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Posts from the ‘Canada’ Category

Nova Scotian Rum Pie

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I’ve worked under and with a lot of great chefs over the years. I’ve had mentors who were patient and generous with their knowledge and experience.

In Toronto I only ever worked for one restaurant company. I never felt the need to go elsewhere – I was treated well, paid relatively well (what cook is ever paid really well?), and enjoyed insurance and benefits most cooks never get. The best part, though, was the variety of my work and the amazing people I got to hang out with and learn from every day.

I wrote the above paragraph because it needed to be said. A cook is only ever as good as their mentor; I was really lucky to have several great chefs to learn from.

So why do I keep going back to my Grandma as my main culinary inspiration? It seems as I get older and have my own kids, I gain more and more respect for that sweet woman and what she accomplished in her life.

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On the outside it doesn’t look like she did much. She married my Grandfather at a young age, had seven kids and kept house. But I know the difference. Now that I have kids (and try to keep house) I understand the difficulties she probably encountered…

Except:

  • I don’t have seven kids. I have two.
  • I’ve never HAD to kill a chicken or grow my food. Those things are optional for me.
  • I’m financially better off than she was.
  • I don’t have a crippling autoimmune disease like she did.

I mean, I’m barely keeping it together as it is. The more I think about my Grandma, the more humbled I feel.

Especially considering the amount of time and money I put into becoming a chef. She was an amazing cook and baker. There may not have been much food in the house, but my Grandma kept all her kids fed and happy. She could take a bit of flour and sugar and turn it into something satisfyingly good.

I was watching The Chef’s Table last night on Netflix and was so inspired by the Korean Buddhist monk Jeong Kwan. Her food looks mouth-wateringly delicious, but, as it was stated in the documentary, as a cook she is completely without ego (which is so rare in our food network/social media-driven society). She lives her life simply, grows what she eats and shares what she has. Her food just happens to look like it was cooked and plated in a Michelin Star restaurant.

It reminded me of the way my Grandma would cook (though my Protestant Grandma would probably raise her eyebrows at being compared to a Buddhist; gotta stay honest). She never tried to do anything fancy, but her food always hit the spot, and she put love into everything she made.

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Before I moved to Ireland, my Aunt gifted me a cookbook of old pioneer recipes my Grandma had given to her years before. I look through it often, but not just because of the recipes – the history of my island is written in between the pages. It starts from the oldest Scottish pioneer recipes (think Dandelion Wine and Athol Brose), has a portion of recipes from New Zealand, where a lot of our descendants also ended up and ends with the kind of soul-satisfying desserts, soups and casseroles I grew up eating.

This pie kept jumping out at me. Maybe, at almost 30 weeks pregnant, I’m just really missing booze; who knows? This rum-tinged custard creation satisfies so many cravings on so many levels, and (thankfully) the booze is for flavour and not cognitive impact, so it’s safe for anyone to pig out on.

The recipe may sound daunting if you’re not used to working with gelatin, but stick with it – it’s actually really easy. The amount of gelatin in this recipe will give the rum custard a wobble, but it won’t be 100% set like Jello. More like a slightly alcoholic, ice-cream flavoured panna cotta (and who could resist that?).

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Nova Scotian Rum Pie

Ingredients:

For the Crust:

1 package digestive biscuits (about 500g), crushed (in Canada, we use graham cracker crumbs)

125g/1/2 cup melted butter

For the Filling:

1 Tbsp un-flavoured powdered gelatin

125ml/1/2 cup cold water

375ml/1 1/2 cups whole milk

2 tsp vanilla extract, divided

170g/3/4 cup granulated sugar

Pinch of sea salt

2 eggs, separated (room temperature is best)

4 Tbsp spiced rum

For the Topping:

