Blogging, Babies & Butter Tarts

I’ve decided to start blogging again. Why? Because I missed it. Because why not. Because what else am I going to do while my baby naps. (Oh yeah–I had a daughter a couple of months ago! But more on that later. Probably.)

September means back to school for students and back to work for summer vacationers, and since I’m not going back to either of those things, I might as well go back to blogging. Right? Write.

A lot of stuff has happened in the past few months: Dave and I said goodbye to our carefree/child-free days of bar hopping and apartment dwelling in Toronto’s Trinity-Bellwoods neighbourhood and became home-owning, Rav 4-driving, diaper-changing, stroller-pushing east enders. Our new gig keeps us busy doing all sorts of things, like trying to stay ahead of a Mount Everest-sized pile of laundry, making our house feel like a home (I swear we’ll get window coverings soon!), and manipulating our facial muscles in ridiculous contortions in attempt to make our daughter smile. Sometimes it even works (proof below).

baby smiles

Things I haven’t been doing lately include, but are not limited to: baking and blogging. And bathing. Just kidding. I totally still bathe, although it’s been bumped down on the to do list these days. Taking care a human baby is hard work! But it’s impossible to complain about the job when your boss is so darned cute.

Anyway, here’s a Grandma Murphy-approved recipe for butter tarts. I thought these were the perfect treats for this post since our daughter’s due date was Canada Day (her actual birth date was July 2) and apparently butter tarts are considered a Canadian delicacy. Beware: they are sinfully delicious and almost too easy to make!

easy butter tart reicpe

Note: I used this pastry recipe for the tart shells, but store-bought ones work, too!

1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 425°F

Cover raisins with boiling water. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes. Drain water. Beat in egg, brown sugar and the remaining ingredients. Pour mixture into raw tart shells–do not overfill. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. 

Valentine’s Day Brownies

They say that food is love, and this Valentine’s Day I’m expressing my love in the form of heart-shaped brownies.

heart-shaped brownie recipe

Of course, there’s no way cocoa and icing sugar can adequately express the deep love that I have for Dave: my husband, my valentine, my best friend. There’s no way I can pour the love that flows through my wild, beating heart into brownie batter. He’s already got my heart, so presenting him with a plate of heart-shaped brownies is just one of the small ways I can show him how much he means to me. A sugary way to say I love you.

brownies_multipleValentine’s Day is a time to celebrate all forms of love–not just the romantic kind, but the love from friends and family that makes life beautiful. While they might not have been heart-shaped, these brownies were a staple in my Grandma Murphy‘s house when my mom and her four sisters were growing up. They, too, were an expression an of my grandma’s love for her daughters–especially when she iced them with chocolate frosting!

Brownies:
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup Crisco 
2 squares chocolate or 1/3 cup cocoa
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt 

1 cup sifted flour
1 cup walnuts 
2 teaspoons vanilla 

Preheat oven to 350°F. 

Melt the chocolate squares in a double-boiler. Cream together sugar and Crisco using an electric mixer. Add eggs and beat until light. Add flour and melted chocolate or cocoa. Stir in salt, nuts and vanilla. Pour mixture into a 9-inch square pan and bake for 20 minutes. 

Frosting:
2 cups icing sugar 
1/2 cup cocoa 
1/4 cup butter 
Dash salt 
1/4 cup boiling water 

Thoroughly mix first four ingredients in a medium bowl. Add hot water very slowly while beating until it reaches a “flowing” consistency, much like a ganache. 

Chocolate Mocha Torte

All of my Grandma Murphy‘s desserts are delicious, but some are popular than others. Take for example, the beloved chocolate mocha torte.

chocolate mocha cake recipeThis tall, dark and handsome dessert is practically a celebrity in my family. When I asked relatives to share their favorite of Grandma’s recipes, almost all of the replies included the mocha torte. With its layers of moist chocolate chiffon cake and creamy mocha frosting, it’s totally worthy of its superstar status.

For me, this cake is synonymous with celebrations. It’s been my favorite cake for as long as I can remember. Even as a kid, I liked the rich mocha flavor and it was often the highlight of my childhood birthday parties. My mom loves this cake, too. For years, my grandma made it for her on her birthday, and I can’t think of this dessert without imagining my mom blowing out candles, her bright smile spread across her beautiful face.

If you try this recipe, I hope your family loves it as much as mine does. Enjoy!

