rhubarb Rhubarb

I first set eyes on rhubarb in my Toronto childhood backyard. I didn’t know it was edible but did notice its big, fat, leafy presence.   

My mom, an avid gardener, ignored it. Her passions skewed to flowers. We often shared a loving look at her peonies or roses together, but chives were as far as she’d go in the green department.  

Writing about and researching fruits and veggies most of my life, I’ve always been a little dubious of the childhood rhubarb recollections relayed to me by friends. They always shake their greying heads with revelatory passion, recounting how they had dipped freshly grown rhubarb into a jar of sugar.  All this, standing alone in the middle of a vegetable patch at the age of five or six.  Uh, huh? I tried this sugar dip trick recently and couldn’t spit the rhubarb out fast enough. 

Let’s be real folks, rhubarb is one sour mofo. Don’t get me wrong. I can embrace sour but with rhubarb, it’s always begs for more sugar than the rest of the gang.

On the plus side, I adore growing this so-called fruit that’s actually a vegetable. A perennial, rhubarb really grows itself.  It’s the first to poke through the soil in early spring, starting with little red bumps and furled, neon green leaves that stretch out dramatically into a monster of a bush in a few weeks. Rhubarb grown in greenhouses is usually pinker (and deceptively sweeter-looking)  than my garden’s red-green, tannic stalks. 

Alas, the colour of a rhubarb stalk has nothing to do with ripeness.   

This veggie calls out in its pretend, fruit voice for our sweetest of attentions.  It loves to be buffeted in a blanket of sugar, butter and carbs. That’s all it wants.  Maybe you’ll want it too if you give in to the sweetness rhubarb demands.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

Crisps are a simple, easy dessert for fruit-filled success that are just as good — if not better — for breakfast the following day. Einkorn and oats are a match made in whole grain heaven.  There’s a reason strawberries and rhubarb pair so well. They are seasonal sisters in the garden and sugary strawberries help abate all that rhubarb pucker.

2 1/2 cups sliced strawberries

2 1/2 cups rhubarb, diced into 1/2 inch cubes

1/2 cup white sugar

1 Tbsp corn starch 

2 tbsp blanched almond slivers, toasted

3/4 cup whole einkorn 

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 tsp ground cardamom

1/4 tsp salt 

1 stick cold unsalted butter, diced

1 cup oatmeal

In a round 8-cup ceramic or glass dish, toss strawberries and rhubarb chunks with white sugar and corn starch.

In a food processor bowl, blitz toasted almonds, einkorn, brown sugar, cardamom and salt with a few pulses in the food processor.  Add butter cubes and pulse until they are pea-sized morsels. Combine with oatmeal and layer over the fruit. 

Bake in 375 F oven for 40-45 min or until top is golden brown and fruit is bubbling beneath.

 

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Cookies! White choc macs

Fine baking is all about good ingredients and a reliable recipe.  That’s why I turned to one of my baking idols, Bonnie Stern, for this cookie recipe’s foundation.

Desserts, first published in 1988 and revised ten years later, is over 200 pages of sweet perfection. My revised paperback edition is well-loved, covered in stains and filled with dog-eared page after page of handwritten notes.  I found “Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies” on page 108, where I had scribbled “Great!” 20 years ago and made plans to substitute half the chocolate with macadamia nuts.

Mac lovers have a thing for these nuts from Hawaii and you’d think I’d have no trouble finding them on Vancouver Island, just 2,361 miles away…  After two supermarket scans, I had given up all macadamian hope until David pounced on two bags at Country Grocer in Cobble Hill.

Bonnie wrote this recipe after lunching with “Mr. Chocolate Himself” (Bernard Callebaut) making me woeful not to have a chunk of his white stuff in my cupboards. I had to make do with PC white chocolate chips.

Luckily, butter fared better. Freshly purchased from Cow-Op, I had a glorious half-pound of Avalon organic unsalted butter that was whipped into a frenzy by Krystal, driving our cookie operation inside the KitchenAid mixer.

Ten minutes earlier, Krystal had placed two cold eggs from the fridge into a bowl of warm water to gently warm them up to room temp for the bake. I knew Promise Valley’s farm stand eggs were the finest and freshest I could find, their deep orange yolks ready to enrich this already rich mix.

For added flavour and a hint of nutrition, I substituted all-purpose with True Grain’s Sifted Spelt. Whether it’s sprouted, whole or sifted, spelt doesn’t disappoint in chocolate cookies.

