Monday, May 30, 2011

Earl grey chocolate truffle tart for a bake together with Abby Dodge

I've been contemplating taking up tennis. Not because I love tennis or anything like that. I used to take tennis lessons in the summer, when I was in high-school. I wasn't a particularly talented tennis player, but I was good enough that I could serve overhead and keep the ball in the court for some time. Of course, when college and university hit, I had no time for tennis, or most extra-curriculars. I dropped tennis just like I dropped piano and swimming because I chose to focus on school and be the best student (or die trying) in all my classes. It was a choice that I made. Over ten years later, I think dropping these activities was a terrible idea. Now, when I sit in front of a piano, I can remember how I used to play, but my fingers can't quite keep up. Picking up a tennis racket feels weird. And, I'm pretty sure, every time I do the butterfly stroke in the pool, I probably look like I'm drowning.

A few weeks ago, a note appeared on my apartment building's bulletin board that made me consider taking up tennis again: a man in my building is looking for a tennis partner. Maybe he's single and cute! His hand-writing is neat, though block letters. I love his use of a Sharpie to write this message, which, by the way, is in English (bonus!). And, though I do own a racket, I don't think I could pass for an "intermediate" player. I'm not even sure I could hit a tennis ball if it was shot my way from across a tennis court. Maybe I'll call the guy, tell him I'll play tennis with him, and on our first game day, I could show up with tea and this earl grey chocolate truffle tart, thus distracting him from the tennis playing. Maybe I'll just nibble on this Earl grey chocolate truffle tart from the comfort of my home while I dream about wooing a boy with either my mad tennis skills, or this tart (realistically, probably the latter).

The original tart recipe is from Abby Dodge, and was published in Fine Cooking. This is a gorgeous recipe for a decadent chocolate tart that is sure to please chocolate enthusiasts and lovers of all things graham cracker. Abby Dodge proposed this recipe for a "bake together" event where bloggers could take her original recipe, tweak it to their hearts' desires, and then blog about it.

For my rendition of this tart, I went with Earl grey as my flavor add-in. For the mascarpone cream topping, the finely chopped tea leaves, added directly to the cream, worked dreamily. The flavor is great, lending a slightly floral, citrusy note to the cream. I loved the look of the flecks of tea throughout the bright cream. Honestly, I'd use this mascarpone cream again, maybe for a trifle.

Sadly, I had trouble getting the Earl grey flavor to stand up to the chocolate flavor of the truffle filling. I tested both white and dark chocolate, steeping the cream with loads of Earl grey tea (3 tea bags) before using that cream to make the ganache filling. The texture of the dark chocolate ganache filling is wonderfully smooth, but the flavor of the tea didn't shine as I had hoped. In the end, I felt the dark chocolate ganache filling was the winner because the white chocolate was a little too sweet and didn't set as quickly, nor as nicely as the dark.

Thank you, Abby Dodge, for providing us with such a great recipe that is very easy, and yields an impressive dessert that tastes like it must have taken days to make. I'm glad I put my homemade graham crackers to good use in this recipe.

Earl grey chocolate truffle tart
Yields one 9x9-inch square tart
If you are making a 9-inch round tart (as was the original recipe), just halve the crust recipe, but keep the filling amounts the same.


  • 255 grams graham cracker crumbs
  • 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 85 grams unsalted butter, melted


  • 340 grams 70% dark chocolate, chopped
  • 57 grams unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 3 Earl grey tea bags
  • 250 mL half-and-half (in Quebec, this is called "crème à café" and has a 10% fat content)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • pinch salt

