This Good Friday labour is always worth it (I use this great recipe). I didn’t grow up with Paska (or ‘cake bread’ as a dear 5-year old friend named it at Saturday brunch) but now I can’t imagine Easter without it.


Berry Charlotte

I have always wanted to attempt a namesake Charlotte dessert for my mum-in-law’s birthday and this year, the stars aligned to make the experiment possible. I wish I hadn’t waited so long because it was as delicious as it was impressive.

A few notes- A traditional Charlotte is filled with a cooked custard bavarois but I went with an easier gelatin set mixture of pureed berries and whipped cream.  And while the homemade ladyfinger sponge cookies do take a bit to master (I learned it’s not possible to skip the instructions on these), you could pick up a few packets of store bought ones to substitute. If you use store bought ladyfingers, cut the sponge recipe in half for just the cake base. Shortcuts aside, do consider making a Charlotte for a special occasion dessert. The end result is certainly worth the effort.

Mixed Berry Charlotte

adapted from The Joy of Baking and Patisserie Made Simple by Edd Kimber
serves 10

Berry Sauce
1 cup of frozen raspberries
1 cup of frozen strawberries
1/3 cup (65g) white sugar

Ladyfingers and Sponge Cake
5 large eggs, separated
2/3 cup (130g) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup (200g) sifted flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 cup icing sugar

Mixed Berry Cream
1 1/2 cup (180 ml) berry sauce (recipe above)
2 envelopes (1/2 ounce or 14 grams) unflavored powdered gelatin
4 oz (half a block) cream cheese
1/4 cup (60 g) white sugar
2 cup (500 ml) cold heavy whipping cream

Berry Sauce: Place frozen berries in a bowl to thaw. Once thawed, puree completely in blender or food processor. Strain to remove raspberry seeds. Mix with sugar and stir well to dissolve, adding more to taste if necessary. Refrigerate up to a week until ready to make Mixed Berry Cream. Yield is ~1 1/2 cups.

Ladyfingers and Sponge Cake: Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. To make the piping of the cookies easier, use a pencil and ruler to divide the parchment paper into three  3 1/4 long inch rows across the narrow side of the paper, spacing the rows by at least one inch (2.5 cm). Have ready a large pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) plain round tip (I used a large ziploc bag and snipped a corner opening). Line the bottom of an an 9 inch springform pan with parchment paper and spray entire pan (and paper) with nonstick spray.

Separate the eggs while they are still cold, cover both with plastic wrap and let sit ~30 minutes to rise to room temperature.  Beat the egg yolks and 1/3 cup white sugar on high speed for at least 5 minutes until the mixture becomes thick,  pale yellow and when you raise the beaters the batter falsl back in a slow ribbon. Add the vanilla and mix well. Sift the cake flour and salt over the batter but do not fold in to the yolks. In a clean bowl glass or metal bowl, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 1/3 cup white sugar and whip until stiff peaks form and the whites are glossy. Continue beating until the sugar is dissolved and you can not feel any grit when you rub a drop of the mixture between two fingers. Gently fold in in one third of the whites into the egg yolk mixture, mixing only until the whites are incorporated (the flour will not completely be mixed in). Repeat with another third of the egg whites, then again with the final third, continuing folding after the final addition until everything is incorporated.

Transfer the batter to your pastry bag and hold the bag at a 45 degree angle to the baking sheet. Pipe 3 1/4 inch long ladyfingers, using the lines drawn on the underside of the parchment paper as a guide. Space the ladyfingers approximately 2 inches apart and fill both of the baking sheets. I fit 15 ladyfingers on each sheet – 30 in total gave me enough for a 9 inch cake with a few leftover for good measure.

Sift half the piped cookies with a light dusting of powdered sugar then bake for about 8 minutes or until the ladyfingers are firm but barely brown and are still soft and spongy when lightly pressed. Remove from the oven and immediately slide the parchment paper (with ladyfingers) into a cooling rack. Cool one minute then carefully, remove cookies from the parchment paper, sprinkle with with another layer of icing sugar and leave them to cool completely on a wire rack.

While the ladyfingers are in the oven, pipe the remaining sponge batter into the base of the springform pan in a continuous circle, starting around the outside edge. You should have enough batter to pipe two layers. Gently smooth the batter with an offset spatula to even out the batter, if necessary, taking extreme care not to flatten it. Bake for ~20 minutes, until cake is barely brown, soft and spongy but tests done. Remove from oven and set on a rack to cool. Both the cake and the ladyfingers are best on the day they are baked. If not serving that day, freeze them immediately after they are cooled for up to one month.

Mixed Berry Cream: Chill your mixing bowl and whisk in the freezer for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, remove 2 tablespoons of the berry sauce and set aside. In a small measuring cup, stir together the gelatin and 1/2 cup  of the berry sauce. Let this mixture sit for 5 – 10 minutes until it becomes very spongy and then microwave for a few seconds to dissolve the gelatin, bringing the mixture back to liquid. Once the gelatin has dissolved, stir the gelatin mixture into the remaining cup of berry sauce and set aside.

Beat cream cheese and 1/4 cup of sugar until light and fluffy. Add berry sauce and beat until well incorporated. Remove the mixing bowl and whisk from the freezer, add the cream and whip until stiff peaks form, gently adding final 1/4 cup of sugar as the cream stiffens. Add the berry sauce mixture and fold until it is thoroughly mixed in. Taste and fold in a little more sugar, if needed.

