the air laced with saltwater | drunken strawberry syrup {recipe}

drunken strawberry syrup
I like happy accidents. Sometimes, they can change your entire life. Seven years ago I was adrift after taking some time away from school when a friend moved from Nova Scotia to attend the same universy I had. We had been friends for years and thought nothing of moving in together and creating a little home, as best friends do.

I started to poke around in the kitchen and he biked all over the city, discovering a city I had always known without trying. Where we had been friends since we were 12, causing mischief and sharing our first glass of wine a little later, we became stronger, better friends in that little house near the university.

At Christmas he went back to Nova Scotia to visit his family. That little house with the shiny wooden floors and tragically small kitchen was suddenly huge and empty. It was just me for 10 days and it was lonely. Ten days can only last so long and he was home again to plod thorugh the snow with me and fill that tiny kitchen with enticing smells.

Within a few short months we left that house and drove across the country in our red VW. Frequent stops were necessary for me, I was often sick or nauseous. Our happy little accident was wreaking havoc on my body but we were determined to get to Nova Scotia and raise her in air laced with saltwater.

This strawberry syrup isn’t a baby or subsequent marriage but it was definitely a happy accident. I was not intending a syrup when I started stirring the strawberries and sugar, in fact, I had drunken strawberry jam on the brain. There are a few factors that contributed to this jam transforming into a syrup perfect for topping ice cream, homemade slushies or even sprucing up some fancy fizzy drinks with friends. I like my jam to have a bit of heft so I did not crush the strawberries as usual and I added 2 teaspoons of whiskey to the bottom of each jar.

I am not entirely sure if the whiskey broke down the pectin or if the syrup was just fulfilling its own syrupness. I knew something was up when the 500 mL jar of excess did not set and the strawberries started to clump together in the middle of the jar. Being the dunce that I am, I shook the jars to loosen the strawberries. Genius, right? You are not supposed to do that but the jam cause was lost anyways (the preserves were not going to set, no matter what) and I am more than content with the end result.

A very important note, fresh and local strawberries are imperative for these preserves. They are juicier and bursting with flavour. Strawberries do not continue to ripen after they are picked, if you use berries that are imported from a billion miles away (or say, down south), they will not have enough juice, heft, chutzpa to create the syrup. Also, you should be supporting your local farmers anyways, they are good people.

strawberry bubblesDrunken Strawberry Syrup

yield: 8 250 mL jars

8 cups sugar

8 cups sliced strawberries

two tablespoons lemon juice

one vanilla bean

one package of liquid pectin

whiskey

Wash and sterilize your jars: To do this boil for 15 minutes in a covered pot. At the end of the 15 minutes, turn of the heat and let the jars sit in the hot water to keep them sterile. I slip the snap lids into this water once it has cooled a touch, don’t boil them as it will loosen the glue.

  1. Wash and slice the strawberries.
  2. In a large, non-reactive pot combine the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice.
  3. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out those inner seeds. Add both to the strawberry mix.
  4. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. The strawberries will not break down but you want everything bubbling away happily in a symbiotic mesh of berry and sugary goodness. This will take approximately 15 minutes (don’t boil it down to the standard 220º).
  5. Remove from heat and add the liquid pectin. Stir for 5 to 7 minutes and skim off the foam.
  6. In the bottom of each sterilized jar add 2 teaspoons of whiskey. Ladle the syrup into the jars and wipe the rims with a cloth dipped in boiled water. Gently tighten the bands and snap lids only finger tip tight.
  7. Process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes – there should be 2 inches of water above the jars.

Any jars that do not seal will need to be refrigerated . Listen for the ping! to feel the kind of relief that comes with knowing you’ll be able to treat yourself to local strawberries in January.

Enjoy.

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Vanilla Bean Rhubarb Jam {Recipe}

Jars! Vanilla Bean!
I have fallen in love with vanilla beans. The fragrant stains I get on my fingertips when I scrape out the seeds. The way it’s scent tracks upstairs and around doors, filling my entire apartment with its scent. The tell-tale flecks in reddish peach-coloured jam, clear enough to reveal the seeds. I have used vanilla beans before and they were just alright, truth be told. The beans I bought from a store I do love were expensive, if organic. They were also a trifle dry and wrestling the seeds free ended with more under my nails than in the pot. My previous reticence to buy and near apathy have been totally vanquished. I have found the perfect source for vanilla beans, plump and so very full of the very heady essence of what makes vanilla so intoxicating. We pick up our gems from spice merchant Costas Halaverzos at the Brewery Market (the Historic Halifax Market).

