Torta Ljiljana, more succinctly

January 5th, 2015

Like a lasagne, only dessert.

Pastry
1 packet dried yeast or equivalent
¼ c warm water
½ c room-temperature sour cream
¾ lb or 375 g soft butter
4 large egg yolks (save the whites for the meringue)
4 c flour
• Dissolve yeast in water, combine with sour cream.
• Cream butter. Beat in wet ingredients. Fold in flour.
• Divide dough into three portions. Cover in plastic and let rest 20 minutes.

Nut layer
16 oz, 1 lb or 500 g walnuts, ground
¾ c sugar
1 t cinnamon
½ t nutmeg
• Combine.

Apricot layer
3 c apricot filling

Assemble Torta
• Roll pastry dough out into three rectangles the size of your cookie sheet.
• In cookie sheet, stack (from the bottom up):
— Pastry
— Nut mixture (set aside ½ cup nut mixture for topping)
— Pastry
— Apricot filling
— Pastry
• Bake 40 minutes at 350°F/180°C.

Meringue
4 large egg whites
⅛ t cream of tartar
½ c sugar
• Make meringue and spread it over the hot torta as it comes out of the oven.
• Top with remaining ½ cup of nut mixture.
• Bake 12 minutes at 400°F/200°C.

Cut into diamonds when cool.

Torta Ljiljana

January 4th, 2015

In honour of my friend Lilian who is heading off to parts New York next week, I made a serbian dessert for her send-off tea party. She said the pastry was familiar but the meringue was a novelty. “Must be a regional thing,” says Lilian diplomatically. Whatever, it was a hit. People asked to take some home with them.

A layer of nuts and a layer of fruit are stacked between three layers of doughy pastry and topped with meringue. The result is something between baklava and that polish poppyseed roll — makowiec — only with fruit instead of honey.

Torta Ljiljana

Equipment
Cookie sheet with a lip, about 18″ x 12″ or 45 cm x 30 cm
4 pieces of parchment a little bigger than the cookie sheet
Electric mixer or manual eggbeater for meringue
Blender, small food processor or coffee grinder for grinding walnuts

Pastry
2¼ t dried yeast
¼ c warm water
½ c room-temperature sour cream
¾ lb or 375 g soft butter (I accidentally used a whole pound of butter. It was fine.)
4 large egg yolks (save the whites for the meringue)
4 c flour (Since this was the first time I was making it and I didn’t know what to expect, I used the all-purpose flour called for in the recipe. Next time I’ll use whole wheat flour.)

Nut layer
16 oz, 1 lb or 500 g walnuts
¾ c sugar
1 t cinnamon
½ t grated nutmeg

Apricot layer
16 oz or 500 g of apricot jam (the extra fruit kind is best)
8 oz, ½ lb or 275 g dried apricots
2 T cornstarch
1 t almond extract
2 T Grand Marnier or Triple Sec

Meringue
4 large egg whites
⅛ t cream of tartar
½ c sugar

Make the pastry:
1) In a small glass, sprinkle the yeast over the water and let it sit 15 minutes or so until it dissolves.
2) Put the sour cream in a small bowl and warm it gently in the microwave to room temperature or a little above.
3) Stir the yeast into the sour cream and set aside.
4) Cream the butter in a large bowl. The easiest way is to soften the butter gently — don’t melt it! — in the microwave on low power first and then beat it until fluffy with an electric mixer.
5) Beat in the egg yolks.
6) Beat in the yeast and sour cream mixture.
7) Mix in the flour with a wooden spoon.
8) Make three balls out of the dough, wrap them in plastic and let sit for at least 20 minutes while you prepare the nut and fruit layers.

Make the fruit filling:
1) Empty the jam into a small saucepan on low heat.
2) Chop the apricots finely and stir into the jam.
3) Stir in the cornstarch until it dissolves.
4) Keep stirring so the fruit doesn’t burn. When the mixture has started to bubble nicely, take it off the heat.
5) Stir in the almond flavouring and the liqueur.

