CHRISTMAS 1944 AND OUR FATHER’S MINCE TARTS

Christmas 1944   – The three sisters brave the cold .  The youngest, Heather is wearing a snow suit.  I am standing Mona’s right.  We are all wearing real fur trimmed parka style headgear

It is the childhood memories of Christmas that evoke the strongest feelings. 1944 and the rationing of almost everything meant making do, making over and often going without.  But Christmas was still bright and wonderful and our Christmas stockings were always filled with mysterious wonderful things.

In early November we  began the school day practising  songs for the annual Carol Festival.  This long anticipated event  was held in one of the cities beautiful old churches.  All the schools in the city performed.    The Carol Festival marked the beginning of the celebrations of Christmas.

It was bitterly cold the first week of December.  My Mother and my sisters bundled up for the mile walk  to the church.  There were no bus service after 6:00 p.m.  Our Dad wasn’t able to drive us in the family car.  Gas was rationed.    We dressed for the cold.

Two layers of hand-knit mittens.

Heavy hand-knit woollen scarves cross-crossed across our faces.

Our eye lashes rimmed with frost and when we spoke it was as if we were filling the air with puffs of smoke.

So much excitement, so much anticipation we never felt the cold.

We sang our way on the walk home.   The sky was clear.     Stars so  brilliant we felt we could reach up to heaven and grab them like a handful of diamonds.

Northern Lights  were flashing, glowing  and dancing across the Northern  sky..  Magnificent emerald greens, yellows, pink, magenta and occasionally sapphire  blue  sweeping back and forth.  We stopped and shouted.  We clapped our hands.  We truly believed the lights responded to the sounds we made.

Home at last.  The wood stove crackled.  The kitchen was filled with the sublime spicy aroma of mince tarts.   Our father  taking them  out of the oven.  How absolutely  glorious to walk into our warm house,  and eat the pies hot from the oven.

Dad’s  mince tarts were so delicate and  flaky they melted in your mouth.  His secret – he always used    lard to make the pastry.      We sisters still use our  Father’s recipe.  It’s pretty simple (or at least we pastry makers feel that way).  But if you follow the directions, and cheat a little (roll the pastry between wax paper, chill the flour) you can pull these beauties out of the oven and wow your family and friends.    Every home should have mince tarts baking in the oven at this time of year.

FATHER’S MINCE TARTS   …   makes around 30 morsels of delight

Pastry:

2 cups all-purpose flour chilled

2/3 tsp salt

2/3 cup chilled lard cut into small pieces

5-6 tbsp cold water

l egg yolk beaten with a little water.

Before you start making the pastry put the flour and salt mixture into the  freezer for 30 minutes or so.   Chill a cup of water at the same time. Cut the lard  into the flour mixture with a pastry blender,  or if you’re using your food processor use the pulse button to process just until it looks like large flakes of oatmeal.

Add the water gradually, a tablespoon at a time tossing the mixture lightly with a fork.  If you are using the food processor add the water and process JUST until mixed.  It should be loose in the  bowl.

Turn your pastry out onto your board and form into a ball.  Flatten the ball and wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a good 15 minutes or more.  This allows the pastry to relax.  And everyone knows pastry should be relaxed.

Divide the pastry in to two portions.

Roll out one portion 1/8 inch thick.  Cut into circles about  1 3/4 in diameter.  This will be your base.  Cut the second half into circles about 2 1/2 inches across.  These will be your tops.

Moisten the edges of your base and put a small amount   of mincemeat on each circle.  Top with the larger circles.  Press the edges to seal.   Brush with egg wash and bake around 20 minutes or until golden brown.  Enjoy!

Chefs note:

We made our own mincemeat at our restaurant  Roxy’s Bistro.  We used a traditional recipe using suet and a good dollop of brandy.   Taste your purchased mincemeat.  You will probably need to add some additional flavour.  Add a little freshly grated nutmeg, a sprinkle of powdered cloves, a good amount of cinnamon, some allspice and a little lemon or orange juice.  And if you have some brandy.

Happy tree trimming.

A JELLY ROLL TO THE RESCUE

 

 

If there ever was a time we needed comfort food it is today.     Something sweet to sooth the soul and have you smiling with delight.  A jelly roll to the rescue.    What a delightful idea.  Bake a cake.   Spread jam on it and roll it up.  Easy, peasy.   The ingredients  are all there in your kitchen – eggs, sugar, flour, flavouring and jam.

