Banana Tea Bread

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Some overripe bananas were looking sad and lonely on my kitchen counter the other day, so naturally I made them into a banana bread!

I love tea breads because they bake like a cake: no yeast, no rising or proofing, no problem. A tea bread is basically a big muffin! It has a longer bake time, of course, but the ingredients are the same. You can convert any muffin recipe into a bread or vice versa by adjusting the bake time.

Grandma Clarke’s recipes are always charming, but something about this one really makes me smile! I love how she is incredibly detailed — spelling out “teaspoons” as whole words and identifying that it “Makes 1 loaf” — but then she closes with an instruction to bake “until done.” Oh, Grandma!

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Banana Tea Bread

  • banana_bread_21¾ cup sifted flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ⅓ cup shortening
  • ⅔ cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs, well-beaten
  • 1 cup mashed ripe bananas (2 or 3 bananas)
  • ½ cup chopped nuts [optional]

banana_bread_4Sift together flour, baking powder, soda, and salt.
[optional] Add ½ cup chopped nuts to flour mixture.
Beat shortening until creamy in mixing bowl.
Add sugar gradually and continue beating until light and fluffy.
Add eggs and beat well.
Add flour mixture alternately with bananas, a small amount at a time, beating after each addition until smooth.
Turn into a well-greased bread pan (8 ½” x 4 ½” x 3″).
Bake in a 350°F oven for about 1 hour 10 minutes or until bread is done.
Makes 1 loaf.

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Fresh out of the oven!

Shortbread Cookies

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Opening my custom rolling pin at Christmas

Despite the intense summer heat, I took another shot at shortbread cookies this weekend. My mom gifted me an amazing custom-engraved rolling pin for Christmas and I was ready to try it out. I pretty much sauna-fied the entire apartment (sorry Ryan), but at least we got a tasty batch of cookies out of it!

Audrey’s Recipe Box contains 4 shortbread cookie recipes. I had tried one previously and it came out tasting like cardboard. Curiously, that was the recipe that my mom seems to recall being Grandma’s standard shortbread cookie. However, having now closely inspected all 4 recipes, I think mom may be right (aren’t moms always right?). Grandma’s shortbreads from my childhood were always rolled and cut (rather than balled and pressed) and only 2 of the 4 recipes are for rolling. The recipe below uses brown sugar, which I don’t recall being part of grandma’s recipe… so it must have been Auntie Kay’s Shortbread Cookies. So what went wrong? I believe the discrepancy is that grandma’s recipe requires pastry flour, while I was using regular all-purpose flour (the recipe just says “flour”).

Pastry flour has a lower % protein than all-purpose flour, so for these cookies, I added 2 tbsp of cornstarch per cup of all-purpose flour. The end result was sweet and delicious; not at all like cardboard! They were a little dry, however, which may be the nature of the recipe, or may be due to the extra volume of flour that got kneaded in as I re-rolled the dough. I had a difficult time working with this dough. It crumbled and cracked often. I have heard that shortbreads are difficult, so I hope that I can improve with practice!

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Shortbread Cookies

  • 1 cup butter
  • ½ cup fruit sugar or lightly packed brown sugar
  • 3 cups sifted enriched pastry flour

Cream butter until very soft
Gradually blend in the sugar & cream well
Gradually mix in about 2 cups of the sifted flour
Turn out dough onto baking board that is generously sprinkled with the remaining flour & knead into the dough until it cracks on the surface – takes about 1 cup more

Roll out dough on lightly floured board to about ¼ to ⅛ thickness & shape with cutters
Bake on ungreased baking pans in slow oven 300°F 20-30 min

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Meat Loaf

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Meat loaf and mashed potatoes were a standard in the Clarke household. Meat loaf is a comfort food with European origins. It takes a while to bake, but is easy to prepare and tastes wonderful! (Seriously, this dish is AMAZING.)

The recipe below makes enough meat loaf to serve 6-8 adults. I used 2 lbs of ground beef and I couldn’t fit the whole mixture in a single loaf pan! I ended up filling the loaf pan about ¾ to the top and then using the remaining mixture to form a second, smaller loaf which I cooked on a baking sheet. The freeform loaf turned out so beautifully that I think I’ll do it with the whole mixture next time!

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Meat Loaf

  • meat_loaf_pan1½ to 2 lbs. lean ground beef
  • 1 cup of fine bread crumbs (or Corn Flake crumbs)
  • 1 or 2 eggs
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1 ½ tsp. of worcestershire sauce
  • 1 onion finely chopped (or onion salt)

[Combine all ingredients in a large bowl]
Bake for 1 hr. 15 min. at 350°F

Topping (optional)

  • 2 tbsp yellow mustard
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 4 tbsp ketchup

Mix ingredients and pour on top of loaf before baking to form a savory-sweet crust.