This recipe delivers gooey, sugar-loving smiles and zillions (okay, just 50) cookies. If you can, hide some in the freezer — a tactic I’ve employed too often to really call successful any more.

Macadamia White Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup/2 sticks               unsalted butter, softened

1 cup                              brown sugar

½ cup                             granulated sugar

2                                     eggs, room temp

1 ½ tsp                          vanilla extract

1 tsp                              water

2 cups                           whole, sprouted or sifted Spelt

1 tsp                              baking soda

½ tsp                             sea salt

1 cup                             white chocolate chips or shredded

1 cup                             macadamia nuts

Preheat oven to 350 F

In a mixer using the whisk attachment, cream butter, brown and granulated sugar on high for about 2 minutes or until very light. Mix in one egg at a time. Mix in vanilla and water.

In a medium bowl, whisk together spelt, soda and sea salt.

Add flour mixture to creamed butter in mixer using paddle attachment until combined.  Add white chocolate and nuts until just combined.

On a baking sheet lined with parchment, drop cookie mix by the teaspoon and gently roll into balls.

Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Leave on baking sheet for 5 min. before transferring to a cooling rack.

All the babka in my life

Babka and I go way back, starting with my Jewish husband. He loved a good, dry cake. Both Don and his father Frank were of that persuasion.  Cake was best when it was dry,  crumbly like desert sands and bought at a deli bakery, of course.

The deli in West Palm Beach sold Don’s ultimate babka. We would stand in early bird lineups at 5 p.m. with my in-laws, demoralized to be part of what we jokingly referred to as “the blue rinse hour” for dinner.  

My mother-in-law Ethel wasn’t a cake eater.  Diabetic, she approached eating with cautious deliberation.  

“I like it bland,” she often said.    

Needless to say, food didn’t play a pivotal role in the Nausbaum family as it might in many other Jewish households. Celebrations were also kept minimal. Ethel used to mail Don a modest birthday check or a boxed shirt from Target.  One year she uncharacteristically asked her adult son what he would like to receive for his birthday and Don didn’t miss a beat.

“I want a babka from your deli, Ma.  It’s too good to be true.”

“What? A babka. That’s ridiculous, Don.”

“Ma, I want a babka. I want a babka from your deli. Fed Ex it to me.” 

I’m not sure what bothered Ethel more, the price of an overnight courier from West Palm Beach to Toronto or her son’s unbridled decadence. But she caved.  He was her only son (and a charmer, to boot).   

“How was the babka? Did it arrive?  Did you like it?” she asked on his birthday.  

“Did I like it?” he scoffed, “Ma, this babka is unfriggin’ believable. I’m going to get another slice right now and eat it while we talk long distance.”  

“Don’t. I can’t stand listening to you eat and talk at the same time.”

“But it’s my birthday!”

Don chuckled,  his mouth crammed full of babka. The crumbly streusel topping sprinkled all over his goatee. He’d already given up on a knife and was ripping the cinnamon-scented, cakey interior apart, moaning in appreciation and smacking his lips loudly.  

“You like it too much,” Ethel said. She was disgusted.  “I’ll never ever Fed Ex you a babka again!” 

She kept to her word and Don’s babka delivery landed squarely in my lap. But I was a Canadian goy who knew nothing about babka baking. Sure, I had done a little food research, happily trailing alongside Don to  Jewish delis in Florida, Long Island and the Lower East Side of Manhattan but not once had I set eyes on a Toronto babka until Don brought home a specimen from the Harbord Bakery. 

He ate one slice, winced, then threw the remainder out.

“It’s up to you, Mado,” he sighed.

Earlier in our marriage, I’d attempted chicken liver spread and was defeated.  Before that, it was the world’s oily-est latkes. Now I had to bake some dry, tasteless coffee cake?  I turned to one of the first cookbooks dedicated to Jewish baking and made a listless facsimile. 

“Inedible” said Don after the first bite.

So babka became a family joke.  A reverie about Ethel and  a guffaw over the Seinfelt segment where Constanza sweats bullets tugging a stolen babka into his apartment window with a rope and pulley.

Then, as beloved things often do, babka came back. Don passed away and left a big piece of babka in his son’s pulsing heart. It helped, too, that Nick’s stepsister Emma is a gourmet sleuth. She found (not a Sahara version) but a sinfully sweet and gooey chocolate babka at Toronto’s Pusateri’s bakery. Somehow she knew that Nick would want that for his birthday. In no time at all, babka was forefront on our mother-son baking list and Rosha Shanna 2020  seemed an apt moment to create Don’s cake.  