  • 1 pack (250 grams) mascarpone cheese
  • 188 mL heavy cream (35% fat content)
  • 50 grams granulated sugar
  • Tea leaves from 2 Earl grey tea bags, finely chopped if they aren't so already
Make the crust:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Have a 9x9-inch square tart pan with removable bottom ready, placed on a baking sheet so that you can easily transfer to and from the oven.
  2. In a medium bowl mix the crust ingredients until the butter has evenly coated all the crumbs.
  3. Pour the crust mixture in the tart pan, and press it out firmly and evenly all over the base and up the sides of the pan.
  4. Bake the crust for about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and set it on a wire rack to cool.
Prepare the filling: 
  1. Begin by simmering (not boiling) the cream in a small saucepan with the tea bags for about 10 minutes over medium-low heat. Remove the pan from the stove, but leave the tea bags in while you work on the chocolate.
  2. In a large microwave-safe bowl, melt the chocolate with the butter in the microwave on power level 5, microwaving for 1 minute at a time, then stirring, and repeating, until it is all melted and smooth.
  3. Remove the tea bags from the cream and add the tea-steeped hot cream to the chocolate mixture and stir until it is smooth (if the cream was a little cold, and the mixture appears curdled, just nuke it again for a couple minutes on power level 7, stirring every minute).
  4. Add the vanilla, salt
  5. Let the chocolate ganache you've just made sit on the counter, for an hour or so, to cool and set just enough that it is still pourable, but not super liquid (you know what I mean?).
  6. Transfer the ganache to the tart shell using a rubber spatula, being sure to not get chocolate on the edges, and also to not disturb the delicate edges of the crust.
  7. Let cool completely, cover, and refrigerate until the filling is set, about 4 hours and up to 8  hours before proceeding with the recipe.
Prepare the topping:
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the mascarpone, cream, sugar, and tea leaves on low, to combine, then on medium-high, until the mixture is thick and holds firm peaks. Don't overbeat, or you'll make butter (tasty, but not what we're going for here...).
  2. With an offset spatula, spread the topping over the set tart, leaving pretty swirls and peaks of cream. Don't worry if a little ganache is peaking through the cream. It looks better like that.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Homemade graham crackers

I know I recently declared that it was spring-like outside, but right now, it feels as though it's been raining forever. I love the sound of the rain, and I am quite amused when I get to walk home through the occasional downpour (even without my umbrella). I love the freshness in the air that can only come from a rainfall. However, it's been raining and gloomy for days, and the rain just doesn't have the same appeal any more.

As a consequence from the weather, I've been craving fall-like, heart-warming flavors, like s'mores made of toasted marshmallows, Hershey's chocolate, and graham crackers. Of course, I have no way of toasting a marshmallow, unless I make a fire on my condo balcony (this is probably against some condo rule...). That's okay, I could broil or microwave them instead. I've always been interested in making graham crackers at home, so I figured this was the perfect opportunity. I had no idea they'd be so simple. You can whip them together just like any other cut-out cookie recipe.

I was pleasantly surprised by the whole wheat flour and wheat germ that many recipes called for. Apparently, graham crackers got their name, not from some dude named Graham who created them, but from the "graham flour" that is used to make them. Graham flour was actually named after a dude named Graham (it figures at some point, there was a Graham involved, somehow!), and graham flour can be replicated with a mix of white flour, whole wheat, and wheat germ. The whole wheat and wheat germ, besides being extra healthy, give the crackers a more granular texture, and definitely add to the "chew" of the cookies. That's a win–win, if you ask me. I'm definitely going to keep a batch on hand at all times, just so that I am ready to make last-minute graham cracker crusts and microwave s'mores whenever I want to. I can't wait to play with them in the kitchen.

Graham crackers
Yields about 30–40 square cookies (depending on cookie cutter size)
The original recipe is from Martha Stewart. I didn't make too many changes, though I worked in grams and baked them for longer. The amounts listed are from my weighing and measuring. Check-out the original recipe for the amounts in cups.
  • 205 grams all purpose flour
  • 125 grams whole wheat flour
  • 43 grams wheat germ
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 234 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 144 grams packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp honey (I used my lavender-infused honey)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, wheat germ, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixture fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, brown sugar, and honey until it is smooth.
  4. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients, and continue mixing until the dough comes together. The dough will squeeze together nicely between your fingers when it is ready, though it may still appear slightly crumbly.
  5. Take half the dough and form it into a rectangle. Roll it on a generously floured surface until it is about 1/8-inch thick. Cut into squares with cookie cutters and place on a parchment- (or Silpat-) lined baking sheet. The cookies do not expand much in the oven, so you can pack them pretty close on each cookie sheet. Continue to roll and cut out cookies with the other half of the dough and the scraps.
  6. Freeze the cookies for 20 minutes until they are frozen solid, then prick decorative holes through each (I used my metal cake tester for this) and bake for about 10–12 minutes until the edges just begin to turn golden.
  7. Remove them from the oven and let them cool completely on a cooling rack.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Adventures in sprouting: Apple and cranberry granola with sprouted grains