Make the nut filling:
1) Grind the walnuts finely in a blender or small food processor, ¼ cup at a time.
2) In a medium bowl, mix the ground walnuts, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.
3) Set aside ½ c of this mixture for the topping.

Assemble the torta:
1) Heat oven to 350F or 180C.
2) Roll out one ball of pastry dough between two sheets of parchment into a thin rectangle the size of your cookie sheet.
3) Peel off the top sheet of parchment and place the rolled-out pastry into the cookie sheet, leaving it on the bottom sheet of parchment.
4) Spread the nut mixture (except for the ½ c you set aside) evenly over the pastry, right to the edges.
5) Roll out the second ball of pastry dough between two sheets of parchment into a thin rectangle the size of your cookie sheet.
6) Peel off the top sheet of parchment and invert the rolled-out pastry onto the nuts. Peel off the second sheet of parchment.
7) Spread the fruit mixture evenly over the pastry, right to the edges.
8) Roll out the third ball of pastry dough between two sheets of parchment into a thin rectangle the size of your cookie sheet.
9) Peel off the top sheet of parchment and invert the rolled-out pastry onto the fruit. Peel off the second sheet of parchment.
10) Bake 40 minutes.

Meringue topping:
1) About 5 minutes before you take the torta out of the oven, beat the egg whites until they form slightly droopy peaks.
2) Beat in the cream of tartar and the sugar.
3) Remove the torta from the oven and raise the oven temperature to 400F or 200C.
4) Spread the meringue over the hot torta, evenly and right to the edges.
5) Sprinkle the meringue with reserved nut mixture, evenly and right to the edges.
6) Bake 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Serve:
1) Remove the torta from the oven and cool the cookie sheet with the torta on a rack or balanced on something so that air can circulate above and below.
2) When cool, cut into diamond shapes.

Adapted from:
http://easteuropeanfood.about.com/od/russiandessertrecipes/r/Russian-Apricot-Nut-Meringue-Torte-Recipe.htm

Shortbread cookies

December 27th, 2013

My mother made these every year from a hand-written card in her recipe box. I don’t know if it’s the best, but it’s what christmas cookies mean to me. Missing are the instructions to cut the cookies out with a cookie-cutter after rolling out the dough, and to decorate the cookies with a bit of red or green glacé cherry in the middle before baking. Personally my favourite cookie-cutter is a small tomato paste tin with both ends cut out.

I used to use “cultured unsalted butter” thinking it would add a delicate sour-cream flavour, but people complained the cookies tasted cheesy. I think plain (sweet) unsalted butter would suit the sophisticated palate best though my mother used ordinary salted butter.

225 g/ 1 c butter
125 mL/ ½ c icing sugar
500 mL/ 2 c all-purpose flour OR
      500 m
L all-purpose flour + 50 mL rice flour
      (2 c – 3 T all-purpose flour) + (3 T rice flour)

¼ t baking powder
¼ t salt

Work butter, add sugar.
Sift dry ingredients. Add. Work together. Roll out.
Grease sheet lightly. Bake at 150°C/ 300°F 15–20 min till brown on bottom only.

Creamed onions for Thanksgiving and Christmas

December 27th, 2013

This recipe is for a traditional holiday dish from the american side of the family. I don’t know what their recipe is — it’s unlikely to be as fussy as this one — but this is mine adapted from the Joy of Cooking.

Steam 600g/ 20 oz pearl onions in a single layer for 30 minutes or until done. Peel. (If you live in the States where you are lucky enough to be able to get pearl onions frozen, go for it! Follow the instructions on the package.)