When Nick and I bake, I always learn something.  I start off as Mom Expert and he quietly models a better alternative. Like parchment paper. Babka demands it and I was eager to try cookbook author Mairlyn Smith’s technique: Cut a large swath, run it under water, scrunch it up, wring it dry and fit it into the pan. Yes, this technique moulds around the insides of a loaf pan but Nick’s idea was better – cut vertical and horizontal panels to fit the pans. Not only does  it look more professional, but if you allow for a few inches of overhang, you’ve got handles to lift out your cake effortlessly.     

A beautiful babka means whirls of marbled dough, twisting and turning before your hungry eyes. To achieve this, challah dough is rolled out into a rectangle and spread with a yummy interior of melted butter, dark chocolate and a LOT of freshly ground cinnamon. You roll it up as tightly as possible, take a deep breath and do the unthinkable: cleanly cut this pliable, warm, puffy roll of dough in half, lengthwise. I was certain a serrated knife would do the trick but no sooner did I execute this cut then it caught, pulled and messed up the chocolate spread’s definition. 

THREE CHOCOLATE CINNAMON BABKAS

A batch baker by trade, I won’t develop a recipe for less than 2 loaves. This one comes with a  bonus babka! Not dry at all, these glossy beauties are made moist by a special ending in which you lavishly baste with a sweet, wet syrup as soon as they come out of the oven — an unthinkable flourish to Don and his father Frank. Makes 3 loaves.

Challah Dough

2 1/4 cups   milk, warmed in microwave (at high, 1 min)

1 TBS   instant yeast

3   eggs

5 TBS   vegetable oil

4 TBS   honey

1 TBS   vanilla extract (we used a vanilla bean, sliced it lengthwise and scraped the seeds in)

8 cups/ 2 lbs 6 oz   organic unbleached bread flour

.6 oz   salt

Put warmed milk, yeast, eggs, oil, honey and vanilla in mixing bowl and blend with whisk attachment until frothy.

Add flour and salt into mixing bowl and knead with dough hook for 8 min. or until the dough pulls away from the bowl and creates a smooth ball. This is a sticky, enriched dough.  If it pools around the bottom of the bowl it may need extra tablespoons of flour during the last two minutes of the mix to ensure the dough pulls away from the bowl.

Place in a large plastic, oiled tub or covered bowl and let it rise until doubled at room temp, aprox 2 ½ hrs. (Or simply refrigerate immediately and leave to rise overnight or up to 48 hrs)

Babka filling

4 1/2 ounces (130 grams)     dark chocolate, Callebaut, 55%

1/2 cup (120 grams) one stick        unsalted butter, cold is fine

Put in a glass bowl and heat in microwave (1 – 1 1/2 min.)

1/2 cup (50 grams)       icing sugar

1/4 cup (30 grams)       ground cinnamon

Add to melted chocolate.

Line loaf pans with parchment, like Nick does.

Divide dough into 3 pieces.

Roll one piece out on a well-floured counter to about a 10-inch width (the side closest to you) and as long in length (away from you) as you can when rolling it thin, likely 10 to 12 inches.

Spread one-third of chocolate mixture evenly over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border all around. Brush the end farthest away from you with water. Roll the dough up with the filling into a long, tight cigar. Seal the dampened end onto the log.

Cut the log in half lengthwise with a metal bench scraper, like Nick does.  Lay one piece over the other, cut sides up, at the mid-line, creating an “X” then gently twist the ends. Gently place the twist into a loaf pan, doubling it over itself if necessary. Repeat 2 more times. Cover all the pans with oiled plastic or a towel. Let rise until doubled, about one hour.

Heat oven to 375°F 30 minutes before the bake. Beat an egg in a small bowl. Baste babkas with egg just before baking. Place loaves in the middle of the oven and bake 30 minutes. 

While babkas are baking, make syrup,

1/3 cup water
6 tablespoons (75 grams) granulated sugar

Heat in microwave

As soon as the babkas leave the oven, brush with syrup. Use it all up, as this creates a glossy, moist finish.  Let cool about halfway in pans, then transfer to a cooling rack.

 

 

 

Cardamom Buns

Cardamom Buns

Mado’s Basic Challah Dough

It’s basic because you can use it in various ways, from cardamom to cinnamon to hamburger buns to challah loaves yet it veers from the norm with the addition of whole wheat flour and the development of a sponge starter, first.

