Raspberry Rhubarb Muffins with Oat Streusel

Jump to recipe

Everybody knows rhubarb’s best friend is strawberry, but I think raspberry deserves a chance.

Enter these raspberry-rhubarb muffins. They’re tender, they’re sweet and tart, and they’re topped with a generous sprinkling of buttery oat streusel (the best part of any muffin, IMO). And they’re perfect for making quick use of rhubarb in its prime as we’re turning the corner into berry season. Rhubarb is infamously sour and it gets balanced out by the richness of the muffin and sweetness in the streusel. Raspberry adds a delightfully fruity element that can hold its own in this balancing act, with very little prep work required.

This recipe is super simple, doesn’t require a mixer, and you don’t need to take any of the ingredients out of the fridge ahead of time. You can easily go from “hey, I think I’d like a nice treat” to “yum, fresh baked muffins with my coffee” in under an hour. These muffins freeze well too, so you can stash the extras for a quick breakfast or afternoon snack.

These muffins work equally well with fresh or frozen fruit. I love to pair fruits that are in season at the same time (though rhubarb is actually a fruity vegetable!) but very few fruits are in season in the spring where I live. Frozen raspberries are much cheaper than fresh and often better quality when you’re buying out of season, and they’re pretty ideal when it comes to convenience. They don’t need to be thawed before adding to the muffins, and they’re already the perfect size. No need to cut or trim anything to make them muffin-appropriate sizes, which means no messy melting and chopping. That said, if you have a bunch of fresh raspberries at your disposal, these muffins will show off their fresh flavour and colour famously.

Notes:

If you use frozen berries, don’t thaw them before use. Just make sure that they aren’t stuck together before adding them to the batter. Make sure to only mix as much as you need to get the fruit evenly distributed. It’s good practice to avoid tough muffins (working wet flour creates gluten!), but also helps minimize colour bleeding from the frozen fruit. You may also need a couple of minutes of extra baking time as the frozen berries will cool the batter.

Raspberry Rhubarb Muffins with Oat Streusel

Makes 12 muffins

  • 225g (1 3/4 cup + 1 tbsp) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 50g (1 large) egg
  • 175g (3/4 cup) milk
  • 67g (5 tbsp) butter, melted
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 125g (1/2 cup + 1 tbsp) light brown sugar
  • 100g rhubarb, chopped into 1cm pieces
  • 120g raspberries (if frozen, pull apart any that are frozen together but keep frozen until use)

For the streusel:

  • 56g (1/4 cup) butter, melted
  • 35g (2 tbsp + 1 tsp) light brown sugar
  • 60g (1/2 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 25g (1/4 cup) oats
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

To line muffin pan: softened butter or muffin liners

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease a 12-cup nonstick muffin pan. If your pan is not nonstick, use muffin liners.

Make the streusel by whisking together everything except for the butter until evenly distributed, and then stir in the melted butter. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon until everything is evenly distributed. These are the dry ingredients.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg until homogenous. Add the milk, melted butter, and vanilla extract. Stir to combine and then whisk in the sugar. These are the wet ingredients.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry flour mixture and whisk together. It’s easiest to start with a whisk and then switch to a flexible spatula to finish it off. When there are almost no dry flour bits remaining, add the rhubarb and raspberries, folding them in just until they’re evenly distributed, and no more.

Divide the muffin batter evenly between the muffin cups and sprinkle with the streusel. If the streusel seems too fine, you can squeeze it together in your hand to make bigger crumbs. I like to aim for clumps around 5mm-1cm, but they’ll vary considerably.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden. A toothpick inserted in the middle should come out clean save for a couple of crumbs, or the internal temperature should be about 200°F/93°C.

Remove to a wire rack for 10-15 minutes, then carefully remove the muffins from the pan to cool completely on the rack.

Once cooled, these muffins can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 days or frozen in a freezer bag for longer-term storage.

Dulce de Leche Brownies

Jump to recipe

I don’t think you need me to tell you this, but you can make brownies for any occasion.

These are my all-purpose brownie. They’re equally suited for a get-together with friends (remember those?), for a care package, or just a weeknight treat. You can make them when you’re happy. You can make them when you’re sad. They’re never too formal, too finicky, too adult, or too childish. These brownies are rich, chocolatey, a little chewy, and definitely fudgy (even when properly baked through- please don’t undercook your brownies!). The dulce de leche swirl adds fun pockets of creamy dulce de leche, which provides sweetness and a gentle caramel flavour that doesn’t compete with the brownies.

This recipe is adapted from Stella Parks’ brownie recipe. It results in that crackly, glossy top that’s the stuff of legends. Some people theorize that the crackly top layer comes from a combination of butter and cocoa butter (which comes from using chocolate instead of just cocoa). Others say it’s because of how well the sugar is incorporated- the step of whipping the eggs with the sugar allows the sugar to fully dissolve. The brownies get their structure from this whole-egg foam and chocolate: this keeps them rich, chocolatey and moist, but never pasty. Browning the butter adds a lot of depth of flavour, so the result is not just one-dimensionally sweet or chocolatey. I like to add a bit of extra flour so they’re a little chewier than hers, but the texture is still beautifully fudgy by the time they’ve cooled.

Strictly speaking, the dulce de leche swirl is optional but I rarely make these brownies without it. I always have dulce de leche in my cupboard as I just make it in batches (the method I use is fairly hands-off so it’s easy and I’ve included it at the end of the brownie recipe). You can also get it premade in stores, either near the jams or the baking aisle near the condensed milk. The flaky salt is also optional but highly recommended, especially if you do use the dulce de leche. It provides a good counterpoint to both the sweetness of the dulce de leche and the slight bitterness of the dark chocolate.

Notes:

  • I make these in a stand mixer but you can do it with a hand mixer if you don’t have one. If you have a stand mixer you can overlap the butter-browning and egg-whipping steps. If you’re using a hand mixer just brown the butter, stir the chocolate in, and keep it in a warm place until your eggs are whipped. This is also theoretically possible with a whisk but I don’t really recommend it unless you have way more willpower than I do (and start with room temperature eggs).
  • These brownies are rich. I make them in an 8×8 pan and that’s enough for me to have a few and share a few. This will use half a can of dulce de leche, so if you want to use the whole can or intend to share these widely, you can double the quantities easily and bake in a 9×13 pan. You may need to add a couple minutes to the baking time or you can take the temperature of the centre. Be sure to use a metal pan as the cooking time will vary widely if you use a glass or ceramic baking dish.
  • If you want the dulce de leche swirls to be visible from the top, let the batter sit in the baking pan for about 5-10 minutes before swirling in the dulce de leche.
  • If you can’t find dulce de leche, you can use a thick caramel sauce or melt down soft caramels with a small splash of cream, then cool slightly and use.