For the cake: 
3/4 cup boiling water
4 squares sweet or semi-sweet chocolate 
1 2/3 cups sifted cake flour*
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons instant coffee
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
8 eggs, separated
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar 

For the frosting: 
3 cups whipping cream, chilled
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1/2 cup sifted unsweetened cocoa 
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons instant coffee 

Preheat oven to 350 F

Combine chocolate in boiling water. Microwave for 1 minute. Stir well and let cool. 

Sift flour, 1 1/4 cups sugar, coffee, baking powder, and salt into small mixer bowl. Make a well in the mixture and add oil, egg yolks, and chocolate. Beat well. 

Combine egg whites and cream of tartar and beat until frothy. Gradually beat in remaining 1/4 cup sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold in chocolate batter until well mixed. Bake in an angel food cake pan for 45 to 50 minutes. Upturn pan until cool. 

For the frosting, combine cream, sugar, cocoa, salt, and coffee. Refrigerate, covered, for 30 minutes. Beat mixture with electric beaters until stiff. 

Split cake into three layers and ice liberally. 

*Can substitute with all-purpose flour.

Date Squares: A Delicious Way To Stay Warm

Winter is my nemesis. Which is funny because it’s the season of my arrival. On the other hand, maybe it makes perfect sense: I was born in the middle of a January blizzard; it might not have been a polar vortex, but a winter storm nonetheless. When it was time to leave the hospital, my mother swaddled me in a blanket and carried me through the cold, dark night, with its blustery winds and swirling snow, to the idling car, where my dad sat in the driver’s seat, the heat blasting on high, ready to take his new family home. That was my first experience of the outdoors. I have a theory that some memory of this trauma still exists in my subconscious and that’s why I hate the season.

My husband thinks I just didn’t play outside enough as child. He could have a point.

winter wonderlandEvery year I dread this season, but as hard as I try to will it away (if only I had such power!) or find a job in California, it always proves inevitable. I get a little grumpy, and I take it personally–the cold and the dark interfering with my plans, forcing me to wear unfashionable footwear and pull up my collar to keep the wind from biting my neck.

Over the holidays we spent a few days at my step-father’s cottage and I have to say, that’s one place where I find winter enchanting. The world was blanketed in layers of fresh, white snow, and I could appreciate the romance of this season. We spent afternoons indoors, reading by the warmth of a crackling fire. My mom and I made soup for lunch and baked goods for dessert in a sunlit kitchen, the snow-covered lake spread out before us beyond the picture windows. We prepared meals together and ate by candlelight. We enjoyed some fresh air and the peaceful winter quiet that can be found beyond the city’s hum.

It was a wonderful way to spend the end of a year, offering a moment to reflect on the one that had passed, as we prepared to surrender to the wondrous unknown of the one that lies ahead.

Date SquaresBack in the city, another way to stay warm is to brew a pot of earl grey tea and whip up a batch of my Grandma Murphy‘s date squares. The treat warms you from the inside out.

2 cups flour
2 cups brown sugar
2 cups oats
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 lb dates

Preheat oven to 350°F

Thoroughly mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut in butter until pea-sized lumps appear. Put half of the crumbs in greased 9 x 13 pan.

Cook the dates with enough water to cover until mushy. Add vanilla and remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Let cool slightly.

Spread the date mixture over the bottom layer and cover with remaining crumbs. Bake for 45 minutes until golden brown. Cut into squares while still slightly warm.

Almond Shortbread Bars

It’s a longstanding tradition for the women in my family to gather before the holidays and spend hours baking cookies and squares. Each baker brings one or two recipes and then, once every last cookie is dusted with icing sugar or dipped in chocolate, they divvy up the haul and each take home an assortment of treats to serve throughout the holidays.

When I was younger, we used to have epic Murphy family Christmas parties. My mom or one of my four aunts would host, and Grandpa and Grandma Murphy, all of the aunts, uncles and cousins would celebrate Christmas together under one roof. My aunts would cook a fabulous feast and then put out heaping platters of the famous Murphy Christmas cookies for dessert.

almond shortbread barsIt was almost overwhelming, there were so many options: buckeyes, pecan balls, mint-chocolate cookies, brownies, three kinds of shortbread cookies… the list goes on and on. But one of my favorite treats on those platters were my Aunt Janet’s almond shortbread bars.

The squares are basically shortbread cookies that got gussied up for a black-tie event: you start with a shortbread base and then top it with a layer of caramel-y almond goodness. Yum! The squares remind me of Christmastime, but they’ll please a crowd any time of the year.

