos. I actually made this cake twice. You'll see why below!

Favorite Jelly Roll
Recipe from What to Bake and How to Bake It by Jane Hornby
(Makes one jelly roll)

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 10 minutes
Makes: 10 slices

A jelly roll was one of the first things I ever baked with my mom, probably because it was so quick to make, and all the ingredients were in the pantry. Although there are lots of steps, be assured that it’s a simple cake, and one of the most popular among friends and family when I was creating the recipes for this book.


For the cake
½ stick (¼ cup) butter, plus extra for greasing
3 tbsp milk
4 eggs, room temperature
¾ cup sugar, preferably superfine
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ tsp salt

For rolling and filling
¼ cup sugar
¾ cup raspberry jam or jelly
Use plenty of butter to grease the base and sides of a 10 x 15-inch jelly roll pan or rimmed baking sheet, then line the base with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Put the milk and butter in a small pan and heat gently until the butter melts. Set aside (it will need to be warm when you use it).
Put the eggs and the sugar in a large bowl and whisk with an electric mixer at medium speed until thick, moussey, and doubled in volume—about 5 minutes.

Stir the cornstarch, flour, and salt together, then sift them on top of the eggs. Fold together well using a large metal spoon or spatula, cutting and lifting the flour through the foam instead of stirring it. This will preserve the air bubbles and ensure a light and fluffy cake.

Pour the warm butter and milk around the edge of the batter bowl. Using the large spoon or spatula, fold until evenly combined. The liquid can pool at the bottom of the bowl, so be persistent, trying not to knock out too much air.
Carefully pour the batter into the prepared pan, then tilt it slowly from side to side, letting the batter run into the corners. If it still looks uneven, spread out the batter very gently with a spatula. Don’t worry if you see a little dry flour or ribbons of butter—just work them in gently. The batter will completely fill the pan, but don’t worry, it won’t spill over as it bakes.

Bake for 10 minutes, or until it is golden, has risen, and the edges have shrunk away from the sides of the pan. Meanwhile, dust a larger sheet of parchment paper with 2 tablespoons sugar. Loosen the edges of the cake with an icing spatula, then sprinkle the remaining sugar on top.

Swiftly flip the cake onto the sugared parchment paper. Carefully peel off the paper that lined the pan. Using a serrated knife, trim about ½ inch off from each edge. Score a line into the cake about 1 inch in from the short end nearest you. This will make it easier to roll.
While the cake is still hot, roll it up from the short end, rolling the sugared paper inside the cake. Don’t rush things, and if a few cracks appear, don’t worry.

Cover the cake in a clean dish towel and let cool until just warm.
Unwrap and unroll the cake, then spread it with the jam. Roll the cake up again, using one hand to guide it and the other to pull the sugared paper underneath it upwards. This will help keep the spiral fairly tight.

Place on a serving plate, seam-side down. It’s best eaten on the day it is made.
Sylvia: So as you can see, the first cake I made was too stiff and over baked. You don't want the base to be as brown as the one in the photo above. It did confirm my fears of cracks. But I attribute that to being slow on the roll. I was snapping photos and the cake cooled. The second time around, I wasted no time. I watched the cake in the last two minutes of baking. Took it out. Flipped it out of the pan and rolled it in the parchment paper. Success!
Look at that beauty! The cake was nice and fluffy and moist, allowing me to shape it without any fuss. I didn't even trim the sides this time, instead, I did it after the cake was fully assembled to get the nice straight edge. So those are my tips, don't over bake, work fast, and don't let the cake smell fear on you. You will then be rewarded with a delicious jelly roll.

Disclaimer: A review copy of What to Bake and How to Bake It was sent to me for review from Becca Levenson at Phaidon. Thank you! No incentives were used to produce a positive review of this book.
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