Dulce de Leche Brownies

Makes 1 8×8 pan of brownies

Ingredients

  • 170g (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
  • 85g 70% dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
  • 225g sugar
  • 27g brown sugar
  • 1 tsp (2g) kosher salt
  • 148g egg (3 large), cold from the fridge
  • 7g (1 1/2 tsp) vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 80g all-purpose flour
  • 50g Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 150g (approx. half a can) of dulce de leche (see note at end)
  • Flaky salt, for sprinking

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8×8 metal baking pan with parchment paper.

To brown the butter, place butter in a saucepan over medium heat, allowing the butter to melt. Once it’s all melted, stir it often with a silicone spatula, making sure to scrape the solid bits off the bottom. Continue heating until the butter foams and the white milk solids start to turn golden brown, then pour it into a heat-safe bowl. Allow to cool for a minute and then add the chopped dark chocolate, stirring to completely melt the chocolate.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the sugar, brown sugar, salt, eggs, vanilla, and instant espresso. Use the whisk attachment to beat the ingredients to thick, pale, and just slightly aerated- this should take around 8-10 minutes on medium-high.

While the egg-sugar mixture is being whipped, sift the flour and cocoa powder together into a medium bowl. If your dulce de leche is solid, warm it slightly to a spreadable consistency and place in a piping or zip-top bag. The bag is optional, but makes the swirling step far less sticky.

Once the eggs are significantly paler and thick, turn the mixer to low and stream in the melted butter/chocolate mixture. Stop the mixer, add the flour and cocoa powder, and then mix on low until just combined. Using a silicone spatula, scrape the sides and the bottom to make sure there aren’t any flour pockets.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan. Either by squeezing out of a bag or by using two spoons, drop dollops of the dulce de leche across the surface of the batter. Pull a butter knife through the dollops to swirl them through the batter.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until the middle is set (doesn’t jiggle when you move the pan) and the internal temperature is about 205°F (96°C). If using, sprinkle with flaky salt when you take the brownies out of the oven.

Cool completely in the pan and then use the parchment overhang to remove the brownies from the pan and cut according to preference. For clean cuts, wipe the sides of the knife between cuts.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature up to 4 days.

Dulce de leche:

I make my own dulce de leche at home as good dulce de leche is not always available in stores near me. I can’t fully endorse this method because of safety reasons, but what I do is:

  • Take the labels off of 300g cans of sweetened condensed milk
  • Place them sideways in the bottom of my tallest pot in a single layer
  • Fill the pot generously with water (at least an inch of water above the top of the cans) and bring to a boil
  • Once it reaches a boil, I turn it down and simmer the cans on the stove for 3-3.5 hours, checking the water level every 30 minutes to make sure it’s at least 1 inch above the top of the cans (this is very important for safety!)
  • After that, I carefully remove the cans from the water and leave them to cool completely before opening, usually overnight (also important for safety!)
  • Unopened, this lasts a couple of months in the cupboard. Once opened, I keep it in the fridge for up to a month.

Everything Bagel Cream Cheese Biscuits

Jump to recipe

What do you do when you’re craving an everything bagel, but don’t have the patience to make bagels or want to leave the house? I don’t know what you do, but I make biscuits.

No one needs my sentimental story about a bagel, but everything bagels were a staple of my “I can’t really be bothered to cook anything but pasta” undergrad years. I’d reward myself for getting up early by swinging by Tim’s on my way to class, stressfully trying to figure out if I had time to stand in line for my bagel and coffee without being that guy who rolls in late with a whole breakfast. Sometimes I’d get herb and garlic cream cheese, which I feel slight remorse about now that I realize that the friend I’d sit next to was probably overwhelmed with my garlicky, oniony self at 8:30 in the morning (sorry, Dave!). Those bagels got me through boring lectures far too early in the morning, late evenings in the lab, and were an excuse to take a much-needed break from cramming for midterms with friends in the library. Years later, I’m partial to the chewiness of Montreal-style bagels (where these toppings are called “all-dressed”) but I still find myself wanting those flavours.

Bagels take hours to make, but biscuits don’t. You can go from “I think I might want some biscuits” to slightly burning your fingertips with hot, buttery goodness in under an hour, which is perfect for a sudden craving. These biscuits are flaky, tender, and buttery, with little pockets of cream cheese, and are studded throughout with everything bagel seasoning. They come together super quickly with the help of a food processor (but still quite easily by hand) and are as suited for breakfast as they are to an afternoon snack or a side to a simple dinner.

To make these biscuits, I prefer a food processor. The cream cheese breaks down into different-sized pieces, and the smallest ones get absorbed into the dough to make it tender and slightly tangy. The larger bits remain intact, for creamy pockets to remind you that you’re eating a biscuit inspired by a bagel. This can be done by hand if you don’t have a food processor, just keep it in mind that you want to smear a bit of it into the dough as you bring it together. There’s baking powder in the dough to leaven it, but you’ll also want to keep the butter in larger pieces to provide steam leavening and layering, similar to making pie dough. Chilling the biscuits briefly as the oven preheats ensures the butter stays cold, so when it goes in the hot oven it has a chance to add some nice layers to the biscuits. The final biscuits are fluffy and tender and are best served warm, whether as a mid-studying treat or a weekend snack at home.

Notes:

  • Everything bagel seasoning is fairly easy to find these days, but I’ve included the recipe I use in case it isn’t sold where you shop. The salt can be adjusted to taste. If you’re using a pre-made one that you think might be a bit on the salty side, reduce the salt in the biscuits by about 1/2 tsp.
  • You don’t need a food processor to make this recipe. If you don’t have one, use a whisk to bring the dry ingredients together, and then just rub the butter and cream cheese pieces into the dough with your fingers until the butter pieces are pea-sized.
  • This recipe can easily be halved. I think that biscuits are best eaten fresh so that’s how I prefer to make them if they won’t all be eaten right away. The dough should be rolled to the same thickness, but the size of the rectangle will just be smaller. You could also make the full amount of dough and freeze half of the unbaked biscuits on a tray, transferring to a freezer bag. To bake from frozen, add a couple of minutes to the end of the baking time.
  • The chives are optional but recommended, especially if you like herb & garlic cream cheese. I really like the freshness they add. If you don’t have chives, you could use finely minced green onions instead or omit them entirely. You could use different herbs, depending on what you’ve got, just make sure they’re fresh rather than dried.

Everything Bagel with Cream Cheese Biscuits

Makes 12 biscuits

  • 400g (approx. 3 cups plus 3 tbsp) all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 4 tbsp everything bagel seasoning
  • 2 tbsp finely minced chives (optional)
  • 140g (10 tbsp) butter, cold, cut into 1cm cubes
  • 110g (1/4 cup) cream cheese, cold, cut into 1cm cubes
  • 260g milk (approx. 1 cup plus 2 tbsp), plus up to 2 tbsp (28g) extra if needed

For finishing: 1 tbsp milk

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the flour, baking powder, sugar, kosher salt, and everything bagel seasoning until combined and well distributed.