250ml/1 cup heavy whipping cream

3 Tbsp icing (confectioner’s) sugar

Shaved milk chocolate (OR here in Ireland I used crushed Flake bars), to garnish

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 180∘C (350∘F). Combine the crushed biscuits and melted butter. Firmly press the mixture onto the bottom and up the sides of a springform pan (or any high-sided pan with a removable bottom).
  • Bake the crust for 8-10 minutes, until browned. Set aside to cool.
  • In a bowl, add the cold water and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Do not stir. Set aside and allow the gelatin to bloom.
  • Using a hand/stand mixer, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, salt and 1 tsp of vanilla until well combined (pale yellow, sugar dissolved). Add the milk and continue mixing until everything is well-combined.
  • Pour the milk/egg mixture into a saucepan and slowly bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. When the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, pour it through a sieve directly onto the dissolved, bloomed gelatin/water mixture. Whisk to combine.
  • Allow this mixture to cool in the fridge until it begins to set, about an hour (possibly longer). Whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add the rum to the custard/gelatin mix and then gently fold in the egg whites.
  • Pour this mixture onto the biscuit base and refrigerate overnight or until set. Whip the cream with the remaining tsp of vanilla and the icing sugar. Top the set custard with the cream and shaved chocolate.
  • Serves 8-10 rum-loving people (like Nova Scotians! We love our rum). Store in the fridge and eat within two days.

Maple Pecan Cookie Bars

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Today has been a bad day.

It’s not like I didn’t realize it would be a bad day. Ciara’s been cutting her eye teeth for what seems like ages now and has grown fond of 3am, two-hour-long hangouts on the couch. So yeah, when your three-year-old wakes up at 7am and you’ve just managed to get back to sleep you are definitely not starting your day on the right foot.

So we had a slow morning. Luckily I batch-cook pancakes on the weekends so Maeve can have a quick breakfast if need be, but still, by the time I had her, myself and Ciara washed, dressed, breakfasted and out the door it was well past 9am. Maeve was fairly late for playschool.

It had been a frosty night. After dropping Maeve off, Ciara and I went to town (town being Thurles, about 20 minutes away from the farm). On Tuesdays and Thursdays Ciara hangs out with my friend while I make donuts and other goodies to sell at The Green Sheep. On the way in, my car hit a patch of black ice and I was so close to losing control of my car and sliding off into a hedge. I honestly don’t know how I managed to keep the car on the road. Needless to say, I crawled the rest of the way into town.

When I got to The Green Sheep, it was closed because my friend, the owner, thought I had a doctor’s appointment this morning and she had to go to a parent/teacher meeting. I had also thought I had a doctor’s appointment but thankfully called to double-check – it’s actually next week.

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My friend got back from parent/teacher and I managed to make some apple fritters and deep-clean my cooking equipment. Then, someone came into the café and I could hear them say, “Tell Janine to go move her car – the ticket guy is out there!”

Now, before you say anything: I know I should be paying for parking. BUT you get 15 minutes of free parking in Thurles, so I was taking advantage of that (ok, maybe too much advantage).

So I got to my car before the ticket guy gave me a ticket. However; he remembered me from two weeks ago, when he had fined me for having out-of-date car tax. I had just gotten this car a few months ago and with Christmas… well… I knew I was playing with fire. I paid for my tax once he ticketed me, but it was still in the post. He didn’t give me another fine; instead he chewed my ear off.

Combine this with exhaustion from being a parent and the hormones of a crazy pregnant lady and… well, you get the idea of how I’m feeling right now.

I basically want to cry myself to sleep. And then sleep for a really, really long time.

Instead, though, I might make some more of these Maple Pecan Cookie Bars. They’re so easy to put together and taste amazing.

Baking is really therapeutic, isn’t it? You’re in control. Your hands are busy. Your mind is in a zen-like state. This is probably why I liked working in the pastry sections of restaurants so much, even though I’m not really a pastry chef. That section of the restaurant oozes calm while the others get chaotic.

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Anyway, back to these delicious, nutty little morsels. They have a brown sugar cookie base and a maple pecan topping that is soft, chewy and crunchy all at once. The maple flavour really comes through (and I was using the generic maple syrup – even though it claims to be “100% Canadian Pure”, it’s way too inexpensive to be any good).

They were a hit at the café, so I’ll be officially adding them to The Siùcra Shack‘s menu and will put them on rotation at The Green Sheep.

Give them a try; they’re so forgiving. Baking them will make you forget all about your crap day.