A classic sponge cake is not difficult to make.  Simply carefully follow the instructions. The eggs must be a room temperature, or a little warmer, and then beaten with sugar for at least ten minutes, or until thickened, tripled in bulk and full of air. It requires no leavening other than the air that is beaten into the eggs.  Carefully fold in the flour being careful not to disturb the air bubbles too much.  Then spread into the prepared pan

Don’t over bake your cake.  It will not roll easily and will crack. Depending on your oven bake for 18 to 20 minutes.  ( I hesitate to suggest the 20 minutes  but your oven may be on the cool side.)

While your cake is baking sprinkle a clean dish towel with sugar.  As soon as you take it out of the oven lay the long edge of your pan on the towel  and turn out your cake.

Lift the pan off the cake.

Trim the edges of your cake and then peel off the paper.  Trimming the cake makes it easier to roll.

While the cake is still warm starting with the short end roll the cake  and lay it with the edge seam side down.  Let it cool thoroughly before unrolling and filling.  If you are apprehensive about rolling the cake use the towel to help you.   When the cake is cool carefully unroll the cake and towel.

Use any desired filling.  Jam, jelly, lemon curd, whipped cream.  Just be sure it spreads easily.  If the jam or jelly is a little thick heat it gently before spreading it on the cake.  Using a small strainer dust the cake with lots of icing sugar.  You can also frost the cake with your favourite frosting.

This recipe calls for superfine granulated sugar and pastry or cake flour.  If you don’t have these in your pantry it is easy to make them.  For superfine sugar put at least one and a half cups of granulated sugar into your food processor and process for a few seconds.  Not too long or you’ll end up with sugar powder.   Measure your sugar after you have processed it.   You can always find a use for extra  super fine sugar.

For pastry or cake flour do this.  Take one cup of flour and remove two tablespoons of flour.  Add two tablespoons of corn starch (corn flour) to the cup. I put two cups of this mixture through a sifter five  to six times.    From this take the required amount of flour for your recipe.    Set aside the extra cake flour for future use.

The happy little jelly roll recipe awaits you in MRS.BUTTERFINGERS kitchen.

Bon Appetit dear friends.  Take care.  Stay safe.

 

 

 

 

SINFULLY SENSATIONAL DELICIOUSLY DECADENT WARM CHOCOLATE CAKE

This is the epitome of decadent desserts.  Deeply dark, warm chocolate cake served right out of the oven.  Warm chocolate cake is a dessert with an edgy  reputation for being a difficult production.  Many  recipes have you making the cake,  baking the cake, then serving the cake.   It is all too last minute.    Stressful for the hostess in the kitchen preparing the cake while dinner guests wait for dessert.

This is a straight forward recipe.  It requires a few ingredients.  The very best chocolate, butter, eggs, sugar and flour.  The secret to this gorgeous dessert is to MAKE IT AHEAD OF TIME.    One refrigerates the cakes for 24 hours before you bake them.

You bake the chocolate cakes for twelve to thirteen minutes.  The centres of the cake will feel soft and not quite fully set when you touch the centres.  The edges will be firmer.  This is the magic moment to pull your spectacular desserts out of the oven

You can serve these little darlings with a tiny sprinkle of fleur de sel (or flaky sea salt).     A generous scoop of cherry custard ice cream and you have a deconstructed Black Forest Cake.    When I want the dessert to be very very French I pour liberal lashings of my salted caramel sauce over the cake.

The recipe for WARM CHOCOLATE CAKE awaits you in MRS.BUTTERFINGERS.

( Cake baking photographs courtesy W. Lloyd )

 

 

CHRISTMAS FRUIT CAKE . . . make it, bake it, enjoy it – the same day!

All is not lost if you didn’t have time for the ritual baking of Christmas cakes back in October.  This gorgeous fruitcake can be baked and savoured the same day.  Its  wonderful, spicy fragrance fills your home with an aroma this is pure Christmas.  It slices beautifully and the beguiling perfume of allspice, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg is perfection itself.

Last December I baked  this rich fruit cake  in a loaf tin.    This year I adjusted the recipe slightly and baked it as a traditional Christmas cake.     You have lee way as to the size of cake tin you use – any spring form pan between eight and ten inches.  Using a cake tin allows the cake to bake more evenly eliminating over-baked edges.   You simply adjust the  oven baking time.