Add the cubed cold butter and cream cheese and chives (optional), and pulse a couple of times until the largest chunks are slightly larger than the size of a pea. Dump this out into a medium bowl.

Pour most of the milk over the flour mixture and fold everything together with a spatula. The mixture shouldn’t feel wet, but should be able to hold together if squeezed. It’s okay if there are a couple of dry bits in the bowl- they’ll hydrate as you roll the dough out. If there are a lot of dry bits, add the rest of the milk and mix, and add up to an additional 2 tbsp of milk if it’s still too dry after that. Squeeze the dough together and turn out onto a lightly floured surface.

Roll the dough out to about 1-inch thick rectangle- roughly 8×12 inches. The exact dimensions don’t matter that much, but try to keep the edges straight as best you can. Cut the dough in half horizontally and vertically, and stack those four pieces on top of one another.

Roll the dough again until 1-inch thick, aiming for about a 6×8-inch rectangle. If you want neater biscuits, trim the edges so they’re straight, but it’s not necessary. For squared biscuits, divide the dough into 12 equal-sized pieces, cutting in a grid. For round biscuits, use a 2-2.5-inch round cutter, cutting as many as you can out of the first pass, then flattening the scrap together to make a second pass of cuts.

Place the biscuits on a baking sheet at least 1 inch (2cm) apart and chill in the freezer for 10 minutes.

Right before baking, brush the tops of the biscuits with milk. Bake in the oven at 425°F for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 375°F and bake for an additional 7-9 minutes or until golden brown on top. Serve warm.

Everything Bagel Seasoning

  • 1 tbsp (10g) poppyseeds
  • 1 tbsp (7g) dried minced onion
  • 1 tbsp (9g) dried minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp (7g) black sesame seeds
  • 1 tbsp (8g) white sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp (4g) kosher salt

Combine all of the ingredients into a medium bowl and mix well. Store in an airtight jar. When ready to use, shake the jar first, as the smaller components tend to settle towards the bottom over time.

Blueberry Jam Coffee Cake with Cinnamon Streusel

Jump to recipe

I went overboard with blueberry picking and ended up with 11 lbs of blueberries.

To be fair it was a beautiful day, they looked so good, and I’m still in a bit of denial about the end of summer. But now we’ve got blueberries for days and I’m baking them into everything to keep that last little bit of sunshine going, even as sweater weather starts creeping in.

One of my favourite uses for a bunch of berries is jam cake- it’s a great way to pack a bunch of fruit flavour into a cake without having to worry about it mushing out. You don’t need a mixer to make this cake, and it’s super simple to put together. This cake also doesn’t require ingredients I have to go out and buy, because sometimes I just want something I don’t have to leave the house for. In that spirit, you can also use frozen fruit to make this cake, or just skip that step entirely and use pre-made jam, which I’ve included instructions for below.

This cake is made using the muffin method, where the wet ingredients and dry ingredients are combined separately, then folded together gently to make a batter. Usually the sugar counts as a wet ingredient, but I like to make this cake with the brown sugar in the dry ingredients so I can use the flour to break up the lumps. The batter gets layered with big dollops of jam and then swirled, which results in lots of juicy jam pockets in the final cake. One of the best parts of coffee cake is the streusel crumb topping- this one has a hint of cinnamon. The bonus is that it keeps any bits of jam poking through the top from burning.

Notes:

  • This cake can be baked in different pans, depending on what you’ve got- my favourite is an 8×8 square, but it can also be made in an 8-inch round pan (if it’s 3 inches tall) for a tall cake, or a 9-inch round pan. If you decide to make the tall cake, just keep in mind that it’ll take a bit longer to bake.
  • You can use either fresh or frozen blueberries- either should work since they’re getting cooked down anyway. The lemon juice is just to adjust the taste, which should be slightly tart to offset the sweetness of the cake. If your blueberries are already tart, you might not need the juice at all. Taste the jam near the end of cooking (don’t burn yourself!) and stir in a bit of lemon juice if you think it’s necessary.
  • If you don’t have blueberries, you can use a different type of berry (straining out the seeds if necessary) or sub in already-made jam. If you go the pre-made jam route, use 300g (about 1 cup) of it.

Blueberry Jam Coffee Cake with Cinnamon Streusel

Blueberry Jam

  • 275g blueberries
  • 150g sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • up to 1 tbsp lemon juice, if needed

Streusel

  • 75g brown sugar
  • 75g flour
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 75g butter, room temperature

Cake

  • 325g all-purpose flour
  • 225g light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 200g butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs (about 110g)
  • 175g milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

To make the jam:

  • In a medium saucepan, bring the blueberries and sugar to a boil over medium-high heat. You may need to squish the berries down a bit at first to release their juices- you can do this with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon.
  • Once the berries come to a boil, turn the heat down to medium and simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring frequently with a flexible spatula (especially towards the end of cooking), until reduced to 1 cup of jam. If you’ve got a thermometer, aim for 218°F (103°C). Taste (carefully, as it’s quite hot) and decide if you need to add a bit of lemon juice to make it slightly tart- if so, this is the time to stir it in.
  • Transfer to a heatproof bowl and let cool while you prep the streusel and the cake.

To make the streusel:

  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt until thoroughly combined.
  • Rub the butter into the flour mixture using your fingertips until you get pea-sized clumps. If your kitchen is warm and the butter is getting really soft, you can do this with a fork.
  • Set aside while you prepare the cake batter. If your kitchen is warm, leave it in the fridge.

To make the cake:

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F and prepare your baking pan: line the bottom and sides of the pan with parchment paper. Alternatively, you can grease the pan with butter or nonstick spray and just line the bottom, but the sides will darken a bit more.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and baking powder until thoroughly combined and there are no lumps.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs until smooth and then whisk in the melted butter, milk, and vanilla.
  • Pour the wet ingredients into the flour mixture and fold together with a flexible spatula until just combined and there are no flour streaks visible (don’t overmix!)
  • Spread about half of the batter across the bottom of the pan, from edge to edge.
  • Place large spoonfuls of jam over the surface of the batter- about half of the jam.
  • Spread the rest of the batter over the jam blobs and repeat with the remaining jam.
  • Run a butterknife through the batter to swirl the jam through the cake. The idea is to keep distinct pockets of jam in the cake, so swirl just enough to make sure it’s evenly distributed across the batter.
  • Sprinkle the streusel evenly over the top of the cake.
  • Bake the cake for 60-75 minutes (for the 8×8 square or 9-inch round pan), until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out with only a couple of crumbs stuck to it (no batter), or an instant-read thermometer reads 210°F (98°C). If you opted for the 8×3 round pan, it’ll take longer- about 80 minutes or so.
  • Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.
  • To remove, run an offset spatula or butter knife along the edges to release the cake. Invert the cake carefully (and confidently!) onto a plate, and then re-vert the cake back onto the plate you intend to serve the cake on.
  • Serve immediately, and store leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Boerenkool Stamppot

Jump to recipe

This is the first meal I had with my in-laws. I met them over a long weekend, several years ago- my partner and I had been dating for a month, and his family came up for a visit. I remember being a little nervous when they’d decided to make it for dinner, since I had just met them (they were all so tall!) and I didn’t know what the dish was from the name. At the time I was worried that: 1) it would turn out to be something difficult to eat and I’d embarrass myself, like a toddler trying to navigate shellfish, or 2) it would be something complicated that I’d find out I was super allergic to and have a medical emergency in front of my boyfriend’s family that I’d just met.