These beans are so good I wanted to keep them all to myself so I could make the most fabulous desserts and jams of all. I had dreams of being the greatest baker, a superhero if you will and there may have been a daydreamed cape. That’s not very kind behaviour to anyone, however, so there you go. Go visit Costas.

Vanilla Rhubarb Jam
Then, you should start by making this jam. I know it might be late in the season for rhubarb but you might score some more if you check Pete’s Frootique in Halifax. I measure my fruit by weight because I tend to freak out the entire time I am making jam, concerned about ratios and safety and “Oh dear god, don’t let me poison my family”. Don’t let this deter you from this jam, it’s my quirk. Canning is all about safety and if you have any doubts whatsoever, refer to the National Center for Home Preservation. I always make a visit to a site before hauling out the jars and fruit.

This is my largest batch of jam to date, I’m much more of a small batch girl. I tend to can whatever fruit we seem to have a surplus of at the time in the fridge and fruit bowl.  Due to a very kind gift of rhubarb from a friend (in addition to market plunders and CSA) and a brimming bowl of apples, I had more fruit than usual to dedicate to a recipe. In light of this, I completely freaked myself out by the amount of sugar I ended up using (apparently I freak out easily). It does not seem possible to have used 13 cups of sugar, otherwise known as the dastardly 1300 grams of sugar or 2 lbs 13 ounces, but I did. It is possible and it is what I was supposed to do. A general ratio of 1:1 is called for when making jam, the chopped rhubarb and apples when combined are 1300 grams (or 2 lbs. 13 oz) of fruit. Using a measurement that rocketed into four-digit territory is what got me, but we’re all good and still get to wear our superhero capes.

The Vanilla Rhubarb Jam

Yield: 6-8 250 mL jars, depending on how much your spouse/partner swipes to taste.

To begin, wash and sterilize your jars. To sterilize: Boil for 15 minutes in a covered pot. Leave the jars in the pot so that they remain hot (and sterile) for the jam. Don’t boil the snap lids, it can loosen the glue too much.

860 g chopped rhubarb (1 lb 14 oz)

450 g apples, peeled and diced (15 oz)

one vanilla bean

2 tbsp. lemon juice

1300 g sugar (2 lbs 13 oz)

1/2 cup water

one packet liquid pectin

1. In a large, non-reactive pot combine the rhubarb, apples and sugar. Split the vanilla bean down the centre lengthwise and scrape, add both the seeds and pod to the fruit. Add lemon juice and half cup of water.

2. Cook on medium heat, stirring until the rhubarb and apples start to break down. Continue to simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the fruit is totally broken down. Bring to a boil.

3. Remove the vanilla pod.* Remove from heat and stir in the liquid pectin. Continue to stir for 7 minutes, there’s not much to skim off.

4. Ladle into hot jars and seal. The rings should only be finger tip tight: Don’t put any oomph into it.

5. Process in a boil water canner for 10 minutes.

*Rinse that baby off and store it in a container of sugar to make vanilla sugar. Or, do as Mr did and swipe one for a bottle of whiskey, it mellows out the flavours and adds a beautiful touch.

Dobos Torte {dairy free}

Dobos Torte I
Early in the morning when dew is in transition from a crisp layer into drops of water, we loaded our car with containers of baked goods. Sticky gugelhopf. Kolache. Dainty Angel Wings. Little Bubs slept in his car seat, the aroma of cinnamon washing across his chubby cheeks. Sunlight is weak, breaking through the clouds and dim blue sky.

I can still feel the exhaustion knotted in my shoulders. Rolling out dough, patting in the flour and smearing spoonfuls of jam is meditation for the mind but hard on the body. A few weeks ago I found a grocery list, splattered with cake batter and swooshes of cocoa. The number of eggs and pounds of butter is laughable, staggering really. Where we stored it all I do not know.

At the beginning of the week we started the Dobos Torte. The largest bowl when stood upon the table was almost chest-level for me. Into it I cracked and separated countless eggs. The egg whites when whipped were mountains. I ladled the batter, tinges of golden yellow, with a soup ladle. The batter bakes quickly, only 6 or 7 minutes to really become golden, the edges very so slightly crisp.