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Maple Pecan Cookie Bars

Ingredients:

For the base:

250g/1cup plain flour

110g/2/3 cup brown sugar

110g/1/2 cup butter

For the topping:

1 egg

55g/1/3 cup brown sugar

75ml/1/3 cup maple syrup

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 bag (about 250g or 1 cup) whole pecan halves

Flaky sea salt

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 180∘C (350∘F). Line a rectangular baking tray with parchment and set aside.
  • In a bowl, (or in your stand mixer; paddle attachment), cream the brown sugar and butter for the base. Then, add the flour and mix until fully incorporated.
  • Press the cookie dough into the baking tray with your fingers. When the dough is evenly spread out, blind bake for about 15 minutes. Check it at 12 minutes; you don’t want it too dark.
  • Take the baked cookie base out of the oven and cool slightly. In a bowl, mix all of the ingredients for the filling except the sea salt and pecans.
  • Pour the filling over the top of the cookie base. Arrange the pecan halves over the top.
  • Bake the bars, still at 180∘C/350∘F, for another 15 minutes or until it’s just set. If the top seems soft that’s ok. It will set as it cools.
  • Allow the bars to cool completely in the pan. Then, remove the whole thing (parchment and all) and slice into bars or squares.
  • These guys will keep for 5-ish days (they don’t usually make it that long, though)

Upside-Down Strawberry Rhubarb Cake

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I’m back home. In Ireland, I mean. It’s funny, I call Cape Breton “home” and Ireland “home”, but when I talk about Cape Breton being home it’s meant to be past tense. As in, it used to be home and will always and forever more be referred to as home. But, as wonderful as Cape Breton was, and Vancouver, and Victoria, it is so, so good to be back in Tipperary.

In my own house.

With my little family.

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Babies at pasture here in Tipperary

And it’s summer. My garden is growing. There are baby animals everywhere (and thanks to my cat, baby animal corpses everywhere, but we won’t go there right now) and, even though it’s often grey and rainy, it’s sometimes warm and sunny. Already much better than last summer, which was mostly cold, windy and rainy.

I’ve been home a little less than a month and I’m already super busy. Making plans, going to playdates, taking little day trips here and there, visiting, baking. The bit I’m most excited about is the plan-making, but I’m not ready to say anything more about it at the moment – just stay tuned!

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Home in Cape Breton

Also, once again, this little blog has been long-listed for two Littlewood’s Ireland Blog Awards, which is really, really lovely! I’m also up for a Huawei Snapy Instagram Award! If you feel so inclined, you can check out my entry (and possibly give it a vote) here.

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So yes; I’m super busy. But don’t worry, I always have my two darling children to keep my ego in check. Whether it’s by peeing on the floor (daily) or simply staying up all night long, my kids continually remind me who’s truly in charge of my life (or I guess you could say: what’s truly important in life). I wouldn’t have it any other way, really.

When I came home, my garden was so overgrown with weeds it looked more like a jungle. It took four solid evenings of weed-pulling and seed planting, but my hard work is paying off. Napa Cabbage (for autumn kimchi making!), sprouting broccoli, cauliflower, squash, pumpkin, courgette – you name it, it’s been planted and is currently sprouting. I was late getting a few things planted, but the growing season is longer here than it is in Canada so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a good harvest.

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Two things that were ready when I got home were our strawberries and rhubarb. I’ve never grown strawberries before, but this year Maeve asked if she could plant them. Our old farmhouse is surrounded by very old, black cauldrons (I think they were used for laundry or something back in the day) so we found the biggest one and planted the strawberries there. We left tiny seedlings and came home to a huge, vine-laden bunch of plants just dripping with beautiful berries.

This is a great summer cake to make with whatever fresh fruit or berries you have on hand. I made it with our gorgeous strawberries (of course) and fresh rhubarb, but it would be great with blueberries (with some maple syrup and lemon), peaches, plums or cherries. The cake base is a super-moist hot milk cake recipe that I use all the time – it never, ever fails me.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

Ingredients:

For the cake:

1 cup/250g granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup/250g AP/plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup/125ml scalded milk

3 Tbsp butter (melted into the hot milk)

For the topping:

1 punnet strawberries – hulled and cut in half

3-4 stalks rhubarb, chopped

1/2 cup/125g brown sugar

1/4 cup/60g butter

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 350∘F (190∘C, no fan). Grease a round springform pan and place the pan on a lined cookie sheet (in case it leaks) set aside.
  • In a small saucepan, combine the butter and brown sugar for the topping. Bring to a boil and remove from heat.Pour the mixture into the bottom of the pan and arrange the strawberries and rhubarb over the top. Set the pan aside again and make the cake batter.
  • To make the cake: whisk the eggs, vanilla and sugar until pale yellow in colour and nearly doubled in volume (this is known as the ribbon stage – the mixture should drip off the whisk in ribbons).
  • Add the flour, baking powder and salt to the mixture and stir until just combined. Add the hot milk all at once and, again, stir until just combined and there aren’t any lumps in the batter.
  • Gently pour the cake batter over the strawberries and rhubarb in the springform pan.
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes (if you have an extra-hot oven start checking your cake at 25 minutes). A skewer inserted in the centre of the cake should come out clean.
  • When the cake is ready, allow to set in the pan for 15-20 minutes, then run a knife around the edges and gently remove from the pan. Flip the cake onto a plate and gently lift the bottom of the springform pan. Voila! You should have a perfect upside-down cake.

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Seared Digby Scallops & Citrus Roasted Fiddleheads

 

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I’m past the halfway point of my time home in Cape Breton, and on this chilly, rainy morning I’m feeling particularly sleep deprived, cranky and sore.

Sleep deprived because my five month old suddenly doesn’t sleep anymore. Or nap. Cranky because she looks at me, all red-eyed and wild-haired, and giggles. Like she’s being funny. She is not being funny. Sore because I started the Couch to 5k app three weeks ago, solidly finished three days of the app and then became completely lame. My knee gave out – a combination, I think, of wearing my mother’s running shoes (I left mine in Ireland) and having a wonky hip to begin with.

So basically, I’ve been hobbling around like a zombie the past few weeks with a clingy baby attached to my boob.

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I’m so torn between missing Ireland – my husband, my house, my friends, my life – and being happy in the place where I grew up. I get sad seeing my garden growing at home in Ireland, but at the same time I’m so happy having my children spend time with their Canadian family. I’m missing the great weather right now in Ireland because I know we could have spent some wonderful time together this past long weekend, my husband and kids and I, but I’m thrilled my daughter gets to splash around at the beach and take walks by the river and have campfires with her cousins – such Canadian rites of passage.

Over the years, it pains me to say, Cape Breton has become less home and Tipperary has become more home. Moving there is one of the best things I’ve ever done.

That said, Tipperary has crap seafood. Get with the program, guys.

I have been literally stuffing my face since I returned home. All of my favourites – Tom’s Pizza (those garlic fingers!), the epic sandwiches at The Herring Choker and The Dancing Goat, and way more to come (like The Bite House! And Charlene’s Bayside!). It’s been the seafood though – the sweet mussels, fried haddock, chunky chowders and fresh-caught lobster – that has me waxing all nostalgic these days.

The other night, we had Digby scallops (Digby is a lovely town on the mainland) with an East Coast specialty – fiddleheads! Fiddleheads, for those not in the know, are a type of fern that has not yet unfurled. So, it’s all curled up and vibrantly green, and looks like the end of a fiddle. Hence the name.

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Fiddleheads are all kinds of delicious. Possibly toxic if you’re foraging and don’t know what you’re doing, but a delightful treat for those in the know. We’re in the thick of fiddlehead season, and you can even find them at the grocery stores right now (I have two small children and no time to forage, ok?).

Whether store-bought or foraged, you’ll want to make sure they’re thoroughly washed before you cook them. Soak them in water and vinegar as soon as you get them (if you forage, leave as much stem as possible). Rinse them, running your finger through the curled bit, no less than three times.

Safety folk will tell you to cook fiddleheads more than once. I don’t know how necessary that is if you’ve cleaned them well, but it never hurts to blanch them in boiling, salted water before finishing off in a hot pan or oven for a few minutes if you’re feeling nervous. This sounds like so much work, but they really are tasty little morsels and you can do so much with them once they’re cleaned.

Soup, risotto, roasted, stir-fried – my general rule of thumb is to treat the fiddlehead like asparagus. I love having them with poached egg and hollandaise. They’re great with seafood, which is why we had them with scallops the other night. A quick beurre blanc and we had ourselves about as fancy a dinner as you can find in Cape Breton.