1 1/2 cups butter
1 cup icing sugar
2 cups flour
Pinch of salt
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 1/2 cups sliced almonds
1 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 350°F
 
In a large bowl cream together 1 cup of the butter and icing sugar. Stir together flour and salt and gradually mix into creamed mixture.

With floured hands, pat the mixture into an ungreased 9″ x 13″ pan. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until lightly coloured.

Meanwhile, in a small pan, melt the remaining 1/2 cup of butter. Stir in brown sugar, lemon juice and 1 tablespoon water. Bring to a boil stirring constantly. Stir in almonds and almond extract.

Spread almond mixture over the base and bake for 12 to 15 minutes longer, until golden brown. Cut into bars while still warm.

Lemon Meringue Pie

Lemon meringue pie reminds me of my dad. It was his favorite dessert, and he especially liked Grandma Murphy’s version, with its tart filling and fluffy mountain of meringue. My grandma often came over to our house for Sunday dinner when I was little, and she always brought dessert. My dad was most excited when he discovered a lemon meringue smiling up at him from under her plastic cake carrier.

meringue

I made lemon meringue pie for the first time last summer. As I rolled out the pastry, whipped the egg whites to soft peaks and mixed the lemon filling, all I could think of was my dad. I imagined that he was coming to visit, and that I was making this pie just for him. I took meticulous care with every step. I imagined that once the pie had cooled, I would cut him a slice. A giant wedge with a thick ribbon of lemon filling and heaps of meringue with stiff, golden peaks. Then I would cut myself a slice just like it. And we would sit at my kitchen table, the afternoon sun streaming through the back windows, and shoot the breeze and eat pie, savoring every perfect bite, savoring the moment itself, because isn’t it wonderful to be alive.

lemon meringue pie My dad would be 62 years old today. It’s hard to imagine how he might have changed in the past 16 years. Would his hair and beard be completely gray? Would you be able to count more lines around his eyes when he smiled? Would he still blare his favorite records when no else was home and he had the house all to himself?

It’s funny, I didn’t actually like lemon meringue pie when I was a kid (fruit-based desserts were seriously sub-par to chocolate ones at the time), but I’ve grown to love it, and will continue to make it for special occasions, and just-because ones, in memory of my dad.

lemon meringue pie1 pie crust
1 box Shirriff’s lemon pie filling*
3 egg whites
6 tablespoons sugar

Preheat oven to 425°F

Prepare pie crust and bake according to recipe instructions. Blind bake raw pie shell for 10 to 12 minutes. My grandma often pre-bakes her pie shell the day before filling it, so that it’s completely cooled.

Preheat oven to 350°F

Prepare the Shirriff’s lemon pie filling according to directions on the box and add to cooled crust.

Beat egg whites until frothy. Gradually add the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, until mixture is very firm; standing peaks should form when you remove the beaters. Spread over filling, arranging meringue in attractive peaks. Bake until golden, about 10 to 12 minutes.

I was surprised that my grandma, who makes everything from scratch, uses (gasp!) store-bought filling for this recipe. “There’s no point going to the fuss of making it yourself because Shirriff’s lemon pie filling is so good,” Grandma says. Who can argue with that?!

Morning Muffin Magic

I have a weakness for muffins. Every time I walk into a coffee shop, I instantly forget that I came in to order a latte, and start drooling over the plump muffins staring at me from behind the pastry case. “Pick me! Pick me!” I hear each one pleading. Like adorable little orphan-muffins in a pound.

But as tempting as the muffins in the cake stands at my favourite cafe are, nothing comes close to homemade muffins. Especially Grandma’s homemade muffins.morning muffin magicMy Grandma Murphy is 91 years old, so you won’t be surprised to hear that she doesn’t bake as often as she did when she was a young mother with a husband and five daughters to feed. When she does bake these days, though, muffins are her go-to goodies.

morning muffin magicThere are no special instructions for these muffins. Like all muffins, they’re a great grab-and-go breakfast or cure for those mid-morning stomach rumbles. The one thing I will say about these muffins, which are loaded with chunks of pecans, pineapple and raisins, is that there’s a reason why they have the word “magic” in their name!

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups grated carrot
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped pecans or other nuts
1/2 cup coconut
1/2 cup crushed pineapple, drained, or 1 apple, peeled and grated
3 eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 350°F

Combine first 10 ingredients in a large bowl. Stir well to blend.

Beat eggs, oil and vanilla in small bowl. Make a well in dry ingredients and pour in egg mixture, stirring just until moistened. Fill greased or paper cup-lined muffin tins 3/4 full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

Special thanks to the beautiful and talented Scarlet O’Neill for helping me style this shoot.