That wasn’t the case, thankfully- it’s actually a super simple dish, and as approachable as my in-laws turned out to be. After some googling around, I found out that it loosely translates to “farmer’s cabbage hodgepodge”, which is a pretty great name in my opinion. My partner’s family originates from the Netherlands (though the only Dutch I’ve ever heard from him is a children’s song). This was my introduction to Dutch food, and a tasty one at that. I’m very grateful they didn’t start me off with salted liquorice, which came later.

The main components of boerenkool stamppot are sausage, mashed potatoes, and kale: all things I love. As far as I know it’s usually all boiled, but my partner and I have adjusted it throughout the years to suit the way we cook and what we’ve got in the kitchen. In lieu of a more traditional smoked sausage, we often use raw sausages if that’s what we’ve got on hand. We’ve added onion and garlic, which get sauteed with the sausage and kale, and spiced with whatever we’re in the mood for. It’s a really easy meal to throw together, and especially comforting when the weather turns cool.

Boerenkool Stamppot

Serves 3-4

  • 1kg (2.5lb) russet potatoes
  • 500g (about 1lb) sausages, either raw or smoked
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch (about 300g) kale, leaves torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 tbsp (30mL) neutral oil (sunflower, canola, etc.)
  • 1/4 cup (56g) butter
  • 1/4 cup (60g) milk
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp fresh thyme
  • Kosher salt
  • Black pepper

Mashed potatoes:

Peel the potatoes and cut into equal-sized chunks, about 3cm in width. Cover with water and bring to a boil then turn down to a simmer, continuing to cook until the potatoes can be easily pierced by a fork. Drain the potatoes and return them to the pot- mash them with the butter and milk. Season generously with salt, pepper, paprika, and thyme.

Everything else:

While the potatoes are simmering, slice the sausage into 1cm thick rounds.

Heat up a tablespoon of neutral oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sliced sausage rounds in a single layer and let sit undisturbed until browned, about 2-3 minutes. Flip the rounds so the other side can brown for about 2-3 minutes.

Add the diced onions to the pan and reduce the heat to medium, stirring occasionally until the onions become translucent. Stir in the garlic and let cook for a minute or so, until fragrant. If the pan is full, remove the contents of the pan to a bowl and add the second tablespoon of neutral oil to the pan. Add the kale to the skillet and stir until just wilted, and season with salt and pepper. Stir together with the sausages, onion, and garlic.

Mix the sausage and kale mixture into the mashed potatoes, season to taste, and serve.

Note:

If the sausages are raw, make sure you’re using a sharp knife to slice them so they don’t just squish part. If that’s the case, cook the sausages whole about halfway to done, slice them, and return them to the pan.

If the sausages are already smoked you can remove them from the skillet after they’ve browned, before adding the onions, then add them back when everything gets mixed into the mashed potatoes.

Chinese Almond Cookies

Jump to recipe

For someone who isn’t terribly fancy, I’ve had a lot of ten course meals.

Growing up, my family was pretty involved in a Hakka cultural association- in particular, one with a lot of Hakka Chinese people who had come from Jamaica. It was really nice to know so many people with a similar cultural background, though confusing- we’d call all the adults “auntie” or “uncle” and I used to think my family was way larger than it actually is! One of the events we’d go to with this association was an annual 10-course meal (a lot of seafood) at a huge Chinese restaurant. There were a lot of cool things I recall from those dinners- we got to hang out with our cousins, there were a lot of lion dances (which low-key frighten me to this day), and some other interesting demos. But one thing I remember particularly well is the dessert.

By the time the dessert course rolls around, you’re pretty full- they’re small portions over a few hours, but 10 portions add up. Dessert usually meant red bean soup and a platter of little golden almond cookies mysteriously surrounded by a ring of red Jello cubes tossed in dried coconut shreds. Despite having eaten a big meal with a child-sized stomach, I always had room for these treats. Our kids’ table would finish the desserts and then go grab extras from the adults, and these little almond cookies were like a tiny prize for sitting through a long dinner in fancy clothes.

Chinese almond cookies are crispy but crumbly, like a slightly airier shortbread. I love the mottled, crackly tops- to me, they’re a sign that the texture inside is going to be perfect. The cracked tops happen when the outside sets ever so slightly before the inside is done rising, so baking powder (which is active in the oven!) and a tender dough are ideal for this. To get that tender dough, I like to use pastry flour- its low protein content makes it harder for the cookies to become tough and chewy instead of delicately crunchy. A small amount of almond flour helps to further maintain this tenderness since almond flour doesn’t contribute to gluten formation, and boosts the almondy-ness of the cookies.

When you get almond cookies in stores or at restaurants, they can sometimes be almost neon yellow. My version doesn’t involve food colouring so they’re a little less neon and a little more golden. You can add food colouring if you’d like, but to naturally boost the colour you can opt for organic, free-range, or free-run eggs: those tend to have the most vibrant yolks because of what the hens eat.

Notes:

  • To decorate the tops of the cookies, you can use blanched almonds, sliced, slivered, whatever. I’ve included instructions at the end if you have raw almonds you’d like to blanch but you can leave the skins on if you’d like, or omit the almonds on top if you’d prefer.
  • For the almond extract, I would recommend against using more than 1/2 tsp in this recipe- any more and it can get a bit cloying. You can use a bit less if you’d like. I like Nielsen Massey’s pure almond extract, but you can use whichever kind you have.

Chinese Almond Cookies

Makes about 3 dozen small cookies

  • 200g pastry flour
  • 30g almond flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking power
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp kosher salt (or pinch fine salt)
  • 115g (1/2 cup) butter, softened to room temperature
  • 100g (1/2 cup) sugar
  • 3 large egg yolks (about 60g), divided (keep 1 separate for the egg wash)
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract (no more than 1/2 tsp)
  • Optional: 1/2 cup blanched (or sliced, or slivered) almonds, for decoration

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, cream together the butter, sugar, and salt on medium speed until slightly pale, about 2 minutes.

