September retreat menu

I've been told that some people attend my retreats for the food. Sure, the farmhouse is gorgeous; working on creative projects is amazing; getting away from the kids is healthy. But the food is really divine. 

If you're waiting to sign up because you're curious about the menu, I've got my first draft hammered out on the chalkboard. 

September is a great time for Ontario produce.

Waffle breakfast will have plenty of berries, stone fruits, apples and pears.

There are so many options for quiches I'll probably make them mini so you can pick a bunch: rapini, zucchini, tomato, leek, eggplant, mushroom? Who knows what I'll end up making. What's certain is that an apple and beet salad will accompany the quiche.

One of my favourite ways to make risotto is with tomatoes straight from my garden. Top it with your choice of roasted chicken, barbecued sausage, or grilled eggplant.

Sunday morning promises a spread of breakfast pastries with homemade preserves and delicious Devon clotted cream. 

Are you excited?? Make this weekend about whatever you want. Rest assured you will be well fed.

Lots of spots left for the retreat. Sign up here!

Rhubarb pound cake and cupcake variation


Just over a year ago, I shared about my new-found love for pound cake. It was a big moment for me. I was growing up. I had stumbled upon a basic pound cake recipe that was so incredible that I baked six of them for my birthday picnic. I was asked for the recipe over and over.

This pound cake has changed lives. Or so I've been told.

I think I've made it over a dozen times since then. And I have a child. A time-consuming, sleep-depriving, wonderful child. It's that good. And simple.

Most recently, I've been in love with a variation involving rhubarb.



I was first introduced to rhubarb when my family lived in a tiny village in England. (I kid you not, this village was named Crapstone. I remember exchanging letters with my penpals and I think their parents forced them to incorrectly address the letters to Crabstone because the alternative was just absurd.)

In England, at least my version of small-village-country-side-England, rhubarb was eaten in the form of  a runny pink stew, topped with an equally runny goop of custard. I wasn't a fan. Perhaps I was too young to appreciate the tartness of the rhubarb cutting the richness of the custard. It's on my list of things to try again with my grown up adult palette.

Too bad I hoard all my rhubarb for pound cakes. The stewed rhubarb will have to wait.

I love Ontario rhubarb season. It's nice and long. There are plenty of organic options available through farmer's markets and food co-ops. And I have a handful of friends who grow it in their backyard and are so generous as to offer me some.


I use that basic recipe I shared last year and with a couple minor changes, including the addition of 3 cups of chopped rhubarb to produce a perfectly tart and crummy pound cake. I think I maybe even used 4 cups of rhubarb last time since that's what the bunch turned into. It just means a slightly softer slice of cake since the rhubarb gets just a tad mushy.

I made two loaves for the Summer Farmhouse Retreat.

I made two loaves for a summer BBQ.

I made two loaves just for me to devour at home.




Last week I took the day off to catch up with my good friend Danielle; she recently dove head first into an exciting new sewing career. It was Tuesday. A week after her birthday. A week before mine. It was necessary to celebrate with some more rhubarb pound cake.

As a variation to the variation, I made them into cupcakes topped with whipped cream and a fat strawberry. Rhubarb and strawberries are a superb duo. Like oreos and milk. Or Elsa and Anna.





We are at the tail end of Ontario Rhubarb season. I still saw some at the food co-op today. (West End Food Co-op has local, organic rhubarb for $2 a bunch!) Go! Now! get some rhubarb! And if you can't make it right now because your toddler wants you to watch Frozen with her for the hundredth time, then just wash it, chop it up, lay out on a baking sheet and freeze. You can transfer to a ziplock bag and use later!

Rhubarb Pound Cake (and cupcake variation)

Adapted from Molly Wizenberg's recipe

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
5 large eggs
3 cups of chopped rhubarb

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 small loaf pans with parchment paper. I do not recommend making this in one large loaf pan. The rhubarb releases a good amount of liquid and needs extra baking time to avoid being overly mushy. Using one large loaf pan would mean a drier crust with a center that is just set.

Beat the butter in an electric mixer on medium speed; add sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy, about 5 mins. In the meantime, mix together flour, salt, and baking powder in a small bowl. Set aside.

To the butter sugar mixture, add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each egg.

Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the flour mixture all at once. Mix on low until just incorporated.

Add the chopped rhubarb and mix on low again, 3 or 4 spins until the rhubarb is just mixed in. You can also do this by hand.

Give it one final scrape with the spatula to make sure everything's well blended. (Check that bottom tricky spot on the bottom of the kitchen aid mixer.)

Fill loaf pans and bake for 60 mins or until a poked skewer comes out clean.

Cupcake Variation

Prepare a muffin tin with 24 cupcake liners. The above recipe fills 24 cupcakes to the edge of the liner. You can choose to make 16 or 18 larger cupcakes but you may find that the batter tends to spill outward rather than growing up. 

Bake in the same 350 degree oven for 30-35 mins or until a poked skewer comes out clean. 

Make whipped cream topping with 1 cup of heavy cream and 2 tablespoons of sugar. 

Whip until light and fluffy. 

When the cupcakes are cool, top with whipped cream and a big fat strawberry.

A cake to fill the void

I went to three weddings this month. I love weddings. I've been accused of befriending people just as they get engaged just so I can watch them marry.

