This is such a super busy, stressful time of year for most people. The festivities in November and December are overwhelming: Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas all come within weeks of each other. And each of those festivities are accompanied by cooking, baking, shopping, office parties, school concerts, music concerts etc.
To help get through it all without getting sick, or super stressed, it’s super important to take care of yourself during these hectic months. Eat healthy, stick to a regular bedtime schedule and try and get some exercise, even if it’s a 30 minute walk in the sunshine during your lunch.
Whenever I go out to do errands, I always try to take a hot mug of tea, or a bottle of water and a small snack. These On the-Go Carrot, Apricot, Walnut Muffins are perfect for that. Besides carrots, apricots and walnuts, they also contain coconut and applesauce. When I bring my own snack, I am less tempted to buy a high calorie snack and sugar laden coffee at the corner coffee shop. This saves me a ton of money and I know I’m eating something healthy.
These muffins freeze really well. When you’re heading out, you can just pop a muffin in a container to take away with your favourite on-the-go drink. It will thaw out and be ready to eat within 30-40 minutes. Packing a snack is a good habit to get into even if you’re just going out for a couple of hours.
I hope you enjoy them! And Happy December!
I really liked these stress relieving tips. My favourites from this list were walking, enjoying the sunshine and laughter.
If you find any of the tips helpful, please share!
Who’s up for Cinnamon Swirl Pumpkin Bread! This bread has everything: subtle spicy sweetness rolled inside a delicious pumpkin enhanced bread with a really good crumb. It is delicious on it’s own or toasted and spread with cinnamon butter.
I always make pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving and then wonder why I don’t cook with pumpkin more often. Pumpkin is fantastic in so many baked goods. It has a beautiful colour and texture. And it is the perfect vehicle for all those delicious baking spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.
This Dairy-Free Cinnamon Swirl Pumpkin Bread is made with coconut milk, so it’s a dairy-free dessert. Whether you eat dairy products or not, you will not miss them in this sumptious loaf.
This bread has two rises in it, so it’ll take a few hours before it comes out of the oven. But a lot of that time is inactive, just waiting for those busy yeast cells to multiply and plump our dough up. So, while the bread is doing both of it’s rises, you could do some other fun stuff like read a chapter in a book, do some gardening, or go for a nice long walk. However you spend your day, you will definitely have a feeling of satisfaction when this lovely Dairy-Free Cinnamon Swirl Pumpkin Bread comes out of the oven.
Not only do I love the taste of pumpkin, I just love the look of them: big, orange globes that come in so many shapes and sizes. Pumpkins are super fun to grow. As they grow on a meandering low-trailing vine, you don’t necessarily need a separate, huge garden to grow them. They can wind their way through your flower garden, too. We grew some a few years ago, in a small veggie garden we created in our backyard. It was super fun. Our kids really enjoyed watching the pumpkins grow throughout the summer. Our pumpkins didn’t get super big, but by the end of October we had six pumpkins that we drew faces on for Hallowe’en. How fun is that!!!!
This loaf is perfect as it is, but if you wanted extra sweetness, you could add a drizzle of icing over the top of the loaf.
Bara Brith is a lovely Welsh snacking cake. It is quick to prepare but very hearty. Bara Brith means speckled bread in Welsh. It is a delicately sweet loaf that is loaded with dried fruits that soak in strong tea overnight. I have added a bit of rum to the tea to smooth out those black tea tannin flavours. The rum is optional, but it really brings together the tea and dried fruit flavours very well. But, by all means, leave out the rum, if you must. It is completely optional.
I have added in loads of extra flavour components to really make the flavours of this Apricot Cherry Oat Bara Brith pop! There is maple syrup, marmalade, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger as well as demerara brown sugar and dried fruit. The aromas coming from the oven are to die for!
Bara Brith has been made in Wales for over one hundred years and was traditionally eaten on St. David’s Day or Christmas day, thickly sliced and slathered in butter. It has fallen from popularity in the last ten years and therefore some major supermarkets have removed it from their shelves. Traditional Bara Brith is made with currants. In this recipe I have used a combination of dried apricots and dried cherries which go really well together. And the oats add a lovely texture to this baked treat.
