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!

Audrey’s Famous Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Audrey’s famous chocolate chip cookies need no introduction, but I’m going to give them one deserving of their reputation. They are Audrey’s most popular creation and certainly the most delicious. The Clarke family estimates* that she has baked over 100,000 of these cookies in her lifetime!

*Want to see the math? Scroll to the bottom of the post!

The recipe came from a family friend named Beth Smith, wife of Stouffville’s Dr. Don Smith. Audrey’s daughter Susan and Beth’s daughter Paddie were born in the same year and became childhood friends. Audrey must have a truly special talent for baking because in 2004 at their high school reunion, Paddie recalled to Susan that Audrey’s chocolate chip cookies were the best in town!

Outside of Audrey’s circle of family and friends, these cookies (and Audrey’s recipe box in general) are continuing to grow in reputation. I entered them in my company bake-off last year and took home the prize for Best Cookie! It was a delight to bake a simple, classic cookie from Grandma Clarke’s repertoire and come away with a win.

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Rumour has it that these cookies are even responsible for keeping a romance alive! In 1984, a handsome young pilot from Tennessee caught the eye of Susan Clarke. It was a tradition at FedEx for jumpseaters (pilots flying along in a spare seat) to bring treats for the flight crew. Rog Sphar is speculated to have been given special priority for flights to Ontario… if a batch of Audrey’s chocolate chip cookies were coming along!

Rog and Susan were married 4 years later in 1988. They have two children, Nate and Rebecca, who are both big fans of Grandma Clarke’s chocolate chip cookies.

To all of my cousins and aunts and uncles and in-laws and out-laws: I am so excited to share this recipe with you! It is a hugely important part of our family history and I want us all to keep Grandma’s baking tradition alive, one cookie at a time…

Or roughly 18 cookies at a time! The recipe doesn’t say how many or how large to make these cookies, but trust me: if you make only a dozen, you will have 12 very large cookies. In my experience, classic Grandma-sized cookies (dolloped on the sheet with a heaping tablespoon) can be achieved in batches of 16-20.

As always, remember to check your cookies early (around the 8 minute mark) if you’ve got an oven that runs hot like mine. The cookies are done when they are just starting to appear slightly golden. They may look underdone and overinflated, but they’ll settle as they cool.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • ½ cup shortening [or butter]
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 ½ cups of flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup chocolate chipits

chocolate_chip_cookies_3Cream or mix together shortening, vanilla, and sugars
Add egg (well beaten)
Beat thoroughly
Add sifted dry ingredients & mix in
Stir in chocolate chipits
Drop on greased cookie sheet
Bake at 350°F for 10-12 minutes
Cool

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Porcelain sleeping cat plate from EarlyBirdDesignsShop on Etsy.

Let’s Do The Math

The Clarke family believes that Audrey has baked over 100,000 of these chocolate chip cookies in her lifetime. Let’s crunch some numbers.

An original estimate of “75,000 served” was made in 1984 by my dad, Larry Gibbs. He based his estimate on Audrey’s frequency of baking with respect to the number of years she has had the recipe. Although we’ve lost the original numbers, if we assume that she acquired the recipe around 1949 (age 20), that gives us 120 batches per year (at 18 cookies per batch).

75000 / (1984 - 1949) = 2142.86
2142.86 / 18 = 119.04

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Audrey in 2013 with her Audrey’s Famous Chocolate Chip Cookies plaque from 1984

Sound crazy? Then you haven’t seen Audrey bake! Even well into her 60s, Grandma Clarke was baking at least a dozen of something every day! Add several bonus dozens around each holiday, church event, or community bake sale and we can comfortably say that Audrey baked 400-500 dozens of cookies (or individual pies, cakes, etc) per year.

If we extrapolate from our previous estimate to include an additional 15 years from 1985-2000, then we can confidently estimate that Audrey has baked over 100,000 of her famous chocolate chip cookies.

2142.86 * (2000 - 1985) = 32142.9
75000 + 32142.9 = 107142.9

And there you have it, folks. Over 100,000 chocolate chip cookies served!

Chocolate Chip Muffins

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I love these chocolate chip muffins! They are light and fluffy and moist. I have made these muffins a handful of times before and they are so simple and easy.

While so many of Grandma Clarke’s recipes make multiple dozens, this is a true 1-dozen recipe that (finally) doesn’t need to be halved. In fact, if you like your muffins big and tall, this recipe may only make 9 or 10 muffins!

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Porcelain sleeping cat plate from EarlyBirdDesignsShop on Etsy.

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Chocolate Chip Muffins

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • 3 tsps baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • ⅓ cup melted butter
  • 1 egg
  • ¾ cup chocolate chips

Mix dry ingredients and add chocolate chips.
Combine eggs, milk, butter and stir into the flour mixture. Do not beat.
Bake 375°F for 20 minutes.
A few chocolate chipits melted & drizzled over the tops when slightly [warm].

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About to go in the oven
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Fresh out of the oven

 

 

 

 

 

You’ll notice that I skipped the last step of drizzling melted chocolate chips on top and settled for sprinkling 4-5 extra whole chipits* on top instead. I have tried to drizzle melted chocolate in the past and it hasn’t looked pretty. I haven’t mastered melting chocolate yet.

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Could have used more chocolate chips… still delicious!

*Chipits, by the way, are the brand name for Hershey’s miniature chocolate chips, but in the Clarke household, we use it as a cute shorthand for chocolate chips of any size. Possibly a Canadianism.

The Ultimate Oatmeal Cookie

The Ultimate Oatmeal Cookie

Oatmeal cookies are sweet and comforting. When my coworker, Tristan, asked if Grandma Clarke had a good oatmeal chocolate chip cookie in her repertoire, I went hunting! There are two oatmeal cookie recipes in Audrey’s Recipe Box, both of which include optional chocolate chips or raisins. I opted for the one called The Ultimate Oatmeal Cookie for obvious reasons.

These cookies are delicious! The ratio of chocolate chips to not-chocolate chips is spot on (i.e. mostly chocolate chips) and the cinnamon adds a mild spiciness. I cut the recipe in half, as the original makes 3 dozen. I also found that 9-11 minutes cooking time was too much for my very hot gas oven. I achieved light golden brown cookies after only 8 minutes. Keep a close eye on your cookies!

The Ultimate Oatmeal Cookie Recipe (front)

The Ultimate Oatmeal Cookie Recipe (back)

The Ultimate Oatmeal Cookie

  • ⅔ cup granulated sugar
  • ⅔ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup margarine or soft butter
  • ½ cup shortening
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 cups quick cooking or old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips or 1 cup raisins

Tasty oatmeal cookieHeat oven to 375°F.
Mix all ingredients except oats, flour, & raisins in large bowl.
Stir in oats, flour, and raisins or chocolate chipits.
Drop by tablespoonful about 2″ apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake 9-11 minutes until light brown.
Immediately remove from cookie sheet.

Makes 3 dozen.