It's true. I've been sprouting grains in my kitchen. Perhaps a little out of character if you've been perusing my blog lately. And though I'm not going to suddenly transform my blog into an all-healthy, all-whole-grains, all-raw kind of blog, I do like to eat healthy most of the time, when I'm not cramming sweet cakelettes into my little mouth, or cooking something in bacon fat. My grain sprouting is just part of my attempt at achieving balance.

Red quinoa and buckwheat groats, pre-sprouting 

I am actually an experienced sprouter, and by experienced, I mean that I sprouted lentils once, in grade 2. That was twenty-some years ago. I sprouted lentils for a school project, and I was pretty good at it. If I remember correctly, I started by refrigerating the lentils on moist cotton balls, then when the lentils had sprouted and grown semi-strong, I transplanted them to a pot with some earth. I think only one lentil sprout survived (the world is a tough place, especially for an itty bitty lentil sprout). And my little survivor grew into a small plant that was at least as tall as my ruler. It had green leaves, just like a real plant! It grew, and it grew, until one day, years later, my lentil plant died. I'm not sure what happened. There's a distinct possibility that I got bored of watering the plant, or maybe I neglected it one too many times. Maybe it was just it's time to die. Who knows. Point being, I will never forget my little lentil sprout.

Sprouted red quinoa and sprouted buckwheat groats

I've been channelling my sprouting experience, and sprouting quinoa and buckwheat. Thanks to my experience as a sprouter in grade 2, the interweb, and a book, I managed to sprout these grains, over twenty years after my first sprouting experience! Clearly, I am a pro. Sure, the sprouting wasn't perfect, and the buckwheat was a little more sprouty than the quinoa, but, all in all, I had visible sprouting happening in my sprouting vessels. I deem this a successful attempt. It took about 24 hours to sprout the grains. During the process, I rinsed them every 8 hours.

I used my sprouted grains to make raw granola with dried apples, dried cranberries, a few dates, and some maple syrup. In order to get the granola into crispy clusters, I had to dry it. And that is when history repeated itself, and I killed the poor little sprouts. This time, instead of not watering them, I roasted them at 200°F for 2 hours because I was trying desperately to dry my granola without a dehydrator. I don't have a dehydrator to dry my foods. All I have is my oven, and after having attempted to carefully dry the granola below 150°F for an entire day, I just couldn't get the mix dry enough. Maybe I should have continued drying at a low temperature for longer (like 48 hours)? I don't know. Point being, I got impatient and cranked up the temperature. I guess that I killed my poor sprouts or, in the very least, I damaged the valuable nutrients that come from sprouting. The granola tasted great (warning this tastes "healthy" and this is not your typical sweet granola), very similar to a raw granola that I used to buy. The grains were crispy, but the granola clusters were slightly soft from the dates. The cranberries add a necessary tang, livening the flavor of the granola.

Here's my recipe, though I welcome any suggestions on how to dry the granola without baking it too much. These are the steps that I followed and that worked for me, but some of you may have a better way of making "raw" or "live" granola with freshly sprouted grains.