This Apricot Cherry Oat Bara Brith makes a lovely addition to packed lunches. It is also excellent with morning coffee or your afternoon tea. Not bad with your favourite program or movie after dinner either.
Next time you are in the mood to bake a sweet treat for your family, try this Apricot Cherry Oat Bara Brith. It’s really hits the spot.
With the days getting cooler, especially the evenings, I start thinking more about baking. This Lancashire Maple-Oat Parkin Cake is a fantastic late summer bake with it’s ginger, treacle and maple syrup flavours.
A few weeks ago, my Scottish cousin, Anne, sent me a lovely little vintage Trex Cookery cookbook. She knows that I love cooking and baking and spotted this booklet in a vintage shop. The first recipe that I spotted was the Lancashire Parkin and knew straight away that would be the first recipe to try. Lancashire Parkin checked all the boxes for me for a lovely bake: oats, syrup, ginger and demerara sugar. She also sent me a beautiful cake tin with a lovely photo of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to store my cake in.
Lancashire Parkin is a Northern England Version of gingerbread. It is a sticky, moisty lightly spiced cake. It originated in Yorkshire, but is also popular in Lancashire, which is just to the west. No one seems to know where the name Parkin comes from.
Parkin cake is traditionally eaten in England on Bonfire Night, November 5th. Bonfire Night celebrates the epic failure of Guy Fawkes, a Yorkshire man, who tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605.
Parkin Cake is a moist chewy cake due to the addition of oats. This cake also always contains sweeteners such as molasses, black treacle or golden syrup, and light or dark brown sugar. I added maple syrup to my Lancashire Maple-Oat Parkin Cake, to reflect my Canadian roots.
Don’t be tempted by the divine aromas of the cake after it has come out of the oven. After it is cold, wrap it up and store it for 3 days. You will be happy you did!
Lancashire Maple-Oat Parkin Cake for an Autumn Evening
Awhile ago I bought some matcha powder from The World of Teas here in Ottawa. There were so many things that I wanted to make with it, smoothies, ice cream, lattes and this cake. My son bought me this amazing cookbook for Christmas two years ago: Tokyo Cult Recipes by Maori Murota and inside was an easy recipe for Matcha Cake.
Matcha powder, for those of you who don’t know, is made from finely ground green tea. There are many varieties of matcha powder to buy, depending on whether you want to cook with it, or drink it. I used Culinary Matcha Powder, which is excellent for baking cakes and cookies, as well as using in smoothies and Matcha Lattes. It’s also a bit cheaper than some of the other matcha powders available purely for drinking.
Have you ever baked with matcha powder before? Well, this was my first time and all I can say is, Wow! Matcha powder is so fun to bake with! It’s like a little pinch of magic. In it’s packaging, it is dry, dusty and green….
…but once you add butter, sugar, flour etc. the flavour and aroma of the green tea really pops! And when the cake is baking in the oven, the aroma is just delicious.
I also love the effervescent shade of green. If you love green tea, then you will really enjoy this bake-up. This Japanese Matcha White Chocolate Cake is the perfect summery bake. The soothing sweet white chocolate is the perfect match for earthy and grassy notes of green tea. It’s just what you need for a summertime bake.
Besides the great aroma and taste of this cake, I also just love that I can bake a green cake and you will too,
Japanese Matcha White Chocolate Cake for a Summer Picnic
The first time that I had focaccia bread was at a little sandwich shop in downtown Toronto. It was so delicious: chewy, warm, fragrant with olive oil drizzled on top and crunchy with salt and rosemary.
Years later Ifinally learned to bake it myself, after I had bought Antonio Carlucci’s Italian Feast cookbook.The back cover of his cookbook shows four variations of focaccia bread, each one as delectable ss the next.
I don’t know why I waited so long to bake sme, as Focaccia bread is very simple to make. It only has one rise so there is minimal kneading, and it is baked flat on a cookie tray – so no shaping! And in the summertime, we bake ours on a pizza stone on the barbeque, so you don’t even need to turn on the oven.
Focaccia bread is delicious eaten plain at dinnertime, or you can use it for sandwiches. You can also make killer breakfast sandwiches with a simple omelette nestled inbetween two soft warm slices of focaccia.