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Seared Digby Scallops & Citrus Roasted Fiddleheads

12 large scallops, patted dry with a bit of paper towel

1 large bunch of fresh fiddleheads (about 600g), cleaned

1/2 lemon, juiced

salt and pepper

1 Tbsp cold butter, cut into small pieces

2 Tbsp olive oil

For the beurre blanc:

60ml/1/4 cup dry white wine

60m/14 cup white wine vinegar

250g/1 cup cold butter, cut into cubes

1 shallot, finely chopped

salt, to taste

Directions:

  • Once your fiddleheads have been thoroughly cleaned, trim the ends and place in a pot of boiling, salted water for 3 minutes. Immediately shock the fiddleheads in ice water to stop the cooking process. Strain and lay out on a baking tray lined with parchment paper.
  • Drizzle the fiddleheads with salt, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil. Preheat the oven to 400∘F (200∘C) and set the tray aside.
  • Make the beurre blanc: in a clean saucepan, add the shallot, vinegar and wine and boil on high until the liquid is reduced by half. Strain out the shallot and return the liquid to a medium heat. Whisking constantly, add the cubed butter a little bit at a time until it’s all incorporated. You should have a slightly thick, glossy sauce. Season with salt and keep warm, stirring occasionally until you’re ready to use.
  • Place the seasoned fiddleheads in the preheated oven. Roast for 5-8 minutes.
  • Make the scallops: heat a cast iron or stainless steel pan on high. Pat the scallops dry with paper towel, then liberally season with salt and pepper. When the pan is smoking hot, add some olive oil and sear the scallops on one side for 40 seconds (the shouldn’t stick – if they are sticking, they aren’t ready to turn so just wait a few seconds and try again). Turn the scallops and add the little cubes of butter to the pan. Baste the scallops with the browned butter as the other side cooks for about 30 more seconds.
  • Remove the fiddleheads from the oven, transfer the scallops to a warm plate and serve with the hot beurre blanc.

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Maple Planked Salmon with Maple Dijon Glaze

 

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In a culinary world full of deconstructions, elaborate plating, shocking flavour combinations and specially-foraged ingredients we sometimes lose sight of the simple pleasures of eating. A set table, friends and family, a smoking barbecue – great food done simply.

Maple syrup and salmon may not sound like a winning flavour combination to some, but it is a pairing that has withstood the test of time and always, ALWAYS impresses even the pickiest eater – especially if you’re cooking the salmon on a plank.

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Planking salmon is one of my favourite ways to cook the fish. You can buy maple or cedar planks in most grocery stores in Canada, or if you have access to a lumber yard you could have someone cut you some. Cooking the salmon on a plank adds a distinctive flavour and light smokiness, but since you’re cooking the fish indirectly it also remains moist and flaky. Topped with a great glaze, a well-planked filet of salmon is tough to beat on a beautiful summery evening.

And we have been having some lovely evenings lately. 

I was disappointed with the weather when we first arrived in Canada – mostly due to the gorgeous weather that exploded in Ireland as soon as we left! Even though I spent the majority of my life in Cape Breton, I couldn’t believe the leaves weren’t out on the trees (as they were in Ireland) and the daffodils weren’t in bloom (they were long finished in Ireland) when we arrived in early May.

We’re still waiting for the leaves, but it won’t be long now. We’ve also caught some trout, gone on walks and played in the sunshine with family and friends in the two + weeks since we arrived. This salmon, which we enjoyed last night with a dear family friend, was icing on the cake.

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So you want to try planking your own salmon? Here’s the method I follow every time I plank (that sentence sounds so healthy, doesn’t it? If only.):

  1. SOAK – you need to soak your planks for at least 1.5 hours before cooking with them.
  2. TRIM – I buy an entire side of local salmon from the fish guy (who comes to the nearby village of Baddeck on Wednesdays to sell seafood out of his trailer).
  3. CURE – I lightly cure the salmon for 30-45 minutes before cooking. Just sprinkle the trimmed side of salmon with even layers of salt and sugar (I don’t measure, but a few tablespoons of each should be enough). Leave it for 30-45 minutes and you’ll see how much excess water is drawn from the fish. It makes for a more succulent filet, but you don’t have to cure your salmon if you don’t want.
  4. PORTION – A full side of salmon should provide around six generous filets. I sliced the side in half, then portioned each half into three.
  5. RINSE – If you didn’t cure your salmon, don’t worry about this step. If you did, you’ll want to rinse the excess salt/sugar from the salmon with fresh, cold water.
  6. DRY – Pat each filet dry with some paper towel.
  7. PLANK – Transfer your salmon filets to the plank(s).
  8. GLAZE – Brush some of your chosen glaze on the uncooked fish.
  9. GRILL + GLAZE – The final step! Place the planked salmon on the barbecue grill (you can also do this in the oven – but it’s not as nice), close the lid and allow the salmon to cook slowly on medium for about 15-20 minutes (keep an eye – it will take a bit of time for the planks to heat the salmon, but it won’t be longer than 20 minutes). Intermittently, you can add more glaze as the heat and smoke does its work.