Apple and cranberry granola
Yields approximately 2.5 cups granola

  • 20 dried pitted dates (~175 grams)
  • 125 mL filtered water
  • 100 grams red quinoa, soaked for 40 minutes and sprouted for 24 hours, rinsing every 8 hours
  • 100 grams buckwheat groats, soaked for 20 minutes and sprouted for 24 hours, rinsing every 8 hours
  • 15 grams dried apple slices, roughly chopped
  • 30 grams dried cranberries, roughly chopped
  • 30 mL maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°F.
  2. Prepare a rimmed baking sheet by placing a sheet of parchment at the bottom. Lightly grease the parchment and set aside the baking sheet for later.
  3. In a small saucepan on low heat, slowly warm the dates and water until the dates break down and you obtain a paste. Purée the date paste in the food processor. Set aside to cool.
  4. In a medium bowl, combine the sprouted quinoa, sprouted buckwheat, apple, cranberries, maple syrup, and cinnamon. Stir it until the ingredients together until they are evenly distributed throughout the mixture.
  5. Add the date paste to the granola mixture, and stir until all the ingredients are evenly coated.
  6. Scoop the granola mixture onto the baking sheet and press it out evenly so that it is about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Be sure to compact the granola well so the mixture is firm, and not loose.
  7. Bake the granola for a few hours (about 2 to 2.5 hours) until it is dry enough to crumble into clusters. I chose to flip the granola after about 1 hour so that the bottom dries as well as the top (To flip, top the granola with another sheet of parchment and a baking sheet, then boldly flip!).
  8. When the granola has sufficiently dried, place the baking sheet on a wire rack to cool completely, then crumble the dried granola into clusters. Store in an airtight container.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lavender honey cakelettes and why you shouldn't cry over crystallized honey

I have two confessions for you today, from me, the lover of all things maple.

Confession #1: I love crystallized honey. I'm not referring to the creamy honey you buy in the stores. I'm referring to the honey that you've "accidentally" forgotten (see confession #2) at the back of the cupboard that becomes this gritty/gooey/messy delight! When maple syrup crystallizes, it's just not as good.

Confession #2: I buy way too much honey for little old me. This is probably why I end up with so much crystallized honey (see confession #1).

Confession #3 that I thought of as I wrote out my two first confessions (see confessions #1 and #2): maybe I love crystallized honey so much that I buy extra on purpose so that it will "accidentally" crystallize in my cupboard.

We could probably debate this for hours....

Point being, that crystallized honey is incredible. You should accidentally forget a jar of honey at the back of your cupboard if you want proof. It's delightful stuff. Trust me. Spread it on toast, spoon it on cheesecake, or anything your heart desires. I've been known to spread it directly on pieces of cheese. I also eat it by the spoonful....

The fun thing about crystallized honey is that you can heat it (in the microwave or a saucepan) and the gritty honey will take on its fluid form. Of course, this is only temporary. As it cools, the honey slowly returns to its thickened, texturized form.

This week, I took a sample of my crystallized honey and infused it with lavender. The lavender enhances the floral perfume and flavor of honey. I infused 2 cups of honey with just a few tablespoons of dried lavender (remember to use food-grade lavender!). The infusing process is easy: simply heat the honey in the microwave for just a couple minutes so that it is nice and fluid (about 115°F), then stir in the lavender, and let the mixture sit, stirring it occasionally. When the honey has cooled, simply spoon out the lavender, which at that point has floated up to the surface of the honey. If your honey recrystallizes, this is the easiest way to get the lavender out, though you may lose some of the honey. Alternatively, you could strain it (after reheating the honey just slightly, so that it is fluid enough to filter through a sieve). If you want an "in your face" kind of lavender flavor, you could infuse the honey a second time with an extra dose of lavender. Up to you!

I used my freshly prepared lavender honey to make adorable lavender honey cakelettes (but obviously you can use your favorite honey straight out of the jar). My recipe is adapted from Hot Polka Dot (a fun blog that you should definitely check out). Honey is used to sweeten the cake batter, but the key to this recipe is to brush on a honey glaze when the cakes are fresh out of the oven. The glaze revives the honey flavor that was lost while baking. The aroma of lavender is ever so faint, just the way I like it. The little cakelettes are squeezably spongy. I used one of my grandmother's old pans to make these. I love the used feel of this pan. It's browned with use, and there's a thin, thin layer of cake embedded in its grooves (that's just part of its charm). The trick to using it is to generously grease and flour every little crevice of each cakelette cup so that the cakes release nicely after baking.