This bread is delicious at room temperature, but I love it when it’s soft and warm. To warm the focaccia, simply wrap some slices in tin foil and put in the oven on low for about ten minutes, or inside the barbeque for 3-5 minutes.
Focaccia is an excellent starter bread for beginners. This bread bakes up very fast and when baked on the barbecue has a lovely smokiness to it. Baking bread on the barbecue means you can bake anytime of the year. And the crust is simply amazing; crunchy, hot, smoky. Yum!
Focaccia makes great picnic food. It pairs well with sliced meats, cheese, tomatoes, roasted red peppers and other pickled vegetables. And makes fantastic picnic food.
Sometimes on a hot summer night, we’ll just pack up all our picnic foods and lay them out in the backyard. A picnic in your backyard: nothing could be simpler.
freshly ground black pepper (or chopped onions rosemary or other herbs)
Preheat oven to 475 deg F (with pizza stone) or preheat BBQ with pizza stone
Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup warm water. Once yeast has bubbled up, add to flour along with the rest of the water, oil and salt. Mix everything together and knead for about 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and springy. You can do this in your kitchen mixer with the dough hook.
Put the dough in a bowl that has been slightly oiled with olive oil. Place a damp cloth over top and leave it for one hour until double in size.
Knead the dough again after an hour to knock out any bubbles. Flatten the dough until it is an oval shape and about 1" thick. To create indentations, press your knuckles into the dough several times, keeping the indentations about 1 inch apart. Spread about half the olive oil over the dough. Sprinkle on the toppings. Leave to rise again for about 30 minutes, then pop in the hot oven or BBQ for about 15 minutes until the base sounds hollow when tapped, or when the bottom and top are a nice golden colour.
Adapted from Antonio Carlucci’s cookbook, Italian Feasts.
Many years ago, my best friend Bonnie and I took off from Canada for a year long travel adventure. We had planned and saved for our trip for many years; we cut out travel stories from the newspaper and collected travel tips from friends. Bonnie and I were only 19 years old but we were ready for a big adventure.
It was a beautiful spring day when we landed in London, England. We spent a few weeks in that lovely old city before continuing our travels through the United Kingdom, Europe and into northern Africa as well.
Europe is a fascinating place to travel at any age, but when you’re 19, it’s magical. We enjoyed all the art museums, comfortable, punctual trains, and the beautiful old buildings but my favourite part was the food: Austrian coffee, italian pizza and gelato in little cups, french croissants, greek baklava and egyptian falafels: all were breathtaking.
Over the course of twelve months, we sampled many delicious dishes and sweets. And my cooking at home is still influenced by that trip so many years ago. This year, while happily remembering our travels, I made one of our favourites sweets from our trip: Egyptian Basbousa Cake. We sampled many slices of Basbousa Cake while we travelled from Cairo to Luxor and to Hurghada on the Red Sea.
Basbousa Cake is a very popular dessert in the middle east. Many countries in this region make their own variation: Revani from Northern Greece, Ravani from Southern Greece and Hareesa from Jordan, the Maghreb and Alexandria. The names may be different, but the cakes are very similar.
Egyptian Basbousa Cake is super easy to make as it only requires a few basic pantry ingredients. It is traditionally made with semolina and has a surprising wheaty aroma and taste. I have also made it with cream of wheat cereal, and while it has a coarser texture, I still really like it.
Basbousa is luxuriously sweet, with a cold lemon-scented sugar/honey syrup poured over the hot-from-the-oven cake. This technique also makes the cake super moist. Because it is a very moist cake, it doesn’t slice as neatly as other cakes, but is so so delicious. A traditional finishing touch to the cake is to place whole almonds in the centre of each slice.
This cake will keep for serveral days. It is excellent with tea or coffee. It would also be an excellent addition to an afternoon picnic on the beach. If you want to ramp this cake up a notch, served it with a dollop thick whipped cream.
2 cups semolina (you can also use cream of wheat cereal)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup of yogurt
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Grease a baking pan 9 X 9 inches.
Whip the butter and sugar until well blended and a pale yellow colour.
Add the eggs one at a time.
In a separate bowl, mix the semolina and baking powder and soda.