Sponge Starter

2 cups warm milk

¼ cup canola oil

¼ cup liquid honey

2 eggs

2 cups organic, unbleached all purpose flour (I like President’s Choice)

1 cup Red Fife or whole wheat flour

1 tsp instant yeast

In the bowl of a large KitchenAid mixer, using the whisk attachment, combine milk, oil, honey and eggs until smooth. Add flours and yeast and mix until combined, using the paddle attachment. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for two hours until the mixture is bubbly and puffing up about 20 per cent. (With a little imagination, the surface should look like a sponge.) If desired, you can make the sponge ahead and store in the fridge up to one day in advance.

3-4 cups organic, unbleached all purpose flour

1 tbsp kosher salt

Remove wrap and add 3 cups of the flour to the bowl and salt. Using the dough hook, mix the flour for about 6 minutes at med-low speed, gradually adding more flour, tablespoon by tablespoon until the dough no longer pools at the bottom of the bowl and gathers around the dough hook. Transfer the dough to an oiled, large bowl or dough container, cover and let rise at room temperature for 2 hours or until doubled. IMG_8443 Make the filling

1 stick room temperature unsalted butter

½ cup packed brown sugar

2 tbsp ground cardamom

In a small bowl, mash the butter, sugar and cardamom until smooth. Once the dough has finished its first, two-hour rise, transfer to a lightly floured surface, shape into a loose ball and leave to rest 5 min.

Dust with flour and roll out to a 24 in x 24 in square. Spread the filling evenly over rolled out dough, then fold in half, pulling the far edge toward you to cover the butter mixture.

Cut two thin (1/4 in) slices of the dough, gently twist together and lengthen like a rope then knot. Place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and cover with a tea towel. Repeat.

Preheat oven to 400F and let rise, covered with a tea towel or oiled plastic wrap for 45 min.

Baste with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse or pearl sugar. Bake for 15-18 min, or until golden brown, turning baking sheets halfway through the bake.

© 2014 Madeleine Greey

Almond Biscotti

Almond Biscotti

I really can’t live in a house without biscotti. They are my go-to cookie and a welcome gift to friends and family . Thanks to the double bake, they store for weeks, even months in a closed glass container and travel well on airplanes and road trips.

Biscotti Batter:

1 1/2 cups whole, raw almonds

1 ¼ cup organic all purpose flour

1 ¼ cup organic soft whole wheat flour or spelt

1 1/4 cups organic granulated sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

4 large eggs

3 tsp vanilla

The Finishing Touches:

1-3 tbsp flour (for rolling out logs)

1 tbsp organic granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350 ° F.

To toast almonds, arrange on a baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Use a whisk to mix thoroughly.

Whisk eggs and vanilla in bowl of an electric mixer until frothy. Use the paddle attachment to mix in flour and sugar mixture.  As soon as the dough clumps around the paddle, add toasted almonds and mix until just combined.

Dust countertop with flour. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Spoon out one quarter of the sticky dough, dust lightly with flour and working quickly, roll into a 8-10 inch log. Transfer log to baking sheet. Repeat 3 times.

Sprinkle sugar over logs with pinched fingers.

Bake for 30 minutes or until biscotti logs are golden and firm. Completely cool logs on a rack for at least 30 min.  Using a serrated knife, cut crosswise into 3/4 inch wide slices.  Arrange cut side down on baking sheets and return to 350 oven for 10-15 minutes or until golden-brown and crisp.

Sourdough Blackberry Lemon Muffins

I have a bit of a reputation. Some people call me a seed stealer.  I prefer the term  “forager”.

It all began in my tender years of five or six when I trailed alongside my Mom and brother walking along Muskoka roads lined with raspberry bushes. We held cardboard pint boxes in our little hands and were encouraged to pluck the red, ripe ones that slipped off the white core easily. There were thorns to avoid and lots of scratches to our bare legs and arms. The sun was beating down and sweat covered our brows. But boy oh boy, did those berries taste sweet. I ate nine out of every ten berries I picked, filling my box at a snail’s pace, but without a care. This was a hunt and I was hooked.  

My mom had to tear me away from the berry thicket and throw all my berry stained clothes into the wash. We never picked enough for the pies or jams we talked and dreamed of. In fact, my berries barely covered the bottom of my box but were  just enough for tomorrow’s breakfast bowl of Rice Krispies and cream. 

Decades later, I found myself walking down a road in Grass Valley, California with my sister-in-law, Nora until I stopped dead in my tracks. I was receiving heavy signals from my personal berry radar.  