Gently beat the egg yolks in a small bowl to break them up, then add them to the butter and sugar mixture with the almond extract and mix on medium for about 1 minute, pausing to scrape the bowl and beater once halfway.

Whisk the flour, almond flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl, breaking up any lumps with the whisk.

Add the flour mixture to the rest of the ingredients and mix on low until combined and the cookie dough starts to come together as a cohesive mass, about 1-2 minutes.

To make the egg wash, whisk the third egg yolk with a tablespoon of water in a small bowl until smooth.

Scoop the cookie dough out into 1 tablespoon portions. If you don’t have a scoop, they’re about 14g or you can eyeball them- just make sure they’re all the same (keeping in mind that they’ll have to bake a couple of minutes longer if they’re larger). Roll the dough portions in your palms to create little dough balls, and place them about 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Gently press the dough balls down with your index and middle fingers so they have a flat top, and are about 1 cm thick. Brush them lightly on the top and sides with egg wash and decorate with almonds. I like to use one blanched almond in the middle, but you can use sliced almonds, sprinkle with slivered almonds, etc. if you prefer.

Bake the cookies for 18-20 minutes, rotating the trays once around the 15-minute mark. Remove the cookies from the oven when they’re slightly golden brown along the edges. Transfer to a wire rack after a few minutes to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

To blanch almonds:

  • Bring a pot of water to a boil.
  • Once the water is boiling, drop in the almonds and boil for no more than one minute.
  • Pour them out into a fine mesh strainer and immediately rinse with cold water until no longer hot.
  • Drain and lay them out on a paper towel while you remove the skins, which should appear wrinkled.
  • To remove the skins, pinch the almond on the narrower end. The almond will shoot out, so cup your other hand around to catch it! Repeat with the remaining almonds.
  • Lay the skinned almonds out on a paper towel while you make the cookie dough.

Peach Melba Choux au Craquelin

Jump to recipe

It’s peach season!

Few things in the world smell as good as a ripe peach (in my opinion), and I just want to put them in everything. They go well with so many summer desserts, and I often pair them with the loads of berries we’ve got on hand. One classic combination I love is peach melba. Peach melba consists of peaches with raspberry sauce and vanilla ice cream, and it’s basically summer in a bowl. Since peaches are in season, I’m looking for ways to use all of the peaches I’ve impulse-bought out of local fruit excitement. I’ve also got a bunch of eggs due to some poorly planned groceries on my part and have been thinking about making cream puffs with them for a while.

This dessert is a mix of two traditional dishes- peach melba and choux au craquelin. Choux au craquelin are cream puffs with a crunchy, cookie-like topping- they’re made with a paste that’s somewhere between a batter and a dough. To make the dough, the liquid (plus most of the fat) is heated up on the stove, and then the flour is added. Like in hot water doughs (eg. scallion pancakes), the heat denatures some of the gluten (reducing elasticity) and gelatinizes the starch, which allows the flour to hold on to more water than it otherwise could. When the paste is baked, that water turns to vapour and leavens the dough. Eggs are beaten in and the dough becomes rich and sticky. They’re baked at a high temperature, which sets the outside crust before the inside, squeezing the inner bubbles together into one big bubble (or a couple of large ones). The craquelin topping also forces the dough to rise symmetrically, and the result is a delicately crisp, crunchy-topped pastry balloon that’s almost impossibly light for its size.

For the peach melba-inspired filling, the peaches are reduced in a quick compote, the vanilla ice cream is replaced with a vanilla diplomat cream, and the raspberries are turned into a curd (basically a fruit custard). Diplomat cream is made from a custard called pastry cream, lightened up with some whipped cream- sometimes it’s stabilized with gelatin, but since these are meant to be eaten right away I don’t bother with it. I love raspberry curd and could eat it with a spoon, it’s rich but has my ideal tart-sweet balance, so it doesn’t feel heavy. These changes make the cream puffs a little more resistant to melting or sogging out since the liquid doesn’t soak into the cream puffs as readily, something you’d get if you just used the classic components unchanged.

Most of the components can be made ahead of time and just assembled when you intend to serve. If it sounds like more prep than you care to do, you can make a simpler version by filling them with diced peaches and raspberry sauce (see the peach compote directions, or just use fresh raspberries) and either vanilla ice cream or whipped cream (instructions below). Just know that if you sub the components out, you should assemble them immediately before serving so those liquids don’t have a chance to melt or make the choux soggy. I’d also advise filling my version right before serving, but you can do it anytime the same day (or overnight if you really need to) and keep them refrigerated.

For the “puff” part of these cream puffs, I used a recipe by Erin at Cloudy Kitchen. Her recipe is great- it’s worked every time I’ve tried it, and the craquelin is probably my favourite part. The recipe on her site makes about twice as many puffs as you’ll need for this recipe. I’ve listed it halved but if you want, you can make the full recipe and freeze the choux either piped out, unbaked (and unadorned with the craquelin), or fully baked with the craquelin. Instead of dark brown sugar, I blended light brown and muscovado sugars for flavour. It’s important to keep the craquelin top frozen until it goes into the oven, so if you can only bake one tray of choux at a time, don’t top the second tray until it’s about to go in the oven.

Peach Melba Choux au Craquelin

Craquelin

  • 50g unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 60g all-purpose flour
  • 30g light brown sugar
  • 30g muscovado sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste

Choux paste

  • 62g whole milk
  • 62g water
  • 55g unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
  • 8g sugar
  • 82g all-purpose flour
  • 120g eggs, beaten (about 2 and a half eggs, keep the other half in case it’s too thick)

Raspberry curd

  • 175g raspberries
  • 55g butter
  • 75g sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 yolks from large eggs (about 55g)
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt

Peach compote

  • 340g peaches, peeled and diced (about 3-4, depending on size)
  • 40g sugar
  • 2 tsp lemon juice

Diplomat cream

  • 3 egg yolks from large eggs (about 55g)
  • 100g sugar
  • 22g cornstarch
  • 250g whole milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla paste, divided
  • 250g 35% cream (aka heavy/whipping cream), cold from the fridge

Optional sub for diplomat cream:

  • 470g 35% cream (aka heavy/whipping cream), cold from the fridge
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
  • 25g sugar

To make the craquelin:

  • Mix all of the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, and beat until combined.
  • Turn the bowl out onto a sheet of parchment paper, and lay another sheet of parchment paper over top.
  • Roll the dough flat, about 2-3mm thick.
  • Freeze flat for at least 1 hour, sandwiched between parchment sheets.
  • Can be made ahead.