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In Loving Memory

I am sad to announce that Audrey Lois (Bell) Clarke passed away last Saturday, April 9th after a long and difficult fight with Alzheimer’s Disease. She passed peacefully, surrounded by family and the wonderful staff of Parkview Home.

Audrey was born July 14, 1929 in Regina, Saskatchewan to parents Charles Hubert “Bert” Bell and Augusta Sophia (Magee) Bell and siblings Donovan Claire and Grace Noreen. She is preceded in death by these family members and also her husband, Leslie Clarke, who passed from Alzheimer’s Disease in 2005. She is survived by her children Susan, Colleen, and Mike, grandchildren Shawna, Daryl, Daniel, Taylor, Toria, Nate, and Rebecca, and great-grandchildren Devin, Abbey, Avery and Bryce.

Audrey was a proud mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. She was famous for her chocolate chip cookies and apple pies. Her memory will live on through her family and her recipe box.

Visitation will be 6:30-9:00pm on Wed April 13th at the O’Neill Funeral Home in Stouffville. The funeral will be Thurs Apr 14th at 2:00pm at the Stouffville United Church. Maps and details can be found on the O’Neill Funeral Home website or by calling 905-642-2855.

In lieu of flowers, make a donation to the Alzheimer Society or Parkview Nursing Home.

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Butter Tarts

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Today is the big day: it’s the Etsy Bake-Off!

In my real life/day job, I am a senior software engineer at Etsy, the popular online marketplace for handmade and vintage goods. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that Etsy employees are phenomenally crafty, artsy, and musical. We share our skills with each other throughout the year via the Etsy School program and each spring we show off our talents at an Art Show, Talent Show, and Bake-Off.

butter_tarts_3I chose to make Grandma’s butter tarts for the bake-off this year because they are a unique foreign delicacy here in Brooklyn. That’s right: butter tarts are Canadian! For my American readers: butter tarts are basically miniature pecan pies, but sometimes without pecans or with raisins instead. I made classic pecan butter tarts (and a couple of nut-free, raisin-free tarts for my nut-allergic, raisin-hating Canadian colleague, Gordon).

While I normally wouldn’t bother making a crust from scratch, this event is kind of a big deal, so it’s time to pull out all the stops. The only problem is… Grandma Clarke’s butter tart recipe doesn’t include a crust! Rather than using a simple shortcrust pastry recipe from another pie in the recipe box, I hunted down somebody else’s Grandma’s butter tart pastry online. I have used this crust to make butter tarts before and it’s just perfect. I think the key is adding a bit of vinegar to your ice water.

The tarts turned out great! I overfilled them a little, but hopefully the mess comes across as charming and rustic to the judges. Wish me luck!

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Butter Tarts

Crust

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I run a pretty low-tech operation here… can you spot the wine glass I used as a pastry cutter?

Crust recipe from The Crepes of Wrath (but you can use any pie crust). Remember to prepare your crust at least a few hours ahead of time! Roll your pastry very thin (¼ inch or less) and cut circles about 1 inch wider than the diameter of your muffin tin. Grease the tin(s) generously with butter or cooking oil.

Filling

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tbsp corn syrup
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • raisins (or pecans, walnuts, etc)

Cream butter & sugar
Add eggs and remaining ingredients
400°F 7 mins
325°F 15 mins
Makes 16 tarts*

* I had enough crust for 32+ tarts, so I doubled the recipe. I ended up making 24 tarts and saving some pastry dough for later.

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Turtle Brownies

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It’s that time of year again: the Etsy Bake-Off is next week! Last year I took home Best Cookie with Audrey’s Famous Chocolate Chip Cookies. In the year following the big win, I’ve developed a bit of a reputation for baking at work. I made butter tarts for Canada Day, butterbeer golden snitch cupcakes for a Harry Potter party, and a variety of cookies and muffins just for fun. I also won a prize for Best Savory Dessert at the Harry Potter party (for my Deviled Dragon’s Eggs) and started my own baking blog (you’re reading it)!

The competition is strong and the pressure is on. My big show-stopper will be Grandma Clarke’s butter tarts. Butter tarts are a Canadian dessert that many of my American colleagues won’t be familiar with. I’m hoping that they will garner some points for novelty and Canadian charm… in addition to just being damn delicious.

Not to put all my [deviled] eggs in one basket, I will also be entering a batch of brownies. Entering a second item in a different category (butter tarts fall under Pies, while brownies are Other) increases my chance of winning overall and diversifies the awards for which I am eligible.

I have a solid brownie recipe in my own repertoire, but I wanted to see if Grandma Clarke had any up her sleeve before committing to my standard brownie.