The ingredients are  guidelines.  The recipe calls for candied mixed peel, cherries and dried apricots.  You could  use dried figs or dates.  Pecans, slivered almonds could replace the chopped walnuts.  The brandy decanter is empty –  substitute sherry or perhaps an exotic liqueur.  The recipe is so forgiving.

There is so much pressure surrounding the holiday season.  We need to be calm and take a step back.  Enjoy our family.  Glory in the season.  This fruitcake is more than the sum total of its parts.  Its very simplicity gives one a chance to take a breath and enjoy preparing  food for those we love.

The recipe for this simply wonderful bake it today Christmas cake awaits you on

MRSBUTTERFINGERS.

 

BANANA BREAD … a circa World War Two recipe

 

Growing up during World War Two almost everything was rationed, or simply not available.    If you were very young during the war years you would never have tasted marshmallows or chewed bubble gum.   Gas was rationed.  We lived in the small town of Prince Albert, in the northern part of the province of  Saskatchewan.    A National Park and dozens of beautiful lakes were a short drive away.  Our Dad cycled several miles to work  saving  his gas ration coupons  for the occasional family outing.

The annual Pet Parade was a much anticipated event. Cats and dogs were coerced into sitting in small baby carriages, propped up in decorated, polished wagons or coaxed along with a leash.  Patriotic costumes were expected.    I felt quite smart dressed in a red, white and blue crepe dress.  Fortunately it didn’t rain.

This photograph of my sister Mona and myself was taken shortly before our Uncle Bert left for war.  He was one of the many who did not return.

It was important for everyone, young and old,  to do ones bit for the war effort.  We collected string, tin foil (from cigarette packages) metal and even fat.    Once a week the women in our neighbourhood met and knitted socks or rolled bandages.   Tea and only  one kind of cookie or cake was served.    Food was rationed.   My Mother came home from one of these projects with this recipe for Banana Bread.   It was the talk of the afternoon because it didn’t contain nuts, but looked like it did.  Nuts of any kind were simply not available.    This is my Mother’s world War Two  Banana Bread.   The only change I have made is to add nuts.

MRS. BASSETT’S BANANA BREAD

1/2 cup butter ( or very good quality hard margarine)

2/3 cup scant or white or brown sugar

2 large eggs at room temperature

2 cups of flour

1/2 tsp each salt and baking soda

1 1/2 cups generous of VERY VERY ripe bananas.  They should be soft and squishy in the skins

1/2 to 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Have all ingredients at room temperature

Cream butter and sugar until soft and creamy.  Add the eggs one at a time.

Combine the dry ingredients and mix alternatively with the mashed bananas.   Start with one-third the flour, when this is mixed add half the bananas, now add another third of flour mix just until the flour is assimilated, add the rest of the bananas.  Mix briefly, then add the final one-third of the flour.  Add the chopped walnuts and mix briefly.

Pour into a well greased loaf pan and let stand twenty minutes.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour.   Test by sticking a cake tester or a very thin knife, into the centre of the loaf.  It should come out clean.

Banana loaf, like most loaf cakes or breads freezes well.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE ICING ON THE CARROT CAKE . . . a cake for celebrating birthdays!

This is not your usual carrot cake recipe.   This is a carrot cake made sublimely rich with butter replacing the oil.   The results are a fine, firm crumb that holds and slices beautifully (so necessary in a layer cake). The cake is not complicated.  If you wish you can stir it  up in one bowl without using your mixer.     Refrigerated, the cake holds well so you can  enjoy nibbling cake over a couple of days (if it lasts that long).

And then there’s the frosting.  It is outrageously wonderful.  Rich, creamy, buttery and exquisitely flavoured and enriched with cream cheese.  It is the light as air volume that takes this cake creation over the top.   There is absolutely no doubt.  The frosting is sublime.  It’s uncomplicated and foolproof.  You simply beat the cream cheese, butter and icing sugar until is fluffy and smooth.  Lavish the frosting  between the layers and on the top of the cake.  Don’t frost the side of the cake.

This is my special occasion cake.  The cake I make for family birthdays.    This summer my younger sister celebrated her 80th Birthday.  I baked the cake in my kitchen, then drove  two days to our home town in Northern Saskatchewan.  The cake kept perfectly in our travelling Koolatron (refrigerator).     This cake cut beautifully into twelve servings.   I like to gild the lily so we served the cake with a generous scoop of ice cream.

MRS.BUTTERFINGERS has this scrumptious recipe CARROT CAKE WITH CREAM CHEESE ICING.  Bon Appetit.

