Raspberries I Have Loved

It’s probably something to do with the unusual heat, but all my berries are coming ready about two weeks earlier than usual this year.

Our fridge is already full of saskatoon berries (some of which are destined for a fate of pie later this morning) and over the last couple days I’ve spent nearly an hour in the thorny brambles of my raspberry bushes plucking the tasty red berries from their hiding spots.

Weeks, literally weeks, after we moved into our house over sixteen years ago, I dug a small hole into the newly graded soil of our backyard and planted a root-ball of a raspberry cultivar.

All those years later, after ups and downs, good seasons and bad, incidents with wafting herbicides, a sad pruning mistake by my wife many years ago, and many attempts to train and constrain the patch, I have a plot of land that’s roughly, consistently, five square meters in size and densely packed with raspberry plants.

We pick and eat them fresh. We pluck pail-fulls that become pies or other pastry deserts. We drop them into cereal or on ice cream. We share them with th neighbours. We live for a short month on the bounty of garden raspberries that for a brief moment seems endless and plentiful.

Until it’s suddenly gone.

Gone, and we are stuck buying expensive little plastic clamshells of never-quite-the-same farm berries usually imported from California or Mexico, achingly dulled by their long trek to the Canadian prairies.

That trip from the backyard is so much shorter, so much fresher. And always a summer treat, even if it is a couple weeks ahead of schedule this year.

Fail Up Friday: Forked Cream

If you’ve been reading along for the last few days, I posted a comic earlier this week that tried to find a bit of humour in some recent… um… less-than-perfect cooking efforts.

Thinking about funny ideas for future comic strips means I’ve also been thinking of all the fails I’ve had over the years. Not all of them are funny or even comic-strip fodder. But, some of them would make for short anecdotes that could make for some light Friday blog writing. In other words, I might have a new recurring topic on my hands: Fail Up Fridays, because if you don’t learn from your fails you’re doing it wrong.

We had some down time last night, and the YouTube auto-play was flipping through random videos on the tv in the background. One of the chefs I watch on the regular had posted a new video inventorying some of the techniques she applies to her baking.

Half way down her list was how to make whipping cream by hand.

She measured out the cream into an appropriately-sized bowl, she grasped said bowl firmly by the rim in one hand and with the other took up a whisk. Arm extended and bowl down by her hip she expertly demonstrated the long but successful grind of beating some air into the cream to form lovely stiff peaks and create tasty whipped cream.

Simple, right? Well…

Rewind Twenty-five Years

I lived with my younger brother in university. We shared a basement suite a few blocks away from campus where various friends would stop by to hang out. We were also both dating young women at the time (the same young women who would both eventually become our wives) and being two young guys eager to impress our girlfriends with our cooking prowess (just like sitcom characters) we tried to teach ourselves some basic culinary skills, something neither of us had picked up much of along the way prior to those years.

The lesson I’ve taken away since is that sometimes it’s better to attempt and succeed magnificently at something simple, than to try something complex and fall flat on your face.

One night we tried something complex.

At least it was complex for two guys who owned four plates, a set of cutlery, and an aluminum frying pan between them both.

We tried to make a lemon pie. Y’know… to impress our girlfriends.

My Kingdom for a Whisk

Into a frozen pie shell we poured a lemon custard (a’la powder-from-a-box) and baked.

Into our one and only plastic mixing bowl we poured a cup of heavy whipping cream.

We did not own a whisk. We certainly did not own a stand mixer with a whisking attachment. We did own a fork… and a fork is exactly how we tried to turn the whipping cream into whipped cream.

Tried.

I remember taking turns. I remember getting frustrated. I remember making a mess.

There was no whipped cream on our pie.

Instead, after an hour of effort, there was a slightly-greyish puddle that we’d defeatedly poured atop our lemon pie filling and that despite our efforts to bake and salvage, was not impressing anyone… especially not our girlfriends.

Many years later when we bought ourselves a magnificent red stand mixer, one of the first things I did was spin up a batch of whipped cream to accompany a batch of breakfast crepes. It took less than ten minutes. No one questioned my choice, least of all my wife, but had she inquired I would have simply replied with… “remember that lemon pie we tried to make?”

Banoffee Swirl Ice Cream

Tales from the Cast Iron Guy Creamery

If you, like me, avoid those recipe blogs that spend the first fifteen pages of text explaining the backstory of the recipe, then I have a treat for you… merely two paragraphs, a photo, and of course a delicious ice cream recipe to follow.