Melt in the top of a double boiler:
30 mL/ 2 T butter

Stir in:
30 mL/ 2 T flour

When blended, add gradually:
500 mL/ 2 c stock at 1.5 concentration By which I mean:

  • if 1 stock cube is supposed to be good for 2 cups/ 500 mL, then use 1½ stock cubes in 2 cups/ 500 mL boiling water.
  • if 1 stock cube is supposed to be good for 1 cup/ 250 mL, then use 3 stock cubes in 2 cups/ 500 mL boiling water.
  • if 10 mL/ 2 t concentrate is supposed to be good for 1 cup/ 250 mL, then use 30 mL/ 2 T concentrate in 2 cups/ 500 mL boiling water.
  • if you’re starting with regular stock, whether home-made, canned or from a box, simmer 750 mL/ 3 c until you’ve reduced it down to 2 c.

Stir over low heat until well combined and thickened. Add:
60 mL/ ¼ c mushroom peelings

Place in the double boiler and simmer over — not in — hot water for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Strain through a fine sieve, then add:
A pinch of nutmeg
1 egg yolk mixed with 30 mL/ 2 T cream

Stir the sauce until it is slightly thickened. Just before serving, stir in:
15 mL/ 1 T lemon juice
15 mL/ 1 T butter

Cook the onions and the sauce together for 1 minute. Add:
60 mL/ ¼ c chopped parsley
A dash of cloves
1 mL/ ¼ t paprika
30 mL/ 2 T dry sherry

Wonderful additions are:
125 mL/ ½ c sautéed mushrooms
or:
Minced celery

Christmas fruitcake, evolving

December 1st, 2013

My mother and I used to make fruitcake together every Thanksgiving so it could sit and ripen six weeks until Christmas. The recipe we used was her mother’s, which we assumed was a long-cherished family recipe from England. In fact my grandmother clipped it from a magazine in Saskatoon in the late ’40s.

Since Vivian died I’ve been having trouble locating the most important ingredient — seeded muscat raisins. One year I skipped making the cake entirely. Other years I made different recipes but they just weren’t the same. This year I was more persistent.

Seeded muscat raisins are special because seeding the grapes before drying them punctures the skin. The raisins dry with grape juice both inside and out and they are soft and sticky. It turns out that they are no longer being distributed by Sun-Maid which left me with the alternatives of ordering them online or substituting. Since shipping would bring the price of internet raisins to over $50, and paying that kind of money would go against everything Vivian stood for, I substituted. Just as Vivian would have. This is the 2013 adapted recipe. (The other change I made is to use ginger instead of cloves because this recipe is the only use I have for cloves and they go rancid from one year to the next.)

Cake

Line sides and bottoms of baking tins with parchment.

1½ c shortening
2 c sugar
⅓ c sherry or brandy
9 eggs

675 mL (2½ c) molasses
750 g (1½ lb, 4½ c) Thompson raisins

3 c flour
1 t baking soda
1 t ground ginger
1 t nutmeg
1 t cinnamon
1¼ c chopped dates

¾ c drained maraschino cherries, halved
750 g (1½ lb, 4½ c) sultana raisins
1½ c currants
500g (1 lb, 3 cups) mixed cut fruits (glacé fruits and/or candied citrus peel, dried apricots, golden or green raisins and dried cranberries)
200 g (½ lb, ¾ c) slivered almonds

Mix Thompson raisins with molasses. Heat in microwave, let cool.

Lightly toast the almonds on low heat in a cast iron pan.

Sift dry ingredients. Stir in chopped dates and break them up with your fingers.

Combine remaining fruit and toasted almonds. Combine with sifted dry ingredients and dates.

Beat shortening until fluffy. Beat in sugar and sherry or brandy. Separate eggs and beat in the yolks one at a time, reserving the whites in a tall, clean glass or metal bowl.

Fold molasses and Thompson raisins into creamed mixture.

Add the dry mixture and mix thoroughly.

Wash and dry beaters well and beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold a third of them into the batter to lighten it before folding in the rest.

Bake at 300°F for 2½ hours.

Take strips of old cotton sheets, wet them in water and wring them out well. Sprinkle with sherry or brandy. When cakes are cooled, wrap them in the prepared cotton strips, wrap again in plastic bags and put them away for six weeks. While the cakes are aging you can take them out a few times to sprinkle with more sherry or brandy if you want.