To make the raspberry curd:

  • In a medium saucepan, combine the raspberries, lemon juice, kosher salt, and half of the sugar over medium heat and bring to a simmer.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining half of the sugar and the egg yolks.
  • When the raspberries reach a simmer, turn the heat off and pour about 1/2 cup into the egg mixture (just eyeball it), and whisk immediately until combined.
  • Pour the egg mixture back into the raspberry pot and bring up to a simmer over low-medium heat, whisking constantly.
  • When the mixture has simmered for about 1 minute, pour into a fine mesh strainer set over a medium bowl, pushing the mixture through with a spatula.
  • Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly into the top of the curd, and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
  • Can be made a day or two ahead (keep covered in plastic in the fridge).

To make the diplomat cream:

  • Bring the milk and a teaspoon of the vanilla to a simmer on the stove on medium heat, stirring occasionally.
  • Meanwhile, whisk together the sugar and cornstarch in a medium bowl, then add the egg yolks and whisk to combine.
  • When the milk reaches a simmer, turn off the heat and pour about 1/2 cup of the milk into the egg mixture, whisking immediately to combine.
  • Add the egg yolk mixture back into the pot with the rest of the milk and turn to low-medium, whisking constantly.
  • The mixture should start to bubble slowly and suddenly thicken- allow it to bubble for a minute, whisking constantly.
  • Pour into a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl to strain out any lumps, then cover with plastic wrap pressed directly onto the surface of the custard and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
  • When you’re ready to assemble the cream puffs, whip the cream with the remaining vanilla with a whisk until you get firm peaks.
  • Using the whisk, mix up the custard to loosen it up, just until smooth.
  • Add the custard to the whipped cream and gently fold it together with a spatula (avoid deflating the whipped cream), mixing just until no streaks of custard remain.
  • Transfer to a large piping bag fitted with the tip of your choice. I opted for an open star tip, but you can use whatever you’d like. If you don’t have one, you can use a freezer bag with one of the corners snipped about 1cm up, or just fill the puffs using a spoon.
  • The pastry cream can be made the day before (keep tightly covered with plastic wrap in the fridge).

To make the choux:

  • Prepare your trays- cut out parchment paper to fit them and use a pencil or pen to trace 1.5 inch (38mm) circles using a cookie cutter, at least 2 inches apart from each other. Flip the paper over so the side you’ve written on is on the bottom.
  • Turn your oven on to 400°F and fit a large piping bag with a round tip (you can do this in a freezer bag in a pinch but it may be more difficult to pipe).
  • In a medium saucepan, combine milk, water, butter, salt, sugar, vanilla paste and bring to a simmer over medium heat. When it reaches a simmer, remove from the heat.
  • Add the flour all at once and stir vigorously- it should combine into a cohesive ball.
  • Return the pan to the stove and continue cooking on medium for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly- by the end of the two minutes, there should be a film on the bottom of the pot.
  • Add the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer and beat using the paddle attachment for about a minute on medium to cool the mixture down.
  • Slowly stream in the beaten eggs with the mixer turned to low, turn the mixer back up to medium, and continue until combined.
  • The paste should be able to more or less hold its shape- when you pull the beater out of the paste, some of the paste should hang off the beater in a “V” shape. If it’s too thick to do that, add the remaining half of the reserved egg and beat until combined.
  • Transfer the paste to the prepared piping bag.
  • One tray at a time, pipe little mounds of choux paste onto your parchment, using the circles you traced as a size guide.
  • Remove the craquelin dough sheet from the freezer. Using the cookie cutter you traced earlier, cut out little rounds and place them on top of the choux mounds like little hats. Return the craquelin sheet to the freezer until you’re ready to bake the next tray.
  • Bake the choux at 400°F for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350°F and bake for another 15-20 minutes until brown. While you’re waiting for them to bake, prepare the next tray but don’t top them with craquelin until they’re ready to bake (keep it frozen).
  • Transfer to a cooling rack and using a paring knife or toothpick, poke a hole in an inconspicuous part on the side to allow steam to escape while the puffs cool.
  • Return the oven to 400°F and repeat with the remaining trays.

To make the peach compote:

  • In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil over medium heat. Continue simmering for about 30 minutes, until most of the liquid is reduced and it has the texture of a runny jam.
  • Can be made a day or two in advance, stored in the refrigerator.
  • If you want to make the raspberry sauce option instead of the curd, follow this recipe but sub raspberries for the peaches and strain in a fine mesh sieve after cooking to remove the seeds.

To assemble:

  • Using your sharpest serrated knife, cut off the top 1/3 of the choux puffs.
  • Add about 1-2 teaspoons of the raspberry curd to the bottom of the puff, followed by the same amount of peach compote.
  • Pipe a generous amount of the diplomat cream (or vanilla whipped cream, or ice cream) over the base, and cover with the top 1/3 of the puff.
  • Serve immediately. Can be stored in the refrigerator up to 1-2 days, but they’re best fresh.

Lighten up: let’s talk leavening

A pastry instructor I once had used to tell us that bakers make their living selling air. It sounds deceptive, but that’s part of why baked goods are so delicious (and don’t break your teeth!). Air bubbles make cakes fluffy, make breads soft (not gummy or hard), meringues pillowy, and more. And part of the job of a baker is using techniques and ingredients that give the right amount of air to a baked good in order to produce a desired texture.

There are different types of leavening. Broadly, the ones of interest in a home kitchen are:

  • Natural and chemical leavening (agents that produce gas)
  • Mechanical leavening (incorporating air into a batter or dough)
  • Steam (present in all baked goods, especially important in some)

Natural leavening agents

Natural leavening agents like the yeasts found in sourdough cultures produce gas pockets within doughs.

Natural leavening agents include yeast- both commercially available strains and naturally occurring yeasts in sourdough cultures. Different types of yeasts are suited for different tasks, but they all use the same process: fermentation. Yeasts take sugars available in a dough or batter (either added in, or produced by enzymes in the flour or yeast itself) and metabolize them into carbon dioxide and ethanol. These gases need to be trapped until the dough or batter sets, which happens in the oven as the items bake. Because they’re living organisms, yeasts act at different rates depending on the temperature of the dough: they’re inactive below 0°C, very sluggish at fridge temperatures, most active from 20-30°C, and permanently inactive past 60°C (RIP). They’re the slowest of all of the leaveners, but they do produce flavour compounds like “yeasty” smelling esters and aldehydes. By lowering the temperature of the dough, you can allow leavening to happen slowly enough that the yeasts can also produce these flavours, usually by doing one of the rises in the fridge.

Chemical leavening agents

Chemical leavening agents like baking soda and baking powder produce many small gas pockets that produce a fine texture.