“Are those blackberries?!” 

Nora couldn’t feign an ounce of interest. It was devilishly hot in the dry August sun and she was parched, needing a cool glass of water back home– which was not in the direction I was pointing. 

“You can’t do that!” she screamed as I hopped down into the ditch, climbing towards a flimsy fence separating me from my bounty.  It was easy to climb under and I did, rewarded by a thick cluster of fat, juicy berries.

“Stop Mado, it’s private property,” she yelled as I dove into her neighbour’s field. I pulled my black shirt out like a hamper and dropped the berries in by the handful. They were three times the size of an Ontario blackberry and as sweet as can be. The proliferation stunned me.  I’d never seen so many ripe, blackberries in my fruit-loving life.  

To keep the family peace, I crawled back under the fence obeying my sister-in-law’s admonishments while offering her a handful of the stolen goods. 

“Huh, what are these?” She held one berry in her fingers, brought it before her nose, inhaled,    opened her mouth, popped the berry in and started to moan, loudly. 

I’d found an accomplice. 

The following day we returned to the field armed with empty yogurt containers, filling two each in no time. That evening we dined on my first and most memorable pie. Pure blackberry pie.  I’d never made pie pastry before and somehow fashioned a semblance  with flour and shortening found in the back corners of her cupboards. I filled it with our black bounty, fresh from the pick but already leaking juice, crushing the bottom berries with its weight.  

I had set the oven at 425 F and in 10 minutes it had not only preheated but was rumbling like a coal fire.  I opened the oven door and felt a blast of heat so outrageously hot, I trembled in fear, offering my sweet berry pie to this monster. I waited five minutes and wisely turned off the oven, realizing the oven thermometer was broken, fearing my pie would explode in a ball of lava if I didn’t stop the oven’s frenzy. 

Remarkably, those free California blackberries and a broken oven thermometer was all I needed to make the most flaky, golden, berry-filled perfect pie of my life. Many have followed but none, thankfully,  with as much drama. 

I’m still a forager and a seed stealer dividing my time between downtown Toronto and rural BC. I am apt to walk down Logan Ave with a small set of scissors and surreptitiously snip off some morning glory seeds I have been watching dry throughout the fall.  Recently I filled my pockets with sweet pea pods at a Duncan community garden, knowing the owner would consider me a seed-saver, not a thief.  I expect the folks in the cars lined up at our Starbucks drive-through think the same when they see me roll down my window and pull a handful of brown and dry Cosmos flowers into the car as I wait for my latte order. 

It’s all Ling’s fault.  She asked me what those purple and white Cosmos flowers were growing in Riverdale gardens in the 1990s.  I didn’t know their name, then.  I asked her why she cared and she slipped a hand into her jeans’ pocket and revealed a mess of crumbled brown seed heads. Next, she scribbled “Purple Flowers” in Chinese on a piece of paper, put the seed heads in the middle and folded an instant, origami paper envelope. 

“I brought seeds from Shanghai,” she said proudly. I knew then that any refugee fleeing their homeland who cares enough to pack seeds for the escape was exactly the kind of garden guru I wanted to learn from.  Ling taught me not only seed saving, but how to root cuttings and separate clusters of African violets. 

So are we thieves or stewards of the earth?  I like to think the latter.

That’s why I came up with this muffin recipe.  It combines the best of The BC Forageables – blackberries —  and uses up sourdough that is normally discarded. A double save!  

Sourdough Blackberry Lemon Muffins

 

1 1/4 cup            all purpose, organic

½ cup                            whole spelt

1 tsp                    baking powder

1 tsp                    baking soda

1 tsp                    salt

 

 

1 stick                           unsalted butter, room temp

2/3 cup               refined sugar

2                          eggs

Zest                     of one lemon

100 gm/3.5 oz              sourdough discard

 

2 cups                           frozen blackberries

3/4 cup                sour cream/yogurt

 

 

 

Preheat oven to  400F. 

 

In a medium bowl combine or sift all purpose, spelt, baking powder, baking soda and  salt. 

 

In a mixer, cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in eggs, one at a time. Combine lemon zest and gently fold in sourdough discard.

 

In medium bowl, toss frozen berries with 1 tbsp of flour mixture

 

Fold in half of the flour mixture and half of sour cream, then repeat.  Gently add blackberries in flour. 

 

Divide mixture using an ice cream scoop or 1/4 cup dry measure into 12 muffin cups.  

 

Bake 20-25 min or until golden and  tester comes out clean.