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This sounds like a lot of work, but like any great meal, if you’re prepared and organized it will come together so, so easily. Serve with wild rice or roasted potatoes and sauteed greens (some nice wine won’t go amiss, either).

Here’s the recipe for my favourite maple glaze:

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Maple Dijon Glaze for Planked Salmon

Ingredients:

1/3 cup/80ml good quality, medium or dark maple syrup

1/4 cup/60g Dijon mustard

1/2 Tbsp each: finely chopped fresh chives, parsley, dill, oregano

Salt and Pepper, to taste

Directions:

  • In a small bowl, mix the maple syrup, dijon and fresh herbs.
  • Season with salt and pepper.
  • Add some glaze to the uncooked salmon, then add more while the salmon cooks.

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Grammie’s Baked Chocolate Pudding

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I’ve been in Canada for a little over a week now. The jetlag is gone, the sun is shining (though the temperature is nothing like the balmy weather the Irish are enjoying) and I’m busy catching up with family and friends I haven’t seen since 2014. If my husband were here with me, things would be perfect. He’s not, though, so things are just very good.

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We’ve been spending a lot of time outdoors since the sun’s been shining. There’s a large pond behind my parents’ house and Maeve likes going down there to see if there are any frogs (though she doesn’t like to get too close to the water for fear of falling in). We’ve been looking under big rocks and logs for bugs, wiggly worms and the many cute little salamanders who call the backyard their home.

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Last weekend was Canadian Mother’s Day (we celebrate in March in Ireland) and as we spent the day spoiling all the moms and mom-types in our lives, I couldn’t help think about my sweet Grandma, who lived with me and my family until she passed away over 15 years ago.

Aside from my mother, who taught me that you can work full time, be a great mom, have a social life and be involved in your community, my Grandma was the most important woman in my life. She suffered from MS and was confined to a wheelchair, but that didn’t hold her back. She was a sweet, strong, soft-spoken woman.

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She was also a great baker.

This Baked Chocolate Pudding is one of my favourite “Grammie” desserts. Served hot with fresh cream or ice cream, it’s pure bliss. Velvety chocolate sauce with soft, rich cakey bits – what’s not to like? If you’re having people over for dinner, you can put it in the oven just before you’re ready to sit down to eat. It will be molten hot – the perfect vessel for something cold and creamy dolloped over top.

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*My plan was to lose as much baby weight as possible while home for the next 1.5 months. I realize now this probably isn’t going to happen. Stay tuned for more delicious Cape Breton adventures!

Grammie’s Baked Chocolate Pudding

Ingredients:

For the cake:

1 cup/250g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup/60g good quality cocoa

1/2 cup/125g granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup/125ml buttermilk

1/4 cup/60ml strong coffee

2 Tbsp/30g melted butter

For the sauce:

3/4 cup/200g light brown sugar

1/4 cup/60g good quality cocoa

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp sea salt

1 cup/250ml boiling water

1 cup hot strong coffee

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 350∘F (180∘C).
  • Sift all of the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Stir the hot coffee and melted butter together. Add the buttermilk/vanilla to the dry ingredients, then the coffee/butter mixture. Mix the batter until everything is *just* combined (don’t overmix). Pour the batter into an ungreased pie dish or small casserole dish and spread evenly on the pan.
  • Mix the hot coffee, boiling water and vanilla and set aside. Mix the cocoa and brown sugar and sprinkle evenly over the top of the batter. Pour the hot water/coffee mixture evenly over top.
  • Place the pie/casserole dish on a sheet pan (in case it overflows) and bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes.
  • Allow to cool 10-15 minutes, then serve hot with ice cream or whipped cream.

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Perfect Italian Buttercream

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Well, the weeks and months seem to be flying by. Suddenly my sleepy little newborn is wide awake and PLAYING WITH TOYS and FOCUSING ON PEOPLE and GIGGLING and generally being adorable. These are all amazing developments, even if they mean less me-time and more baby/toddler-time. The blog suffers, as do my other interests, general health and well being and, sometimes, my sanity. But it’s all good. The Spring has more or less arrived and the sunny weather does great things for the spirit.