Makes 7½ lbs fruit cake.

*** *** ***
Bring out the Christmas cakes at least a day before serving. Invert onto a serving plate. Protect the serving plate with strips of waxed paper under the edges of the cake.

Roll out marzipan or almond paste thinly like pastry dough and lay it over the cakes, covering the top and sides. Cover thinly with Christmas Cake Icing, below. You may decorate with bits of cut fruit at this point. Let the icing harden at least overnight.

Christmas Cake Icing

½ lb icing sugar
1 egg white
pinch cream of tartar

Beat til shiny.
Enough for one medium cake

*** *** ***
Granny’s original version, clipped from a magazine in Sakatoon in the 1940s, exactly as she passed it on to my mother Vivian in the 1980s.

1 c shortening
1½ c brown sugar
6 eggs, separated
¼ c fruit juice or sherry
¾ t baking soda
½ c molasses, heated
½ c drained maraschino cherries, halved
3 c seeded muscat raisins
3 c sultana raisins
1 c currants
2 c (1 lb) mixed cut fruits
¾ c chopped dates
1½ c blanched toasted almonds (I use less)
2 c all-purpose flour
½ t ground cloves
½ t nutmeg
½ t cinnamon

Cream shortening until fluffy. Add brown sugar while continuing to work with spoon. Add beaten egg yolks and fruit juice (or sherry or rum) and mix well. Dissolve soda in heated molasses and add to mixture.

Combine fruit and almonds and mix with 2 tablespoons of sifted dry ingredients. Add alternately with dry ingredients to the creamed mixture and stir thoroughly. Fold in stiffly-beaten egg whites.

Line baking tins with heavy oiled brown paper — both sides and bottom — and bake in a slow oven 300°F for about 2½ hours. Makes 5 lbs fruit cake.

It is best to get all the fruit measured and prepared first as this takes a bit of time. You add some of the flour and spices to prevent it all sticking together in a solid mess.

I don’t think any of the quantities are critical — I tend to add & subtract depending on what I have but in general follow the rules.

Notes from Bangladesh: New Market during Ramadan, 2013

August 3rd, 2013

Patrick writes about the preparations for the biggest world-wide party of the year.

*** *** ***

Isha and I accompanied Beli and Brother-in-Law to New Market yesterday. Imagine Christmas shopping, then multiply it by any absurd number you want. 100,000 (my guess) tiny shops in this one market. Everyone bargaining. Everyone pushing and trying to keep track of all their group members.

We are in about the third week of Ramadan. The city will empty for the actual Eid holiday in just over two weeks, with the whole population of Dhaka traveling to their villages. They bring gifts for extended family. Families are large, so the low New Market prices are a consideration; though middle-class shoppers will buy their own Eid clothing from fashionable, busting-at the-seams shops that are open until midnight or later.

Add to the crowds, the desperate activity, and the steam-bath heat – probably a majority of the shoppers are fasting from dawn and won’t have even a sip of water until dusk and Iftar. Last week I met a group in an air-conditioned office. They told me they lose approximately 20% of IQ points during Ramadan (every day). I fasted a couple of days and am pretty sure they were bragging. 20% is under-estimation. At my age I can’t afford to lose even a fraction of a percentage point, so have not continued.

After an hour of riding the surge, Isha and I gave up and found a rickshaw to take us home. Isha was devastated that we were leaving Ama and Uncle in the maelstrom. I don’t think it is anything we’ll be repeating.

Pictures are from Isha’s third birthday Iftar party and Isha waiting at a sari shop in New Market. (Blue Salamander top and pants by Alison.)

Isha’s third-birthday Iftar party

Isha’s third-birthday Iftar party

Isha waiting at a sari shop in New Market. (Blue Salamander top and pants by Alison.)

Isha waiting at a sari shop in New Market. (Blue Salamander top and pants by Alison.)