Add dry mixture and yogurt to butter/sugar mix, alternating between the dry mix and the yogurt.
Pour into greased pan.
Bake in oven for 30 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean and the cake is slightly golden on top.
While the cake is baking, you can make the syrup. Combine all of the ingredients in a small pot. Bring to a boil, stirring lots to help dissolve the sugar. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Then pour the syrup into a heat resistant bowl or very large measuring cup. Place the bowl in cold water to cool down the syrup. You could also place the container with the syrup in the freezer until the cake comes out of the oven.
Once the cake has come out of the oven, pour the syrup over the hot cake, until it is all soaked up. You may not need all of it, but you will be surprised how much it soaks up. Let the cake cool in the pan until cold.
recipe is slightly adapted from Tess Mallos The Complete Middle East Cookbook
With the big Royal Wedding coming up, it’s hard to ignore the ongoings of the Royal Family. Especially when you have a British Mum.
My Mum always had something to say about the Royal Family when we were growing up. I can remember her commenting on many big royal events: the death of the Queen Mum, the retirement of the Royal Britannia, anything to do with Wallis Simpson or King Edward VIII (My Mum told she she cried and cried when King Edward VIII abdicated the throne in 1936) or trips around the world by Queen Elizabeth. My Mum was the expert on all things royal in our house!
So, it’s no surprise that I have inherited my mum’s interest in this fascinating family. I will be watching the ceremony this Saturday and wishing my Mum was around to watch it with me. I will certainly enjoy the music, admire the Bride’s dress and try and spot the most unusual fascinator, but, like most foodies, it’s the cake that I’m particularly interested in. I’ve seen some photos of Royal Wedding Cakes in the past and they are utterly stunning.
I read in the news a few weeks ago, that the bride had chosen a lemon elderflower cake as their wedding cake. So, to celebrate this auspicious occasion, I wanted to bake a cake with those same flavours. But I didn’t want an after dinner cake, per se: layered and smothered in buttercream frosting. I wanted a cake that Canadians could nibble on alongside tea or coffee while they watch the wedding. There will be much to ooh and aah over such as, the bride’s gown, Queen Elizabeth’s outfit as well as the gorgeous music,
I chose a Savarin cake, because cakes soaked in a sweet syrup after baking are some of my favorites. This cake pairs exceptionally well with fresh fruit and a dairy topping which is so perfect for mid-morning noshing.
Savarin Cake is interesting because it is made with yeast and not with baking powder or baking soda.
The batter is left to rise first in the mixing bowl and then transferred into the cake pan where it is left to rise 3/4 of the way up the pan.
The batter is baked in a greased bundt or savarin cake pan in a medium hot oven for about 30 minutes, until a light golden brown.
When the pan has cooled down a little, turn the cake out onto a cake rack, with a plate underneath. Pour the sugar syrup over the cake.
I filled my Lemon-Elderflower Savarin Cake with whipped yogurt and cream topped with fresh blueberries and strawberries. It’s delicious anytime of day!
While Savarin cake is not British, it does have an interesting history behind it. FOllow the links at the end of this post for more informatiin about this delicious cake.
The Royal Wedding will take place on May 19th at t St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. Click on the link below to read up on this very interesting relic.
Enjoy the event! I’m sure it’s going to be fun!
If you enjoy reading about food history, here is some interesting information on Savarin Cakes.
Bakewell Tart is not very well known outside of Britain. I had never heard of it, until I found this recipe in my Mum’s recipe card box.
Bakewell Tarts originate from the small village of Bakewell, Derbyshire. Bakewell Tarts are made from short crust pastry covered with a layer of jam (usually raspberry), filled with frangipane and then iced on top. The Bakewell Tart can be covered in icing or just have a drizzle. This depends on how sweet you would like your tart.
The short crust pastry is rolled to a thickness of about 4 mm. This is thickness of a British one pound coin or two Canadian $2 coins.
After the pastry is placed in the fluted pan, it is placed in the refrigerator to keep it cold before baking.