Assembly: Remove paper from the sponge cake and place back on the bottom of the springform pan. Spread 2 tablespoons of the reserved berry sauce over the top of the sponge cake in a thin, even layer. Trim off the bottom quarter inch of each ladyfinger to make them 3 inches in length with flat bottoms and place the cut side down on the cake with the icing sugared side facing outward, against the sides of the pan. Repeat until ladyfingers are standing around the entire top of the cake (the cut, flat bottoms of the ladyfingers will enable them to easily stand up). Fill the center of the cake with the the berry cream. Smooth the top, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and chill for at least 6 hours to set.

To serve: Before serving, cover the berry cream with an assortment of mixed fresh berries. Gently remove the sides of the springform pan and tie a ribbon around the perimeter, directly above where the ladyfingers join the sponge base. Serve and enjoy!





Brownie Cookies

Last week was busy with evening meetings, taking dinner to friends who had a new baby, nonstop torrential downpours and regular life stuff. I had not made these cookies in almost a year so whipped up a double batch to share for several events and was reminded how perfect they are. I can’t take credit for the recipe but share it freely because this is one fantastic cookie.

Life on Van Island

Forgive the single cookie. The rest magically disappeared.

Brownie Cookies
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
yield: ~2 dozen

1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 cup  brown sugar
2 tablespoons white sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 cup flour
2/3 cup chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350°F. Soften butter/margarine and cream in sugars until mixture is light and fluffy. Mix in eggs, one at a time, then vanilla. Sift together soda, salt, cocoa and flour and add with chocolate chips, mixing until combined. The batter will be quite thick and sticky- refrigerating for 20-30 minutes firms it up and makes it easy to scoop

Scoop into small mounds (about 1 1/2 tablespoon in size) and space evenly on parchment or nonstick baking mat-lined baking sheets, allowing room for them to spread a little. Bake for 11 to 12 minutes. They will look underbaked but take them out anyway and let set on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Slightly underbaking these cookies gives them a soft, fudgy center which is what makes them so special.

Life On Van Island

Twenty Years

I have reached the point in middle age where recently, I realized that I have made some recipes for twenty years. This moist, spiced cake with delicious broiled topping is one of those recipes and it never seems to go out of style. It is classic, easy and delicious, three Life on Van Islandthings that always make a recipe oh-so right. It’s not the prettiest cake you’ll ever encounter but trust me- this ugly duckling turns out to be a swan.

Oatmeal Cake with Broiled Coconut Topping
adapted from The More With Less Cookbook

1 1/4 cups boiling water
1 cup quick oats
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt

5 Tbsp. melted butter or margarine
3/4 cup brown sugar
3 Tbsp. milk
3/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
3/4 cup flaked coconut

In a small, heat proof bowl, pour boiling water over oats and set aside 30 minutes to soak and cool.

Life on Van Island

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, beat margarine until fluffy. Add sugars, mixing well to combine. Add eggs and vanilla and mix until well blended. Stir in cooled oatmeal. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt and add to wet ingredients, mixing well. Pour into a greased 9×13 baking pan and bake 30-35 minutes or until cake tests done. Remove from oven and cool 30 minutes.

As cake comes to end of cooling time, mix topping ingredients together. Spread evenly over the top of the cake and broil until topping bubbles and turns golden brown and you can smell the coconut and nuts toasting. This step depends on the strength of your broiler (my new one takes four minutes while my last one was closer to eight) so keep a very close eye. Remove from oven and cool completely before serving. This cake seems to moisten and deepen flavour with a long resting period so I recommend making it in the morning or early afternoon and leaving it, uncovered, until serving.


Goin’ All Granola

Last summer, I spent an evening smelling a good friend bake granola for her family. When she offered Jeff and I a taste at the end of the night, we were both hooked. Since then, I have been making granola for us, changing up the mixture of nuts, seeds and dried fruit according to what is in the cupboard. I love forgiving recipes and this is certainly one of them.

Granola2016-01-05 2022
adapted from my friend C.

Yield: ~11 cups

5 c. rolled oats
1 c. diced nuts (we like pecans or walnuts)
1 c. sunflower or pumpkin seeds
1 c. sesame seeds
1 c. shredded unsweetened coconut
1/2 c. wheat germ, flax seed or oat bran (or a mix)
1/2 c. flour
1/4 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 c. vegetable or coconut oil
1/3 c. honey
1/4 c. maple syrup
1 tsp. salt
2 c. diced dried fruit- I usually mix raisins, craisins and apricots but any dried fruit (figs, berries, dates, citron) will do. A few tablespoons of diced dried cherries within the mix is always a great addition.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In large bowl, combine oats, walnuts, seeds, coconut, wheat germ, flour, brown sugar and cinnamon. Add oil, honey and salt and mix well until dry ingredients are evenly coated. Transfer into a roasting pan and bake for 60 minutes or until granola has turned golden brown and you can smell that the nuts have toasted, stirring every 10 minutes. Stir in dried fruit and bake 10 more minutes. Cool and transfer to an airtight container. Granola keeps well at room temperature for several weeks or can be frozen. Jeff loves eating it raw while I enjoy a few tablespoons over Baltic yogurt for breakfast. It’s also wonderful over ice cream.