I really do love the weddings because of the marriage. The music, the vows, the embrace, the crying, the smiles, the pride. It gets me all tingly inside.

But a nice little bonus to the celebration is enjoying the food. I usually focus on the entree, maybe the pasta course or antipasti buffet. By the time the music starts, I probably look around for a guy holding the coffee so I can enjoy it with a couple bites of dessert before I hit the dance floor.  And then any sweet table following that is usually wasted on me.

Except for the wedding I attended this past weekend.

The cupcakes were made by my incredibly talented cousin, Emily. Maybe she put some extra love into the cupcakes (and jumbo cupcake for the bride and groom to cut) since this was a family wedding, but I ate three of them they were so good. They're big. With an almost 1:1 cake to icing ratio. And oh so moist. Actually, I'm pretty sure I ate four.

Dustin and I have been dreaming about them for days. Look: I'm even writing about them. And since I still hadn't baked a cake to celebrate our 6th year anniversary, I decided to try and bake a cake that was almost as tasty to remind me of those oh-so-good wedding cupcakes. Something moist and so rich you need milk or coffee to help you out, but you always go back for more.

It's been years since I've baked Ina's "Beatty's Chocolate Cake" found in her pink cookbook (my fave). I remembered it to be the best chocolate cake I had baked. I remembered the buttercream icing to be pretty darn good. I remembered that I had some buttermilk in the fridge that needed to be used.

The batter for the cake is surprisingly thin. Maybe that's what good chocolate cake batter should be like? No matter, it turned out so incredibly moist. It still didn't have that creaminess that Emily's cake had after it warmed up in your mouth, and the icing wasn't as delicious (she had a coconut icing and a caramel icing on her cupcakes) but it was good enough for me to eat two slices today.

I'm ordering a batch of cupcakes from Emily for my freezer. Until then, this chocolate cake with autumnal sprinkles is satisfying the void.




Beatty's Chocolate Cake 

by Ina Garten (with slight changes to the icing)

Ingredients

Butter, for greasing the pans
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
Chocolate Buttercream, recipe follows

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 8-inch x 2-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

Place 1 layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.

Chocolate Frosting:
6 ounces good semisweet chocolate
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
2 tsp instant coffee powder

Chop the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners' sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy. Dissolve the coffee powder in 2 teaspoons of the hottest tap water. On low speed, add the chocolate and coffee to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don't whip! Spread immediately on the cooled cake.


Variations on a Pound Cake

I once asked my coworker what his favourite cake was. He told me it was pound cake. I think I may have scoffed at his answer. "Pound cake? Really. A dense, crumby, old-lady cake?"

I think I've always dismissed pound cake because I remembered it as a dry, dense cake, usually lacking in flavour. But I went ahead and made it anyway. And then made another for my parents. And then made it again for my birthday picnic.

I've changed my mind. Pound cake is my favourite, too. I'm addicted.

Chocolate pecan pound cake

Chocolate pecan pound cake

I think it's a sign of growing up. I don't need my cake to be covered in icing. I don't need it to be fluffy to be moist. I love a cake that can stand up to coffee. And I love a cake that is so simple to make, you can play around with the flavours and have it turn out perfectly every time.

Now, if only it could be healthier... I did commit to more healthful options at the Farmhouse Retreat, but this pound cake may have to sneak into the weekend feast.

Strawberry jam marbled pound cake

Strawberry jam marbled pound cake

A new jar of jam and a crunchy crust on the loaf

A new jar of jam and a crunchy crust on the loaf

Variations on a Basic Poundcake

Adapted from Molly Wizenberg's recipe

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 5 large eggs

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 small loaf pans with parchment paper. I always prefer to make 2 loaves from one recipe. You can always use one larger loaf pan and bake the cake for about 15 minutes longer.

Beat the butter in an electric mixer on medium speed; add sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy, about 5 mins. In the meantime, mix together flour, salt, and baking powder in a small bowl. Set aside.

To the butter sugar mixture, add vanilla and eggs, one at a time, beating well after each egg.

Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the flour mixture all at once. Mix on low until just incorporated. Give it one final scrape with the spatula to make sure everything's well blended. (Check that bottom tricky spot on the bottom of the kitchen aid mixer.)

Fill loaf pans and bake for 50 mins or until a poked skewer comes out clean.

Variation 1 Citrus

I've tried lime (2-3), lemons (1-2), and grapefruit (1/2). Anything goes!

For a vibrant citrus flavour, grate the zest of the citrus fruit and add to the sugar butter mixture at the beginning. Add the juice of the fruit (about 1/4 cup) after the addition of eggs. Don't worry if it appears a little curdled. Continue with above directions. I usually omit the vanilla if I'm adding citrus.

Variation 2 Nuts or chocolate

When adding nuts or chocolate, add them at the end. Just before all the flour is incorporated, add about 1 cup to 1.5 cups of chocolate chips or nuts. You can also crumble nuts on top of the cake, but you might want to bake at 325 to prevent any charring of the nuts. At 325, you will likely need an extra 10 to 15 minutes of bake time. Always test with a skewer.

Variation 3 Marbled Jam

You can swirl your choice of jam into the batter after filling the loaf pans. It's up to you how much you want to mix it in. I've used homemade strawberry jam (a little runnier and less sweet) and swirled in about 1/4 cup to each loaf pan.

If you try any other variations, please share! I'm always looking for new ideas!