Chemical leavening agents produce gas through chemical reactions that occur in the presence of water. Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is an alkaline (basic, the opposite of acidic) ingredient that releases carbon dioxide when it reacts with an acid in water- this reaction happens as soon as the ingredients come in contact and doesn’t require heat. Baking soda should be balanced with the acid in a recipe- that usually comes from things like brown sugar, buttermilk, yogurt, fruit juice, and natural cocoa- otherwise they can taste bitter and soapy from an overly alkaline mix.

Baking powder is another chemical leavener that has both the acid and the base included. Baking powders act at two stages- once at mixing and again in the presence of heat. These are called double-acting baking powders, but single-acting baking powders are pretty uncommon. Because baking powders are already balanced independently of the other ingredients, they can be added in greater quantities than baking soda. However, using too much baking powder (like way more than a recipe calls for) can give you “off” flavours and excessive rise that can’t be supported. That produces things like a cake that rises beautifully at first but ends up sinking in the middle. Baking powders are also good for things that don’t see heat right away, like a pancake batter that rests.

Mechanical leavening

Whipping (eggs or cream) and creaming (butter with sugar) adds air pockets to a batter.

Another commonly used strategy is mechanical leavening: introducing air through the process of mixing. Cookies and cakes are often made using the creaming method- butter and sugar are beaten together until light and fluffy, then the other ingredients are added in stages. The act of creaming together the butter and sugar causes the sugar to punch tiny holes in the butter- these little bubbles are how air is incorporated, and the volume of the entire mix increases. Meringues (and any foamed eggs like in sponge cakes) hold air in the eggs as well, which is introduced by lots of whisking and is held inside the mixture with egg proteins. In most of these cooked applications, the increase in volume due to incorporated air is noticeable before baking, and then air held inside these mixes expands when heated, creating rise in the oven.

Steam

Steam can produce big bubbles in choux puffs without any additional leavening agents.

Steam can produce some of the most dramatic leavening in baked goods. This is particularly noticeable in something like puff pastry or choux paste (the dough used for eclairs, cream puffs, etc. pictured above). Essentially, when the dough/batter/etc. is heated up and baked, the water inside the mixture turns to water vapour, expanding in bubbles to many times its own size. This water can come from the dough/batter itself, or from components like butter that’s been rolled in (as in laminated doughs), or a combination of both. That expansion forces the mixture to expand as a whole and makes the baked item less dense than when it went into the oven (with some of the water vapour escaping once it’s done its job expanding the dough/batter). As baking goes on, the structure of the expanded bubbles sets (due to some combination of starches, proteins, etc. depending on the baked item). Some items are leavened entirely by steam like in the case of puff pastry and choux, but pretty much all baked goods are leavened by steam to some extent.

Note that baked goods often use more than one type of leavening, and that they often overlap. For example, a cake made using the creaming method would utilize mechanical leavening to add air bubbles into the butter before the other ingredients are added, but usually involves a leavening agent like baking powder, and may be leavened to a certain extent by the steam produced as water turns to vapour in the batter as it bakes.

Custards: don’t lose your temper making this egg-celent dessert

For someone who doesn’t really like eggs, I buy a ton of them.

Eggs are incredibly useful in baking- they add structure but also tenderness, they increase volume, bind liquids, and are the basis of meringues, some buttercreams, and more. Eggs can do it all.

One of their classic uses apart from basic cakes and cookies is custards, which are a pretty broad group of (mainly dairy-based) dishes ranging from ice cream to cheesecake, to fruit curds, and quiches. Custards are a great skill to have in your arsenal- I like to make pastry cream to fill tarts and cream puffs, and I really like making fruit curds from sour fruits like raspberry, rhubarb, and lemon (technically, rhubarb is a vegetable but I use it as a fruit). Making a custard has a bit of a reputation for being finicky, but it really just comes down to heat control and tempering.

Most of the custards I make are stirred custards, which are cooked on the stove. Some people advocate for using a double boiler, but I find if you can keep the heat low, you don’t really need it. For milk-based custards (which is most of them), there are two keys to success: don’t overheat your milk, and make sure to temper your eggs.

Generally, stirred custards follow the same steps: bring the milk up to a boil, turn the heat down, whisk together some sugar and eggs, drizzle some hot milk into those eggs, whisk everything together in the pot, and cook until thickened.

The milk is what’s used to cook the eggs, and it’s also what the eggs are thickening. The milk is heated gently to avoid curdling. The eggs are whisked together with some (or all) of the sugar, which helps homogenize the eggs and prevent lumps. (A word of advice: if the recipe has starch, you can whisk the sugar and starch together to prevent the starch from clumping, and then mix the starchy sugar with the eggs.) Then, a small portion of the hot milk is whisked into the eggs, and that mixture gets whisked back into the rest of the hot milk and cooked.

That step of pouring milk into the eggs, then eggs back into the liquid is called tempering. The idea is to slowly raise the temperature of the eggs so they don’t scramble as soon as they’re dumped into a big volume of hot liquid. Without the tempering step, when you add eggs straight into hot milk, the egg proteins immediately tighten up from the drastic temperature change. They clump together and you’ll have scrambled eggs floating in milk. The sugar and starch (often cornstarch) in the egg mixture also help prevent curdling. By adding them to the eggs before cooking, they keep the egg proteins from aggregating by getting in between the proteins. The sugar’s also there for flavour. The starch acts as a thickener: starch molecules form a network that keeps both the milk proteins and egg proteins from sticking together, while providing some structure to the final custard.

The idea with custards is to have the egg proteins distributed throughout the mixture- they can link up (which thickens everything), but more like a network rather than like clumps within the liquid. This perfect doneness exists between “not cooked enough” and “overcooked and weeping” (egg proteins network too tightly and squeeze the water out of the mixture). The faster the egg proteins start to link up, the smaller the window for perfect doneness. Cooking a custard slowly with gentle heat is the best way to prevent gross lumps in the finished product- first raising the temperature gently by tempering, and then by cooking over low heat. That way, you’ll have plenty of time to notice that the custard is at the right doneness, and stop the cooking.

Fruit-based custards like lemon curds replace the milk with fruit juice or puree and don’t have the same danger of curdling that you get with milk, but they should be reduced before adding the eggs to reduce weeping.

For a slightly more technical (but incredibly more goofy-looking) explainer on what happens when you heat milk and eggs too quickly, please enjoy these scribble diagrams from my old food science blog of yesteryear:


Why it’s important not to overheat low-fat milk:

Milk has 3 main components: water, milk proteins, and fat (lots in butter, hardly any in skim milk). In most cases, all of these hang out in the form of a colloid, which is kind of like a solution, except that rather than dissolving, the constituents are just too small to really separate out well. The proteins’ resting state (without changes to their pH or temperature) is their native conformation. When it’s heated, the proteins unfold, and are considered denatured (ie. changed in shape and they don’t work the same way).