The bottom layer of a Bakewell Tart is a short crust pastry. This pastry is first baked on it’s own filled with pie weights or dry beans. This weighs down the pastry so it keeps it’s shape and doesn’t bubble up. After it’s been in the oven for a bit with the pie weights, it is baked solo for about 5 minutes to dry out the bottom.
I found this recipe for Bakewell Tart in my mom’s recipe box a couple of years ago. Yet, I can’t ever recall her making it.
I imagine she found this recipe somewhere after she moved to Canada and it reminded her of back home in Birmingham, England. Perhaps Bakewell Tart reminded her of a summer holiday to Derbyshire with her Dad and sister .
While I can’t recall my mom ever baking this treat for our family, I’m sure that my Mum would have baked it atleast once for my Dad. She would have wanted to share that part of her life in Britain with him. Whatever the history of this recipe, and even though she never baked it for the family, Bakewell Tart will always remind me of my mom and her longing for England and her hopes and dreams of a happy life in Canada.
The cooled short crust pastry is spread with raspberry jam, filled with frangipane then baked in the oven until set and golden.
Jam: Add raspberries, sugar and lemon juice to a pot. Bring to a boil and then let simmer for about 12 minutes until thickened.
Place in refrigerator to firm up.
Pastry: Add the flour to a medium sized bowl, add the diced cold butter and rub together with your fingertips until it resembles find breadcrumbs. Add in the icing sugar. Mix the egg and ice cold water together and add to bowl. Mix until a soft dough is formed.
Lightly sprinkle your table with a bit of flour. Roll out the dough to a thickness of just under 4 mm (one pound coin or 2 Canadian $2 coins). Place the rolled dough into a fluted tin. Trim dough, but let it still overhang a bit as it will shrink somewhat.
Chill for about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 390 degrees F.
Before you put the pastry in the oven, place some non-stick parchment paper over top of the pastry, fill tin with pie weights and bake for 15 minutes. Then, remove the beans and cook by itself for 5 minutes to dry out the bottom.
Remove from oven and let cool.
Once the pastry has cooled, spread it with four tablespoons of the jam.
reduce the oven temperature to 355 degrees F.
To make the frangipane, cream the butter and sugar together until nice and fluffy and pale. Add the egg, ground almonds and almond extract. Mix together until everything is incorporated. Spoon or pipe the mixture on top of the jam smoothing the top.
Place the tin back in the oven on a tray and bake for 25-35 minutes. The frangipane should be a golden brown. Also, a cake skewer when inserted into the middle of the cake, should come out clean.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely in the tin.
To remove the cake tin, place the tin on top of something tall and narrow, like a tupperware container. Remove the sides of the tin and then place the Bakewell Tart on a cake platter.
To decorate: spoon the white icing all over the top of the tart. Pipe 7 lines of coloured icing across the tart. Drag a toothpick or cocktail stick through the lines to create a feathered look.
A favourite snacking cake when I was growing up was Tomato Soup Cake. My mom would make it for lunches or for an after-school snack. She got the recipe from my paternal grandmother, after her and my Dad were married so she could bake it for him. Tomato Soup Cake has been around a long time and was a family favourite back when my Dad was growing up on the farm in the 1920’s and 1930’s.
We always loved this cake and never once questioned the name of it. It didn’t taste or smell like tomatoes but was a beautiful rose colour with a spicy aroma. Once, while having lunch at school (which I seldom did), my friends asked what kind of cake I was eating. “Tomato Soup Cake”, I answered. Ooooh! was their negative response. I was in grade 7 and had never imagined that as a response to this delicious cake. But that never deterred me from loving this cake. My friends didn’t know what they were missing. My Mum’s Tomato Soup Cake was rose-hued, warm with spices and sweet with plump raisins. With four always-hungry children in the family and a husband who grew up snacking on this cake on the family farm, my Mum’s baking never lasted long.
Tomato Soup Cake is a fantastic snacking cake and one that you will definitely want to add to your baking repertoire. Perfect for a ‘Retro Party” but also modern in flavour, colour and scent, this delicious cake checks off all the boxes for something easy, quick and yummy to bake up either for afternoon tea with friends, to pop into someone’s lunch kit, or an after dinner dessert. This rose-coloured moist cake, aromatic with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves and dotted with plump raisins is just so good. You can serve it with cream cheese icing, but my Mom just served it up plain, or sprinkled with icing sugar. It’s so moist, sweet and heavenly-scented with spices that you really don’t need extra icing. But you could add it if you prefer the extra creamy sweetness.