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In a little over a MONTH I’ll be flying to Canada with my girls. Ciara really needs a passport. My mom is here in Ireland, which is amazing, and she’ll be flying home with us, as will a friend’s daughter, who will travel around with us in Canada and be a great help with the smallies. I’m looking forward to it. I can’t wait to see all my extended family members and friends at home in Cape Breton, and at the end of our “Canada time” we’ll fly out to Victoria, BC to spend time with my brothers and their kids.

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In the meantime, days are spent on playdates and coffee breaks. The Easter bunny came over the weekend, leaving way too much chocolate for a two year old. Luckily Maeve has her mom, dad, grandad and nana to help do away with the spoils. We spent our Easter having lots of family time. This included a feast of epic proportions on Easter Sunday with a huge roasted gammon joint, garlicky dauphinoise potatoes, spring veggies, smoked trout from the fabulous Goatsbridge Farm in Thomastown, Kilkenny, lots of wine and THIS. This dark chocolate layer cake with vanilla Italian buttercream and chocolate mini-eggs.

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The whole meal was great, but the cake was extra-delicious. Even though we were massively full, everyone managed to save room for a slice. The cake was moist and rich and the buttercream was light, airy and blissful – which is surprising, considering an entire pound of butter went into it. Yes, this isn’t a diet-friendly recipe (are any of my recipes diet-friendly? I need to take a long hard look at my life) but it is the perfect indulgent holiday dessert.

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You don’t need to make it “Easter” or even “holiday”. Top it with chocolate-dipped strawberries, edible flowers, candied orange slices or nothing at all. I like how it looks with the naked-mask of frosting. It would make a really impressive birthday cake for someone.

I used a few tools to make this cake.

  • 4 small sandwich tins
  • a cake turntable
  • a stand mixer
  • a large pallet knife
  • a sharp serrated knife

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If you don’t have any of these things, don’t panic. This buttercream masks the cake perfectly and is very forgiving if, like me, you have a bit of a wobbly hand. I will say that the pallet knife, at least, is important if you like sharp, defined corners on your cake. The turntable helps because you can keep the knife as steady as possible with one hand while turning the cake with the other. But even if you slap this buttercream on with a spoon, or just schmear it in between the layers and leave the sides alone, it will still look great and taste amazing.

This cake was made with my usual Never Fail Chocolate Cake recipe with dark, good quality cocoa powder and hot coffee instead of boiling water. I made the cake in the four sandwich tins, let them cool, wrapped them in plastic and let them sit overnight. That way they were cool enough and retained all their moisture when the time came to ice them.

So here it is! The recipe for the perfect Italian Buttercream (no icing sugar in sight).

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Perfect Italian Buttercream

Ingredients:

5 egg whites, room temperature

1 tsp cream of tartar

1.5 cups/375g white sugar

1/3 cup/90ml water

1 tsp good quality vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

2 cups/454g/1 big block good quality butter (like Tipperary Co-op)

Directions:

  • Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer). Using the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks.
  • While the egg whites are being whisked, combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan and boil into a thick syrup (soft ball stage). You don’t want the sugar to caramelize. I don’t keep track of the temperature (who has time for that, really) but it’s at the point where the syrup is quite thick and about to begin to caramelize.
  • Turn the stand mixer down to low and slowly pour the hot syrup into the whisked egg whites. Do this slowly enough that the syrup doesn’t splash too much on the sides of the bowl. Touch the side of the bowl. It will be quite warm from the syrup and the egg whites will have gone down in volume.
  • Continue to whisk on med-high until the mixture cools to nearly room temperature – about 3-5 minutes.
  • Take the pound of butter and cut it into small cubes. Once the egg white mixture has cooled, continue mixing while adding cubes of butter, 2 or 3 at a time. Allow the bits of butter to be combined into the mixture before adding more butter. Slowly add the entire pound of butter while constantly whisking. Once all the butter is added, don’t freak out if the mixture looks curdled. Keep whisking for several more minutes until everything is well incorporated. Add the vanilla and beat into the frosting.
  • The finished buttercream should be aerated, totally smooth, slightly thick and off-white in colour. Use it immediately to mask your cake, or pipe onto cupcakes.

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