Generally, cream can be boiled without terrible consequences- the fat gets in the way of the milk proteins so they can’t get tangled and stuck on one another. However, when lower fat milk is heated too hot, the proteins will curdle and form clumps. This is good for cheese, but not so good for a smooth custard.

Adding a starch helps prevent this curdling. The amounts added to custard won’t really have much of an effect on the temperature, but it will help by adding starch molecules, which form a net that keeps the proteins away from one another.

Tempering eggs:

Normally, the proteins in eggs (there are multiple kinds, but for our purposes, they’re all orange squiggles) exist within the liquid individually, in a more or less defined conformation. When you heat eggs, the proteins become denatured (ie. they unfold).

If enough heat is applied, these proteins will bunch up into little aggregates, or clumps, and separate out from the other stuff. In this case, water and fat.

When the proteins aggregate, the egg is cooked (or in this case, curdled). In a custard, we don’t want the egg proteins to bunch up like this, as it will produce scrambled eggs in a milk bath. Yuck.
However, if you temper them and increase their heat slowly while mixing them, the egg proteins won’t bunch up with one another so tightly. There will still be some combining, but it won’t be so separate from the rest of the constituents and the bonding will actually add structure to the resultant custard. 

Carmelitas

Jump to recipe

Sometimes you just want something super indulgent and easy to make.

That’s where carmelitas come in. They’re the bar cookies I didn’t know I was missing until I had them, and they’re the perfect thing to have while sipping a coffee. Carmelitas are what you might get if you crossed a Twix bar with a buttery oatmeal cookie, and they don’t require a mixer to make. The base is the same mix as the topping, with a layer of dark chocolate chunks and a thick layer of caramel in the middle. They’re rich, sticky, and a little gooey in the best possible way.

These carmelitas involve a simple homemade caramel sauce. It’s flavourful and silky, and with a thermometer it’s easy to get the perfect consistency. However, you could use dulce de leche or a storebought caramel sauce if you don’t feel like making it. I’ve included directions for that below. Just make sure you choose one that’s thick and spreadable. Warm it slightly while the cookie base is baking so it’s pourable when you need it. The caramel makes the bars quite sweet so I like to add 1/4 tsp of kosher salt to the sauce while warming it up, but that step isn’t necessary if you make the caramel yourself. I’d opt for a darker chocolate- the slight bitterness also helps balance the bars out quite nicely, so I usually use one in the 70% range. I personally like the irregular texture of chopped chocolate, but you can use chips if you prefer.

A few notes on making caramel:

  • A candy or instant-read thermometer goes a long way here- I’ve given general endpoints and times, but they’ll depend on your stove so temperature is a good way to go. I usually just use an instant-read (the same one I use for meat) that can read up to at least 350°F.
  • Boiling sugar is kind of like a toddler- when you can’t hear it, that’s when you need to be paying extra attention. Once the water boils off, the bubbling will start to get quieter and the temperature will start to rise rapidly, so make sure you have the cream ready to go before that and don’t walk away from the stove.
  • Using cream that’s cold from the fridge means that the caramel will stop darkening as soon as you add it, so cook it to a medium amber colour before adding the cream for the best flavour.
  • Cooking the caramel (after adding the cream) to 235°F means it’ll be soft and gooey but still hold its shape in the bars when cut- if it’s much harder or runnier than that it’s probably been cooked too hot or not quite enough. It’ll still be delicious, just a bit messy!
  • Be careful! Boiling sugar can get much hotter than water and it’ll stick to your skin. It’ll bubble a lot when you add the cream, so err on the side of using a larger pot.
  • Let the bars finish cooling a bit longer than you think- sugar stays warm for a long time. If you cut the bars before they’re cool, the caramel might still be a bit liquid and stick to everything.
  • Store these bars in an airtight container. Sugar is hygroscopic-it attracts moisture, so the caramel will get softer and stickier over a few days as it pulls moisture from the air, especially if it’s humid in your home.
  • These bars will last a couple of days at room temperature, but honestly I can’t speak to longer than two days because they don’t last that long around here!

Carmelitas

Caramel sauce:

  • 100g water
  • 225g granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp (2g) kosher salt
  • 200g 35% (aka heavy/whipping) cream, cold from the fridge

Carmelitas

  • 125g (1 cup) flour
  • 100g (1 cup) large flake oats
  • 125g (about 1/2 cup, packed) brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • Pinch of cinnamon (optional)
  • 115g (1/2 cup) butter, room temperature
  • 80g (about 1/2 cup) chopped dark chocolate
  • About 300 mL (1 1/4 cups) caramel sauce (add 1/4 tsp kosher salt if store bought)

To make the caramel sauce:

In a large saucepan, bring the water, sugar, and salt to a boil over medium heat. If you need to, you can swirl the pan gently while it comes to a boil so the sugar can all dissolve. When it starts boiling, stop swirling the pan- if there are sugar crystals stuck to the side, you can take a wet pastry brush to them so they dissolve into the boiling sugar syrup. Alternatively, you can cover with a lid for a minute or two so the steam dissolves the sugar. Make sure you have the cream scaled out, because when it starts taking on colour you’ll need to act quickly.

When the syrup has been boiling for a few minutes, it’ll start to turn the colour of honey, then quickly turn amber- as soon as it reaches amber (about 350°F if you have a thermometer), pour in the cream and stir constantly with a spatula or wooden spoon. It’ll bubble pretty vigorously, so be careful not to let it boil over. Keep stirring over medium heat until the mixture reaches 235°F (this takes about 10 minutes for me with the stove set to medium heat).

As soon as the mixture reaches 235°F, carefully pour into a heatproof bowl and set aside while you prepare the carmelitas.

To make the carmelitas:

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Line an 8×8 square pan with parchment paper so the bottom is covered and there’s a bit of overhang on each side. You’ll use this as a sling to remove the bars from the pan, and the parchment will help with cleanup. If the parchment flops into the pan, you can secure it to the sides of the pan with un-painted binder clips.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, oats, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt with your hands or a spoon until everything is well combined.

Add the room temperature butter and rub it in into the dry ingredients between your fingertips. Keep rubbing the butter in until you get pea-sized clumps, and everything is more or less evenly distributed.

Add half of that crumbly oat mixture to the lined square pan and press across the base of the pan until completely covered. Press flat using your fingertips or something with a flat bottom- an offset spatula or the bottom of a cup measure works well.

Bake for 10 minutes at 350°F.

Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle evenly with the chopped chocolate. Pour the caramel sauce over the chopped chocolate, carefully tipping the pan as needed to ensure the caramel reaches the edges.

Sprinkle evenly with the remaining oat mixture and return to the oven for 15-20 minutes until the top is lightly browned and the caramel is bubbling at the edges.

Cool completely (at least 3 hours or overnight) before slicing.