Our travel-food story goes something like this: After obsessing over the UK holiday film Love, Actually and specifically that scene where Keira Knightly’s character shows up with a slice of pie for her husband’s buddy, my wife became slightly obsessed with finding her own slice of banoffee pie when we visited the UK in 2006. It was darn good. And it turns out no one in Canada bothers to consistently sell it. Anywhere. Instead we learned how to make banoffee pie — actually a fairly simple pie consisting of a graham crust, dulce de leche, bananas, whipped cream, and a baker’s selection of sprinkled garnish. Then last year, after procuring ourselves an ice cream maker attachment for the stand mixer, I stumbled on the idea of adapting the banoffee pie recipe into a banoffee ice cream recipe… an effort I undertook for the third time earlier this week:

Recipe

500 ml heavy cream 
250 ml full fat milk 
160 ml white sugar
2 ml  salt 
6 egg yolks, separated 
1 ripe banana
5 ml vanilla 
75 g coarsely crumbled graham crackers
160 ml dulce de leche

In a saucepan I combined the cream, milk, salt and sugar and heated to about 125F or until the sugar dissolved completely.

Meanwhile, I separated the eggs from their yokes and combined the yokes with the banana which I’d mashed as smoothly as I could with a small whisk. I tempered the egg/banana slurry with the hot cream mix. This meant scooping and drizzling a few measuring cups full of hot cream mixture into the egg mixture and stirring furiously to bring the temperature up in the eggs while avoiding making the contents of banana breakfast burrito…. in other words, avoiding scrambling the eggs.

Then, when things were up to temp, I combined the two mixes fully, heating and pasturizing the custard base at about 170F in the saucepan.

This needed to cool. I filtered the whole thing through a fine wire mesh seive into a juice jug. There was a couple tablespoons worth of banana pulp that didn’t filter, but the flavour of the bananas was already infused into base so I just discarded that pulp and moved on.

Four to six hours in the fridge likely would have been long enough, but I find I get best results in my particular ice cream churn with an overnight chill. In the morning I stirred the custard mix again and added the vanilla before firing up the ice cream maker attachment for my stand mixer.

I am aware that making dulce de leche at home is possible. From what I understand it involves carmelizing (in a sealed can) sweetened condensed milk in an effort if done wrong can result in explosive-level pressurization of said can. Fortunately, I’m able to buy ready-to-serve dulce de leche from the supermarket, so I got that ready by the far less dangerous action of peeling the lid off the can.

I also took this opportunity to crumble the graham crackers up in a bowl.

The ice cream churn did it’s thing for about twenty minutes after which I added the cracker crumbles to the mixer. This combined for another minute or so.

The final stage, in a chilled bowl, was to “swirl” in the dulce de leche. A scoop of ice cream into the container followed by a drizzle of the sauce followed by another scoop of ice cream… and so on until everything was layered together and ready for the freezer.

The result of all this work is a delicious banana ice cream swirled with the cool caramel flavour of dulce de leche and provided a wee crunch by the graham crackers… or as close to a banoffee pie as I can get in ice cream form. And as much as I like pie, ice cream is darned amazing, too.

This is Pi Day

Any excuse to bake something, my pie skills are not top game but with the assistance of my daughter we managed to bake a pair of non-standard cast iron pies to celebrate the dad-jokiest of days.

We doubled the recipe below to make a six inch mini (or as the teenager would have it, personal) pie and a super-large double-dip pie in the big ol’ twelve inch lodge pan.

Pi day also falls at the wrong time of year for some proper fresh fruit, so where we’d have a couple thousand baking apples to work with in August, in March we used our fallback: cherry and blueberry pie filling from a can.

Recipe

1/2 pound lard
2.5 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup orange juice
1 can of pie filling

The flour, salt and lard got mixed up roughly in a bowl, being careful not to overwork. Unlike with a good gluten-strong bread, pastry and gluten are cautious friends and too much gluten development makes for chewy crust where a flaky pastry is preferred. Blend lightly, my friends. Oh so lightly.

When just mixed, the orange juice was combined in and the whole thing was wrapped tight for a couple hours of rest in the fridge.

Rolled out, panned up, filled, and topped, we baked these at 475F for ten minutes then dropped the heat to 375F for a finishing bake watching for the desired browning. The filling was pre-cooked, so the cast iron pan on the bottom and the hot air on top ensure the whole thing is cooked through.

Happy Pi Day. Enjoy something round!