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Enter the Turtle Brownies. Inspired by Turtles chocolates, these brownies are topped with pecans and caramel. I also included walnuts and chocolate chips. The result is sweet, gooey, and delicious…

But maybe too sweet to be the big bake-off winner! Furthermore, I wanted my second dessert to be simple and these brownies were quite a bit of work: melting and drizzling caramel is annoyingly time-consuming. For the sake of my own sanity, I’ll be reverting to a simpler brownie for the bake-off, so that I can focus my efforts on the butter tarts… and rehearsing for the Etsy Talent Show!

Erin and I will be performing as Bassooninator again this year. Wish us luck!

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Turtle Brownies

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3×3 is an appropriate size for a single brownie, right?
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup shortening
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • ⅔ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup cocoa
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ cup walnuts (if making plain brownies)
    OR
  • ½ cup pecans
  • 12 caramels
  • 1 tbsp milk (if making Turtle brownies)

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My attempt at a “drizzle” of caramel
Heat oven (350°F).
Grease pan 9×9.
Mix sugar, shortening, vanilla and eggs in a large bowl.
Stir in remaining ingredients.
Spread batter in pan.
Sprinkle½ cup chopped pecans over batter before baking.
Bake 20-25 minutes until toothpick in centre comes out clean.

Icing
Heat 12 vanilla caramels and 1 tablespoon milk over low heat, stirring frequently, until caramels are melted.
Drizzle over warm brownies, then cool.

Cool completely.

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Vintage Candlewick miniature cake stand from OpenTwentyFourSeven on Etsy

Apple Pie

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Happy Pi Day! Mathematicians, engineers, and geeks around the world are celebrating the mathematical constant π (pi) today. Pi is an irrational number with infinite decimal digits, often rounded to 3.14 (ergo March 14th) or 3.14159 (which rounds to 3/14/16, making today a particularly special Pi Day). In honour of this special occasion, I have baked another of Grandma Clarke’s classic recipes: apple pie.

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Fruit pies can be difficult to get right: fruit is juicy and can lead to soggy, watery pies. The pie filling needs a thickening agent such as flour, cornstarch, or tapioca. Audrey’s apple pie recipe uses a relatively small amount of flour. I have attempted this pie before and had it turn out like apple soup. Rather than modify the recipe, I dried my apples out a bit this time. After slicing, I let them sit in 1 cup of white sugar for 20 minutes to draw out the juices. I poured out the excess juice and patted the apple slices dry with a paper towel. I achieved a great consistency for my filling using this technique.

Another challenge with apple pie is selecting your apples! There are thousands of varieties of apples in the world and you can probably find 5-10 of the most common ones at your local grocery store. I’m not sure what type of apples Grandma Clarke used, but I did some research online and decided on Granny Smith. They are firm and tart, which means they can stand up to the heat of baking and the loads of sugar without dissolving or turning too sweet.

Finally, I have to admit that I opted not to bake a crust from scratch. I had 2 pies to bake (I also made a butterscotch pie, which I may blog about later this week) and only a few hours to spare! Grandma’s recipe is mostly about the crust, while the actual filling ingredients are just notes in the instructions. I’ve decided to write up the recipe in a slightly different format than the recipe card, which I hope will add some much-needed clarity.

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Apple Pie

Crust

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¾ cup Crispy Flake Shortening
  • 4-6 tablespoons cold water

OR

  • 2¼ cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¾ cups Crisco [shortening]
  • 4 tbsp. cold water

There are no instructions provided for actually making the crust, so here are mine:
Pulse flour, salt, and shortening (or cold butter) in food processor
Slowly add cold water, 1 tbsp at a time
Consistency will start chunky and crumbly, continue adding water and pulsing until dough can just barely keep its shape as a ball
Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (overnight is best)

HINTS: The less water the better.
Work with it as little as possible.
Be sure the rolling pin and board are always well floured.

Filling

  • 6 or 7 large apples [or way less… I used 3]
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • cinnamon to taste
  • 1-2 tsp cold butter for dabbing on top of filling [not strictly necessary]
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The pie before the top crust goes on

1. Preheat oven to 450°F and lightly grease pie plate
2. Put lower pastry shell on
3. Mix 1 cup white sugar and 2 tbsp flour
4. Sprinkle about ⅓ of mixture on lower shell
5. Peel and cut apples, place in pie plate
6. Sprinkle on remaining sugar/flour mixture
7. Add a bit of cinnamon and tiny dabs of butter
8. Put on top crust and make air holes
9. Bake at 450°F for 15 minutes
(COOL OVEN DOWN)
10. Bake at 350°F for 35-40 minutes

As always, remember to check your pie early! You don’t want to over-bake your crust so that it dries out and falls apart on serving. It should be a nice golden brown. To avoid burning the edges of the pie, you can cover them with strips of tinfoil for the first 15 minutes of baking, however I haven’t found this necessary.

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Don’t forget to serve it with ice cream!