 

 

 

 

THE PROCRASTINATORS FRUITCAKE LOAF . . . make it, bake it and enjoy it the same day.

Procrastinating fruitcake lovers  do not despair.  All is not lost if you didn’t have time for the ritual baking of Christmas cakes back in October.   This quick FRUITCAKE LOAF can be whipped up in the morning and enjoyed with afternoon coffee the same day.    It’s wonderful, spicy fragrance fills your home with an aroma that is pure Christmas.   It slices beautifully and the beguiling perfume of allspice, cloves and nutmeg is perfection itself.

The ingredients are simply guidelines.  The recipe calls for candied mixed peel and dried fruit.  Your pantry has dried figs and lemon and orange peel.  Use what you have.  Pecans, slivered almonds and chopped pistachios replace chopped walnuts.   It will all taste like Christmas.  The brandy decanter is empty then substitute sherry or perhaps an exotic liqueur.  The recipe is so forgiving.

There is so much frantic pressure surrounding the Christmas season.   We need to be calm and take a step back.  Enjoy our family.  Glory in the season.  This fruitcake loaf is more than the sum total of its parts.  Its very simplicity gives one a chance to take a breath and enjoy the simple act of preparing food for those we love.

The recipe for QUICK FRUITCAKE LOAF awaits you in MRSBUTTERFINGERS kitchen.

Merry Christmas dear friends.   XXX Virginia

 

 

 

HUMMINGBIRD CAKE . . . hums to a new tune.

This cinnamon scented layer cake.    This  dense cake of banana and pineapple.  This spice cake with sumptuous cream cheese icing.  This Humming Bird cake with retro origins has become the favorite of all cake recipes on MRS. BUTTERFINGERS.

It’s a joy to make.      It doesn’t require a stand mixer.    Just two mixing bowls, some very ripe bananas, pineapple and the usual suspects when making a cake.   I’ve made  some changes to the recipe.   The most important one is the pineapple.  I’ve replaced the crushed pineapple with chopped pineapple tidbits.  The quality of the pineapple pieces is superior to crushed pineapple.   Now when you nibble your way through a gorgeous slice of Hummingbird  cake you encounter brilliant bursts of pineapple flavour.

Tuck this recipe for HUMMINGBIRD CAKE into your apron pocket.  It’s the perfect cake for the cottage.  It’s large enough for big family gatherings.  And best of all its wonderful goodness  stays fresh for the several days.

MRS.BUTTERFINGERS has the new, improved and slightly changed recipe.

 

CRANBERRY, APPLE AND WALNUT CAKE . . . the pie that became a cake.

 

This is one of those desserts masquerading as something it is not.   It’s baked in a pie plate.  It looks like a pie.   But it is a delicious,  easy peasy cake.    The inspiration comes from  Ina Garten of Barefoot Contessa fame,  one of my most favorite cook-book authors.

This is the cake to whip up when you just can’t face another pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving.    It’s an absolutely doodle to make.  It simply hums along when you serve it with morning coffee.   It is rewarding.   Combing tart cranberries and apples with a sweet cake topped with walnuts and cinnamon sugar.    Could you ask for anything more?  Of course.  Top your slice of goodness with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Waltz over to MRS.BUTTERFINGERS kitchen for the recipe.

 

DECADENT DATE SQUARES . . . aka MATRIMONIAL SQUARES

I will never forget the first time I tasted date squares.  I was still in public school.    My best friend’s Mom was an excellent cook and baker.   One day after-school she served us a treat that  had me over the moon.  A sweet square that looked a little crumbly around the edges .  One bite and I was swooning over a rich, buttery, caramel enhanced oat crumb with an intensely exotic filling of dark, sweet dates.  She called these magical morsels matrimonial squares.   Even the name was wonderful.  Matrimonial squares.  Were these a special creation for weddings?  Or did they bring about marriage?

Date squares (matrimonial squares) were my first introduction to baking squares.  None of my cookbooks had a section for “squares”.    My cookbooks were published in the thirties and early forties and were all that was available.    I had started baking around l945.  I asked for the recipe and these many years later I  am still baking Mrs. Rybka’s Matrimonial Squares.

This old fashion square is a treat any time of day.  Date Squares are perfect with morning coffee (think of all those healthy rolled oats).  A sublime dessert lavished with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  They are calling you name from MRS.BUTTERFINGERS kitchen.