Egg White Swirl
We baked like this for the market, flour everywhere in our kitchen and the little people peeking in on the whole mess. Bubs was just a baby, 3 months old the first day we loaded our car and took all of those baked goods to the market. I wore him most of the day in the baby wrap, snuggled against my chest in the chill of the brewery market. The dynamics of the market are always interesting. We were the new ones, unknown in this familiar institution. The “meat ladies” with whom we traded table space for a bag of sugared Angel Wings and slices of Dobos, they became mother and daughter: Maureen and Claudia, also Tristan who still plays music at the market.

My kids run around the market, down the stairs straight to their favourite stand to buy sushi. They are too young but I know that if I let them go, they would instinctively navigate that market. When Mr and I sold at the market we made traditional dobos, full of butter and milk. I love butter. It makes rich desserts even richer and I certainly think that it is okay, it’s definitely part of baking. If I was baking for the market now I would redefine Dobos Torte and all of those European classics. I make food that my family can always eat. I would believe passionately in taking care of food allergies as well as eating well. Dobos is not necessarily healthy eating but it is a celebration, and when you eat wonderful food with loved ones, time and effort in every bite then you are eating well.

Dobos Torte
This is where we have dairy-free Dobos Torte. I used Earth Balance vegan spread because it is a hard enough margarine to hold up like a proper buttercream. Other vegan margarines will be too soft to firm up again, Dobos ends up being a tall cake you need it to have stability, the cakes are certainly too light for that.

I like to use a a julienne peeler for my lemon zest, it peels of thin strips of the lemon rind which I then finely mice. I get a higher yield and it’s also a brighter yellow because the blade does not dip into the pith like a grater. The flecks of lemon zest offer a stronger lemon flavour, a definite bonus to any baked good.

The Cake

yield: 7 thin layers of cake (you get a cheat layer, use it wisely.)

9 egg white

one cup sugar

one vanilla bean

8 egg yolks

1/4 cup soy milk

one tablespoon lemon zest

*you will need additional vegan margarine and flour to coat the pans. This is important!

Preheat the oven to 400*.

1. In a metal bowl, whip the egg whites. Slowly add the cup of sugar.

2. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise, using the back of your paring knife, scoop out the seeds and add to the egg whites.

3. In another bowl, beat the egg yolks with the soymilk, lemon zest and salt until creamy.

4. Fold into the egg whites. Take it slow and gentle, you don’t want to deflate the whites.

5. Once completely mixed, sift the flour over the mix and fold in. Carefully, lovelies!

6. Prepare two cake pans of the same size with the shortening and a sheer covering of flour.*

7. Ladle enough in cake batter to cover the entire bottom of the pan with a 1/2 inch layer. Bake for 6 minutes or lightly golden.

8. Repeat until you use all of the batter. Store the cakes layered between wax paper sprinkled with flour (they’re sticky!) and chill for two hours.

The Mocha Buttercream

2 cups vegan margarine

1/2 vanilla bean

1/4 cup strong black coffee

4 cups icing sugar

2 eggs*

12 ounces dark chocolate, melted

Note, the vegan margarine will loosen more than butter.

1. Cream the vegan margarine. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds out. Add to the margarine.

2. Alternate adding the coffee and icing sugar and whip until stiff (check the note).

3. Add the eggs one at a time. Continue to whip on medium speed.

4. Add the melted chocolate. Be sure to whip constantly so you do not cook the eggs. Store in the freezer for about 30 minutes to set the icing. When it comes out of the freezer, break it up with a fork so it is creamy.

Assembly

I use square cake pans, not entirely authentic but then again, I don’t use butter, either.

Spread the buttercream evenly on one layer of cake. Watch the edges, it’s very easier to slope the icing down around the edge and then it won’t hold up properly. Press the next layer of cake on top. Repeat the icing.

The cake can be up to 12 layers tall depending on your dedication to chocolate. We’ve always made ours 6 layers. Spread  a thin layer of the buttercream around the end and over the top to seal it,. Garnish with finely chopped dark chocolate or a drizzle. Some traditions hold that you add a thin layer of caramel to the top but the extra level of fastidiousness may just be too much after the rest of the cake, no?

Enjoy.