When I got married, a friend of my mom’s gave me a cake pan, a wooden spoon and her recipe for Tomato Soup Cake. I thought that was the sweetest gift! Now I bake Tomato Soup Cake for my own kids. Everyone in our family loves it.
Easter Sunday dinner is fun to plan because it’s easy to try something new without upsetting anyone. Unlike Christmas when so many traditional favourites are necessary, Easter doesn’t have the same expectations, especially when it comes to dessert. I can’t think of any dessert that our family has at Easter every year.
While our family doesn’t have a traditional dessert at Easter, I love searching through my cookbooks for a recipe that is customary somewhere else. British cookbooks are a great place to start in finding a recipe full of history and tradition.
One cake that is beautiful to look at, delicious to eat and fascinating to read up on is Simnel Cake. The word simnel comes from the latin word, “simila” which means fine wheaten flour. Simnel cakes were traditionally made for Mothering Sunday, which has been celebrated in England, on the 4th Sunday of Lent, for atleast 400 years. Traditionally it was a day when families who lived in small villages would go to their “Mother Church”, a larger church in a neighbouring town, instead of going to their local church. Servant girls who worked far away would travel home on this day to visit their families, and would always bring a gift to their mothers.
Simnel cakes were popular gifts as they were excellent traveling cakes: dense with dried fruit and sturdy with a marzipan filling and top they were not as delicate as today’s frosted layer cakes. Simnel cakes also tested a daughter’s cooking skills. If the cake was well made it would still be delicious a few weeks later at Easter when Lent was finished. Simnel cakes are recognizable by the 11 marzipan balls on the top to symbolize the 11 apostles (Judas was excluded).
Eventually, Mothering Sunday became less religious and more of a day to give thanks to one’s mother. The 4th Sunday of Lent is now celebrated in England as Mother’s Day and Simnel Cakes have become a popular dessert at Easter.
I decided to make Simnel Mini Cakes instead of one large cake. They bake up super fast, are easy to serve and if you have any leftovers are fantastic for a lunch box treat. These cakes are dense with ground almonds and studded with dried fruit. The centre of each mini cake has a disc of marzipan that adds to the elegance of these cakes.
Simnel cakes are traditionally decorated with marzipan on top, but I found that a dusting of icing sugar was the perfect as these cakes are sweet, dense and rich just on their own. If you find them too plain for easter, you could put a drizzle of icing on the top with sprinkles or candied flowers. Or you could tie some coloured ribbon around the middle. However you serve them, your dinner guests will love them.
Traditionally, Welsh Cakes are chock full of currants and sprinkled with white cane sugar. I recently posted a recipe for Chocolate and Ginger Welsh Cakes. But I wanted to post this recipe for the Traditional version, in case anyone wants to try it the way they have always been made in Wales.
Stir together the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, spices
Add the butter and rub into the flour mixture until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs
Stir in sugar and currants.
Mix in the egg.
Add milk until a nice soft dough is formed.
Roll out on a tabletop sprinkled with flour.
Cut out welsh cakes with any round shape approximately 7.5 to 8 cm in diameter. I used a drinking glass.
Heat a skillet on the stovetop on medium heat. Add a very tiny amount of butter.
Place a few welsh cakes in pan, with some space surrounding each one. Do not overfill skillet. You need room to flip them over.
When the underside is a nice golden colour, flip over and cook the other side.
Remove from skillet when both sides are done.
Let cool on a baking rack.
Sprinkle with sugar. You can do this either in the pan while the second side is cooking, or while they are on the baking rack. Either will work fine
Serve warm or room temperature.
If you want to freeze some welsh cakes for later, you can either freeze some cooked welsh cakes in a ziplock bag. Or you can cut them out and freeze the uncooked cakes. To do this, cut out the welsh cakes, place them on parchment paper on a tray and freeze until firm. Then place them in a ziplock bag or plastic container, layered with parchment paper in between. To cook, simply defrost the cakes and then cook following the instructions above.