Lavender honey cakelettes
Yields 32 cakelettes (or one 9x5-inch loaf)

Cakelette batter
  • 205 grams all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 114 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 110 grams granulated sugar
  • 120 mL lavender honey (melted if it's crystallized)
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 120 mL skim milk
Honey glaze
  • 30 grams powdered sugar
  • 2 tbsp skim milk (or more to reach desired consistency)
  • 1 tbsp lavender honey (melted if it's crystallized)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare the cakelette pan by generously greasing and flouring it. Set it aside for later.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar, and honey until it is light and fluffy.
  4. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing in between each addition, and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  5. Add one-third the flour, then half the milk, another third of flour, then the rest of the milk, and the rest of the flour, mixing between each addition, and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Mix the batter until all the ingredients are combined.
  6. Drop the batter into the cakelette pan, filling them two-thirds full.
  7. Bake for about 15–17 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean (start checking as of 12 minutes). You might want to rotate your pan after 10 minutes to ensure the cakes brown evenly.
  8. While the cakelettes are baking, prepare the glaze by whisking together all the ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside for later.
  9. Remove the cakelette pan from the oven and set it to cool for just 2 minutes on a wire rack. Then, loosen the cakelettes. To unmold them, invert the pan over another wire rack that is set over parchment.
  10. When the cakes are still hot, brush them with the glaze. One batch of glaze is just enough to glaze all 32 cakelettes.
  11. Let the cakelettes cool completely before serving.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Cinnamon raisin buns with rum cream cheese icing

I don't know if I should be proud or ashamed to admit this, but my favorite raisin bread would have to be the Sunmaid brand raisin bread, the one in the "not-so-pretty" red packaging. The loaf has a cinnamon swirl that has just the right amount of cinnamon. I love that it's a mini-loaf so the slices are cutely petite.

When I was much younger, I used to spend loads of time at our neighbor's house. My brother and I called her Auntie Kay, though she was in no way related to us. She was definitely an aunt to us, if not more. I think we used to spend a lot of our free time with her. She looked after sick and injured birds for the SPCA in her home, so we'd help her out, inside in the "bird room," or outside in the garden, catching worms for her to feed to the birds she was caring for. Auntie Kay had a heart of gold; she would do anything for the animals and birds she cared for, and so we helped her (or at least kept her company while she tended to them all). It's kind of funny that, years later, I don't think I'd ever even consider entering a room full of birds (I'm just not a fan), and I'm not sure if I'd be able to dig around the dirt to catch a worm.

I have fond memories of Auntie Kay toasting slices of Sunmaid raisin bread, and serving them to us loaded with salted butter that soaked through the hot slices. We'd devour the little slices of toast with cocoa or tea (if I'm remembering correctly). The raisin bread was a wonderful treat.

It's been kind of fall-like out, and I have been craving that raisin bread. It's going to rain for the next 5 days. The weather is ridiculously depressing. I decided to counter the gloominess with some cinnamon raisin buns. These buns certainly did brighten my week-end, and I am almost positive that it wasn't just a rum-induced glow from the spiked cream cheese icing.

The dough (based on this recipe) can be left in the fridge overnight to rise slowly, but this time I needed quasi-instant gratification, so I let the dough rise in the protected space of my oven with just the oven light on. This takes just under a couple hours and works like a charm. Of course, my recipe makes about three dozen buns, so once I had rolled out and cut them all, I baked one dozen right away for myself, then the second dozen, I left in the fridge overnight and baked them the next day, and the third dozen, I froze for later. Please note that if you refrigerate a batch overnight (or freeze a batch), make sure that you let them come to room temperature before baking them so that they poof up nicely when you eventually stick them in the oven. If the buns aren't room temperature when you begin to bake them, they won't bake up as fluffy. They'll still be tasty, but not as soft and light.

