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    Entries in gimme some sugar baby (25)

    Tuesday
    Apr162013

    Soft and Sweet

    It's like Medusa lives in my baking cupboard.

    Brown sugar goes in and a solid lump comes out.

    No more! I've finally figured out the perfect way to keep even the darkest brown sugar from turning into a doorstop.

    So, we've all tried the zip bag, the "air tight" container, the freezer, putting a chunk of apple in with it, microwaving it, one of those weird round things you soak in water first...

    None of them work.

    I've been baking without brown sugar for years because I was tired of buying a bag, using a cup, and then chucking a solid block of sugar and buying a new bag a month later.

    But last month, I wanted to make pudding cake and I wasn't willing to risk the recipe with the wrong kind of sugar so I caved and bought a bag.

    And then stood in the kitchen staring at the open bag wondering how long it would be before I had to throw it out. I admit, I came close to tossing it right then and there. But I'm stubborn. I went to the bags-and-wraps drawer to get a zip bag, and saw the foil.

    Shiney.

    Well, it worked for guacamole...

    What the hell. It's worth a shot.

    So, I just twisted the top of the bag and creatively folded the foil until the whole thing was covered.

    Kinda shaped like a football, which is handy when you're so short that the best way to get stuff onto the top shelf of the cupboard is to chuck it.

    5'1" and I have a wicked free throw.

    Two weeks later I made brown sugar cookies with it.

    Today, I made muffins with it. (Lost track of time and burned them... now you know why you're getting just the tip)

    And I'm pretty sure that in two weeks when I get back from Recipe Guy's place, I'll be making muffins.

    Someone else really needs to try this so I know it wasn't some kind of weird fluke...

    Please?

    Tuesday
    Feb192013

    Three layers of square

    These are some seriously exotic treats.

    From that far away land called Canada.

    Nanaimo is a small city (city, lol) on the south part of Vancouver Island. As a place, it's a bit of a crap hole. It's got a cute little downtown harbour, and backs onto a large temperate forest, but it's also got pulp mills. You do not want to ever wake up to that smell. A musician friend of mine from Nanaimo would always play a cover of "Dirty Old Town" by the Pogues while he was on the road because it reminded him of home.

    Really, the only claim to fame of this odd little place is a dessert created by a woman who lived there. And it's become such a part of the food culture of Canada that these are ever present at holiday dinners. Every xmas spread has at least one plate of these. Thanksgiving too. Easter, even.

    And everyone has their own special little variation. This is mine. It's the best one. Is too.

    Nanaimo Bars

     

    Layer 1

    • 1/2 c butter
    • 1/4 c sugar
    • 1/3 c cocoa
    • 1 egg
    • 2 c graham cracker crumbs
    • 1-1/2 c unsweetened coconut (I prefer shredded for the texture)
    • 1 tsp vanilla

    Layer 2

    • 1/4 c butter (unsalted, has to be)
    • 2-1/2 tbsp Bird's custard powder (more on that later)
    • 3 tbsp cream
    • 1 tsp vanilla
    • 2 c icing sugar

    Layer 3

    • 4 oz bittersweet chocolate
    • 1 tbsp butter

    Yes, it's a lot of stuff, and a lot of layers, but each one has to spend time chilling in the fridge, so you can do them piecemeal, adding the next layer whenever you get a few minutes to spend on them. I suspect that's why they're such a holiday thing.

    The base:

    Melt the butter in a medium sized pot. Mix the sugar and cocoa together.

    You don't have to do that; you could dump them in individually, but I find that the sugar crystals help to break up the clumps in the cocoa.

    Whisk these together, and then break the egg into a small bowl, and whisk it. With the pot over low heat, whisk as you slowly pour the beaten egg into the cocoa mixture. Whisk, whisk, whisk.

    You don't want to cook the egg, just get it to set, like in a custard. Keep whisking for a few minutes until it thickens. Beautiful, glossy, dark, chocolately stuff.

    Once it looks like that, take it off the heat and dump in the crumbs, the coconut, and the vanilla. You'll need a spoon to stir this part. You'll also be able to find any chunks of graham cracker that didn't get busted up in the food processor.

    It will be crumbly, but it will stick together in large clumps.

    Press it into a 9x9 pan, buttered and lined with an overhang of parchment (you'll need that to help get them out). You want this part evenly distributed and well packed. Hands are the only way to do it.

    Now, cover the pan and put it in the fridge.

    Find something else to do for an hour.

    Yes, an hour.

    I'm sure you can find some means of entertaining yourself. I mean, it's not like you have to set a timer or anything, just make sure that it's firm before you spread on the next layer.

    The filling:

    It has to be unsalted butter (no salt, seriously) that is room temperature soft. Whip it up in a bowl for a few minutes.

    Then add the cream, the vanilla, and the custard powder.

    If you don't know what custard powder is, you will need to learn. I've seen recipes that say you can substitute vanilla pudding powder here, but you can't. No. You will have to go find some Bird's. It's in every grocery store I've ever been to in Canada, but if you can't find it in yours, you may have to look for an English import store. It is a UK thing, limey as limes, and it makes the tastiest non-Newtonian fluid around.

    It also gives the middle it's characteristic soft buttery colour.

    Add the 2 cups of icing sugar about 1/3 of a cup at a time, beating it well after every addition.

    Recipe Guy's house has power tools!

    At the end you want something firm enough to hold its shape, but soft enough to spread around.

    All your base are covered in frosting.

    And then back in the fridge it goes.

    Seriously, you could take a week to make this and it wouldn't know the difference.

    Once the middle is firm, usually only half an hour later, start the topping.

    The chocolate:

    Get a small pot of water up to a simmer and put the chocolate and butter into a small bowl. Bowl, meet pot. You, stir.

    mmmm... chocolate.

    Pour it onto the creamy filling and spread it around.

    Fridge!

    But only for about 15 minutes. For this one, you should set a timer. You want the chocolate set enough that you can cut it, but not hard enough that it will break when you try. My way of telling: you can touch it gently and not leave a fingerprint, but press on it and make one.

    With a very thin sharp knife, cut it into squares. Wipe off the knife after each cut.

    Yes, I just cut the contents of a 9x9 pan into 30 pieces. These things are rich and when they're small you can eat more of them.

    Let them firm up completely before you try prying them out of the pan. The parchment helps.

    Artfully arranged on a platter, or left in the pan with a fork for self-service, these things will disappear fast and everyone will complain that you're trying to kill them with rich delicious sweetness. Yes, the filling of these is basically half an inch of thick buttercream icing, but no one held you down and forced 7 of them into your mouth.

    What's your favourite layered dessert?