Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sugar Pie, You know I love you

Over coffee this morning, a coworker described in glowing terms a dessert she’d once had in a small pizzeria in St. Pierre. It was sugar pie. Sweet, creamy, heaven in a pie crust, is what she said. Sugar pie.

It stuck in my head. I’m new to pies, for a lot of my life I was very anti-pie. I’m still not huge on fruit pies. But through quiche and savoury pies I’ve begun to learn that pastry can be an excellent vessel, and I’m beginning to explore dessert pies as well. There was something about the thought of sugar pie and I just couldn’t think of anything else.

So I took to the internet and discovered that it is a traditional dish of Quebec (land of poutine, don’t forget) and incredibly simple to make. The only truly important element is the sugar itself. Pure Quebec maple sugar. I was now more determined than ever.

At the start of my lunch a dashed quickly across the parking lot to the supermarket to pick up a few ingredients. Namely, a half-litre of cream. I wasn’t shocked that the supermarket didn’t carry the proper sugar, and darted downtown to the specialty grocery store/ bakery/ deli, Auntie Crae’s. It took some digging, but Auntie Crae’s came through with small packets tied with twine and a maple leaf on the front. They cost $7.58, which seemed a little much for a small packet of sugar, but this was a special, seasonal sugar. Then I looked more closely. The packet contained 125 grams. For the cup of sugar the recipe required, I would need to buy two packets which meant spending $15.16 on sugar. Not sugar to stock up against the apocalypse, but sugar to go in one pie.

This was when I paused to have a think. I wouldn’t be able to leave the store if there was a possibility that I would never have a sugar pie. How could a person live like that? When you’re talking about something that you might regret for 60 years, fifteen bucks is not that much. Furthermore, if I didn’t make it today, than when? I couldn’t make it January, not with my resolutions for frugality and healthy eating kick in. Optimistically I could hold onto my resolutions for a few months, but I’m not going to make a maple sugar pie in summer, that’s just insane. So really now was the time. The last week of the year was the perfect time for sugar pie and I was standing there with cream and just the right kind of sugar.

I bought the sugar.

Quebec Maple Sugar Pie (from Epicurious)

This really couldn't be simpler. Whisk together one cup pure Quebec maple sugar (I've been assured that this is of the utmost importance) with 1/4 cup flour. Add 1 and 1/2 cups of heavy cream and mix. Pour the works into a partially baked pie crust and bake or 45 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

This pie will come out of my oven in 2 minutes. It smells amazing, it looks amazing, but I won't taste it quite yet. I'll save that for midnight. I have a feeling that it will go very well with cheap champagne

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Cookie Baking: Day 3, 4 and 5

Yes, the schedule slipped over into a fifth day, but more on that later.

Day 3

This was a very simple day. Boyfriend and I rolled out the dough, cut the shapes, and baked the cookies. We got 8 dozen here, but it didn't really feel like much work. The butter cookies got green and red sugar sprinkled on top, but the chocolate ones we left blank. It seemed that icing these would just be a mess.

Day 4

I kept a record of this one:

10:00 – Put on Pants

10:06 – Preheat oven

10:15 – Begin Chocolate Hazelnut Crinkles ( by toasting hazelnuts or “filberts”. I distracted the kitten by tossing her one, then was suddenly gripped with fears of a feline hazelnut allergy and stole it back. Kitten is not happy.

10:26 – Take out the hazelnuts

11:03 - Man, hazlnuts take a long time to shell!!

11:05 - Encounter my first problem of the day. I need to pulse the hazelnuts till finely chopped, but I don’t have food processor and my blender is full of sticky fig mixture. I briefly consider using my roommate’s processor without her permission (she’s not home) but I really didn’t want to risk anything happening to it, as I don’t know how to use it. I finally decide to go with Boyfriend’s coffee grinder. Coffee and hazelnut go together, right?

11:25 – Hm. Hazelnuts may be too finely chopped. Anyway, time to melt the chocolate.

12:03 – Chocolate hazelnut dough is finished! (30 minutes active time my ass) I put it in to chill and treat myself to a cup of tea and a beater before I start the dishes.

12:28 – Dishes are done! Time to start the trios!

12:45 – Well, that was quick and painless. Flour, butter, sugar, salt, egg and vanilla. Gotta love it. It’s chilling in the fridge (I have to admit, I did not consider fridge space when I started this project) and now it’s time for lunch. Kale and white bean soup, anyone?

2:02 – Back to work. It’s not all the dishes that bug me so much, it’s washing the exact same dishes over and over again. My big red bowl will be pink by the time I’m finished!

2:20 – Middle of the recipe for molasses crinkles and I discover that I need ground cloves and I only have whole cloves. At this moment I thank heaven for my friend J, who gave me a mortar and pestle for my birthday 3 months ago. Thanks, J.

2:35 – Oh no! A jar o partridgeberry jam fell from the cupboard and into the mixing bowl! Thank goodness it didn’t break!

2:40 – The bowl broke. There’s egg all over the counter. I don’t believe this

3:07 – Call it a miracle, but the cookies are in the oven!

3:17 – The molasses crinkles are out of the oven and they look fantastic!

3:30 – about half of them burned on the bottom. It’s ok, though. I have enough for gift and even the burnt ones taste pretty good, so I’ll just keep those.