Cinnamon raisin buns
Yields about 3 dozen buns

Dough recipe
  • 240 grams sultana raisins
  • 60 mL spiced rum (1/4 cup)
  • 4 tsp instant yeast
  • 2 cups warm milk (~105°F)
  • 57 grams unsalted butter, room temperature (1/4 cup or 1/2 stick)
  • 115 grams granulated sugar (1/2 cup)
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 2 tsp salt 
  • 800 grams all-purpose flour, divided
Filling recipe
  • 113 grams unsalted butter, melted (1/2 cup or 1 stick)
  • 120 grams dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
Rum cream cheese icing
  • 85 grams cream cheese, room temperature
  • 35 grams powdered sugar
  • 45 mL (3 tbsp) skim milk
  • 15–30 mL (1–2 tbsp) spiced rum
  1. In a small bowl, mix the raisins with the rum. Let soak over night (if you forget to do this, just microwave the rum and raisins to coax the raisins into absorbing the some of the booze).
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the yeast and warm milk. Set aside to get all bubbly while you measure out the rest of the ingredients (about 10 minutes).
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar and egg for one minute. 
  4. Add the bubbly yeast mixture to the creamed butter mixture. Mix for one more minute.
  5. Strain the raisins and add them to the mixer. Mix again for 30 seconds.
  6. Begin to add three quarters of the flour. Add the salt. Mix for a minute or so until the dough mostly comes together, then remove the paddle attachment and switch it for the dough hook. 
  7. Knead the dough on medium-low for about 5 minutes. Stop the mixer and feel the dough. If it is very sticky, you will need to add more flour until you get a dough that is just tacky. Continue to add the remaining flour a couple tablespoons at a time, until the dough is tacky, not sticky. If the dough is too dry, sprinkle a little water over and knead it a little more. Overall, you will want to have needed the dough for about 7 to 10 minutes.
  8. Transfer the dough to a greased bowl. Grease the top of the dough, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Mark the level the dough is at on the bowl so that you will know when it is doubled in size.
  9. Place the dough either in the fridge to rise slowly overnight, or in the oven, with just the oven light on.
  10. When the dough is almost doubled, prepare the filling components by melting the butter in a small bowl in the microwave, and in another small bowl, mix the brown sugar and the cinnamon. Set these aside.
  11. When the dough has doubled, remove it from the oven (or fridge, in this case you should let it warm up to room temperature!) and punch it down.
  12. Divide the dough into three parts.
  13. Roll each piece out to a rectangle of about 16x10 inches. 
  14. Brush each rectangle with one third of the melted butter. Be sure to leave a small one-inch border all the way around the rectangle.
  15. Sprinkle each with one third of the cinnamon sugar. Be sure to leave a small one-inch border all the way around the rectangle.
  16.  Roll the rectangle to get a 16-inch long roll. Trim the ends, and slice into 11 or 12 buns (slice every 1.5-inches or so).
  17. Place each batch of buns into a greased 9-inch cake round, spacing them out evenly. Cover and let them rise again for about 30 minutes.
  18. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the rolls for 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and place the pan on a wire rack to cool.
  19. Prepare the icing by whisking together the cream cheese, powdered sugar, milk, and rum. If your icing is too thin, add a touch more powdered sugar. If your icing is too thick, dilute it with a little milk.
  20. Serve the cinnamon buns with a dollop of icing and enjoy!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Cardamom rice pudding with rhubarb compote

I guess I can be a little insane at times. Insane like spontaneously deciding to book a trip to Santa Fe. I wasn't aware of just how far Santa Fe is from Montreal. It's pretty far, like "two time zones away" kind of far. That's really far for a week-end trip. Clearly, I'm a little nuts. Actually, I had reasons for traveling so far.

Food photography has been a very sore point for me. I have had trouble tapping into my "inner artist;" there were lighting issues galore; I had trouble shooting in any camera mode other than automatic. The subject was so sensitive that when I got a new camera, I told next to no one, and it sat in the box for what seemed like an eternity, taunting and teasing me through its bubble wrap. Eventually, I couldn't take it anymore and I signed up for a week-end long ACE Camp food photography course with Helene Dujardin (of Tartelette and Plate to Pixel). And that`s how I ended up in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Crazy, huh!

As I made my way through the check-in line and security at the airport in Montreal last Friday, I was pretty excited: I was going to meet Helene Dujardin that day and I was hoping to gain some much needed insight into food photography. Of course, the excitement was short-lived because, at the US Customs, the officer deemed me an "unintentional immigrant" to the United States, trying to weasel my way in under the guise of a "photography course." He looked stunned that I would go all the way to Santa Fe from Montreal, just for a week-end. Needless to say, I missed a whole bunch of flights and shuttle buses, and I started to wonder if this was a huge neon sign telling me that I had made a huge, expensive mistake.

I did make it to Santa Fe in the end (though a little later than planned) and I learned a lot at photography camp. Angela (the organizer) was incredible (she put together some wonderful meals for us to indulge in and she was a joy to get to know). Helene was such a comforting guide to us all, and truly a fountain of knowledge to learn from. Helene is so down to earth, yet I will always be more than a little in awe of her when I see her. She is quite an amazing and talented woman.

Now, flash forward to this, my first blog post after camp, and I have to say, I really did learn a lot. Perhaps I chose the wrong time of day to take my photographs for this blog post: outside, in the shade of a house, sun setting behind the house. Yup, not the best time of day for photographing food. Yet, I still ended up with some shots that I`m okay with. I know that practice will make better, and at least now, after camp, I have a few tricks to work with and play around with. Now, if only I could figure out what "post-processing in photoshop" means!

And, if you`re wondering why I chose rice pudding for my first blog post, after photography camp: I decided that if the photographing proved to be troublesome, I`d need a cupful of comfort at the end of it all to lift my spirits. The rice pudding recipe was tweaked from the one published in Fine Cooking (June/July 2011). I decided to include cardamom instead of cinnamon to add a slight floral note that would be perfect paired with rhubarb compote. In case you're wondering how I got the rhubarb to be so pink: I added a few raspberries to the pot to give the compote that pinkish glow that people come to expect from rhubarb desserts. Of course, whether you add the raspberries or not is entirely up to you. I layered the rice pudding with the compote to serve, sprinkling the top with a little crushed pistachio for that extra punch of color. I only scrape out the seeds from the split vanilla bean after simmering the pudding since, more often than not, my vanilla beans are less than fresh.

Cardamom rice pudding with rhubarb compote
Serves 4 (makes about 3 cups)
  • 1 L whole milk
  • 125 grams jasmine "cargo" rice (meaning it still has its husk)
  • 75 grams granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean (split in half lengthwise)
  • 2 cardamom seeds (crack the pods open to reveal the seeds)
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream (you can use whole milk instead, but I felt like indulging)
  • Rhubarb compote (optional)
  • Crushed pistachios
  1. Combine the milk, rice, sugar, vanilla bean, and cardamom seeds in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Bring to the boil, and simmer, stirring often, and playing with the heat as needed to maintain a gentle simmer.
  2. Cook the rice until it is tender. This will take approximately 25 minutes for a simple jasmine rice, but more like 50 minutes for the unhusked rice. Remove the pan from the heat when the rice is done.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks together, then slowly drizzle one cup of the hot milk mixture while whisking the yolks to temper the eggs. When tempered, add the egg mixture to the pan, along with the cream and place the pan over medium heat, stirring constantly, just until the mixture boils and is thickened (about 2 minutes).
  4. Transfer the pudding to a bowl, removing the cardamom seeds and the vanilla bean (be sure to scrape out any remaining seeds and add them back to the pudding). Put plastic wrap directly on the pudding to prevent a skin from forming, and place the bowl in an ice bath to cool it completely. 
  5. To serve, layer the pudding with rhubarb compote, and top with crushed pistachios.
Rhubarb compote
Makes about 1.5 cups
  • 1 pound frozen, chopped rhubarb
  • 60 grams granulated sugar
  • 7 frozen raspberries
  1. In a small saucepan, heat the rhubarb, sugar, and raspberries over medium-low heat, covered.
  2. When the mixture begins to simmer, uncover, and stir with a fork.
  3. Continue cooking (about 15 minutes), stirring often, until the rhubarb breaks down into a lovely compote.