3:45 – I start shaping the trios. Each is made up of three dough balls with a different kind of jam in each. To be a bit special, a used all locally-made jams. Blueberry, Rasberry and Partridgeberrry.

4:07 – The first batch of trios goes into the oven.

4:21 – I become so engrossed in the meditative feeling of rolling dough balls that I forget about the first batch and the alarm goes off. More burnt cookies!

4:35 – The second batch goes in.

4:45 – I don’t know how I feel about these. They came out all right, but they’re somewhat cracked and not uniformly golden. Also, on a few the jam bubbled over onto the cookie. I’m not really into jam cookies anyway, I’ll have to get Boyfriend’s opinion on them

5:00 – Ok, time to go to my parents for dinner. I’ll just finish cleaning up and then return for the shocking conclusion: Chocolate-Hazelnut Crinkles!!! (Or was that foreshadowed when I made the dough this morning?)

Day 5

I woke up Monday morning feeling like I needed more molasses crinkles. I was out of butter and eggs, so my first trip was to the grocery store. While there, I noticed the pillsbury roll out dough. That would work for the fig swirls, but I'd never used a pre-made dough before, did I really want to start? I stood there for quite a while, then finally grabbed the box and headed out.

When I got home I unrolled the dough, spread the fig mush over it, rolled it back up and stuck it in the fridge. Then I got to baking. This was actually my most intense day, as I had a deadline: the office Christmas party at 4. The fig rolls in the fridge, I pulled out the chocolate hazelnut crinkles and started rolling balls and dipping in icing sugar. I got 4 dozen of these, so it was a lot of rolling. I skipped lunch and jumped right into the molasses crinkles. This was frustrated, as I ran out of the dark brown sugar and had to use the golden sugar. Also, there wasn't quite enough molasses, even though there should have been by the size of the container. Then there was more rolling and sugar dipping. I didn't burn these, anyway, so that was good. They weren't quite as good as the first batch, I'm blaming the sugar, but they were pretty good. 2 dozen more.

By this time it was after 3, and I was supposed to be at the party by four. I really didn't want to spend another day baking cookies, so I pulled the fig rolls out of the fridge and started slicing. I got two dozen more and did my makeup in the kitchen as they were baking. But they came out! They looked as if the dough in the middle hadn't baked properly, but they were just fine.


I baked 19 dozen cookies, and that is quite a lot. But you know, I would do it again. The cookies came out great and the recipients were all really appreciative. I didn't let myself get stressed, even when things got a bit tangly, and i enjoyed the feeling of baking treats for the people I care about. Finally, the house still smells amazing!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cookie Baking: Day 2

Sometimes, things just don't work out. This was one of those times.

Friday, the second day of my cookie-baking extravaganza, I tried to make fig swirls. Basically, you make a pastry dough, roll it out flat, cover it with a fig filling, roll it up like a jelly roll, and slice cookies off of that for baking. I thought it sounded lovely and traditional, and a bit different for my cookie jar.

But it didn't work. The problem was in the pastry. The dough simply wouldn't stick together. I don't know if I did something wrong in the recipe, if the recipe itself was flawed, or if I was wrong to use a mixer instead of a food processor. I suppose it could be any combination thereof.

But you live and you learn. I never claimed to be anything more than a rookie in the kitchen, so there are going to be times when things don't go as planned. I have lots of other cookies, so I chucked the bad dough and moved on.

Any suggestions for what to do with the fig filling?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cookie Baking: Day 1

Alright, December has been kicking my ass. There has been an awful lot of work, and an awful lot of play, in the form of social engagements. But now I have a few days to myself and I've decided to immerse myself in an ambitious baking programme.

The idea came from 's "25 Days of Christmas Cookies". I quickly got caught up with the idea of doing all of them, baking cookies everyday. Boyfriend quickly pointed out that that would be more of a death march than a joyous kitchen experience. So I picked my top 5, pulled out Orangette's butter cookie recipe ( and made a schedule.

Tonight was the first night. I thought about live-blogging, but there was no time. After work Boyfriend and I hustled down to a local specialty grocery store for the last necessary ingredients, and then back home. I had almost forgotten that we would actually have to eat supper tonight as well. I took the opportunity to test out my new rice maker. I mixed wild rice, water, carrots and onion, turned the thing on, and then put on my baking apron.

The Danish Butter cookies take a pound of butter. I'm not kidding. Other than that, it's a fairly simple recipe, just sugar, flour, baking soda and egg. Since the butter is really the centre stage I used Spyglass butter, made just an hour away near a very good friend's childhood home.

I rolled out the dough, wrapped it in plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge where it will stay until I'm ready to actually bake it. Boyfriend cooked some chicken while I started the dishes. We took a break for dinner and Jeopardy, and then got back to the business of the cookies.

Our next recipe was Chocolate roll outs, from . I really like the idea of chocolate cookies in Christmas shapes. Boyfriend started the dishes while I melted some bittersweet chocolate, and mixed it with sugar, butter, vanilla, flour and cocoa. The dough was delicious! I rolled it out, wrapped it in plastic, and popped it in the fridge.

At this point I took over the dishwashing duties. I'm beginning to realise that this will be a theme of the next four days. Dishes done, I called it a day ... for now!