Smoked Salmon Waffles – A French Fridays Catch Up

Waffles

It’s not Christmas dinner I most look forward to, but Christmas brunch. There are fewer rigid expectations and an opportunity for playfulness that you don’t get at the more formal meal. This year, I made a bûche de Noël and smoked salmon waffles. Another year (actually, more than one), I made cardamom bread.

I bought a waffle iron a few months ago, in anticipation of making smoked salmon waffles for Christmas brunch. My brother caught and smoked a salmon himself earlier this year and my mother had some stashed in the freezer. Christmas morning waffles seemed like a great way to use some of the salmon and celebrate the season.

I loved how easy the batter was to put together and the waffles came off the iron without any trouble at all. (I sometimes wonder why people buy boxed mixes for waffles and pancakes, when making them from scratch is so easy and gives you much better results.) The savoury flavours of smoked salmon and green onions made these waffles the perfect accompaniment to our brunch, especially with a little dollop of cream on top.

They could also easily be elevated to cocktail snack or appetizer presentation by making them smaller, as Dorie gives as one option, and topping them with crème fraîche and salmon roe. Then, they would make a nice part of a New Year’s Eve spread.

Happy 2015, everyone! My blogging goals for this year include improving my photography (as you can see above, I’ve been a little complacent of late) and concentrating more on the quality of my writing. What are your goals for this year?

Find links to the rest of the French Fridays crew’s posts on this recipe here: Smoked Salmon Waffles. Then, see how everyone fared with this week’s recipe Simplest Breton Fish Soup.

Baking Chez Moi – Bûche de Noël

buche de noel

My mother’s sister, Lorraine, always brought a bûche de Noël to Christmas dinner. They were traditional chocolate logs from a bakery, but I remember them as being rich, delicious, and perfect. She died when I was an adolescent and bûche de Noël was only an occasional part of our holiday celebrations thereafter, but they’ve been a symbol of the season for me ever since.

I’ve always wanted to make one, so I was happy that one of the recipes chosen for our second month of baking through Baking Chez Moi was Dorie’s Gingerbread Bûche de Noël.

There are a lot of steps in making this dish, but some of the most intimidating parts of the process are also surprisingly easy. The pecan praline wasn’t at all difficult, the cream cheese filling was a snap to whip together, and the marshmallow icing was quite straightforward, once I’d braced myself for the task of pouring hot liquid sugar into the bowl of a running mixer.

My particular Waterloo on this dessert was the making of the sponge. I can’t seem to get sponge cakes quite right. This one didn’t turn out horribly and was quite tasty, but as you can see in the photo below, the cake is about half the height it should be. The batter deflated a lot more than it should have when I folded the butter mixture in. I guess it’s just a matter of getting some more practice, but I admit I was disappointed.

Slice

Luckily, the filling and icing made the bûche look beautiful, even with the imperfections in the cake. I’m going to try again with sponge cake and I think one of my few resolutions for 2015 will be to conquer the roulade. Next year’s bûche will be looking much prettier, I swear.

You can find the rest of the Tuesdays with Dorie crew’s entries on this recipe here: Bûche de Noël. And you can find more Tuesdays with Dorie catch up posts at this link.

Whipped Shortbread and Sucre à la Crème for French Fridays

Shortbread

For the third year in a row, the French Fridays with Dorie crew has exchanged Christmas cards. In the first two years, a few of us have included recipes along with the cards and this year, we’ve made it into a full-fledged virtual recipe exchange. I’ve been receiving cards and recipes from Doristas from around North America and around the world and it’s been nice to come home to a mailbox stuffed full of good wishes over the last week or two. Thanks to Alice, Christy, and Candy for making this such a special event.

We were asked to share one (or more) of the recipes we were sent, or to share the one we included with our card. Because I sent my cards out a bit late, I chose the latter option.

Most of my mother’s family recipes, handed down to her by her mother in a black, coil-bound notebook, have been in storage since my parents moved. So, for the last two years, we’ve been baking other people’s family recipes at Christmastime. Some of the best have come from my mother’s friend Gina, an incredibly creative person. She gardens prolifically, propagating dahlias and fig trees (both of which are now in my yard, thanks to her), and enough produce to feed her extended family and many of the members of her branch of the Catholic Women’s League, too. She bakes, cooks, volunteers, and does any number of other things well. My mother finally got Gina’s shortbread recipe this year, so I’m passing it on to you.

Whipped Shortbread

Bea Hartel/Gina Alary

1 lb butter
½ cup cornstarch
1 cup icing (confectioner’s) sugar
3 cups flour

Beat all ingredients together until consistency of whipped cream.
Drop on greased cookie sheet. (with teaspoon) Press down gently, make edges round if too jagged. Red or green cherries on top.
Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.
Makes 5 – 6 dozen.
Enjoy!

Now, when my mother got the recipe, it was much simpler than this. These ladies come from a generation in which they expect you’ll already know how to go about making cookies. My Mom added some instructions, which you can see above.

I want to elucidate just a little bit more. I whip the butter in my stand mixer first, until it’s light and fluffy. Then, I sift the rest of the ingredients into the bowl of the mixer and run the mixer on low for a bit, just so the dry ingredients don’t go flying everywhere, before bringing it up to medium-high until the dough reaches the consistency of whipped cream. If you’re using the cherries, it’s best to halve or quarter them first. If you prefer not to use glacé cherries, decorate them with something with a little more heft than sprinkles or sanding sugar and keep it simple.

There is also an alternative to the drop method of forming the cookie. You can dust your hands with cornstarch, quickly and gently roll teaspoonfuls of the dough into balls, and press them down with a floured fork (just as you would an old fashioned peanut butter cookie). Then, instead of glacé cherries, you can decorate them with dragées, sprinkles, sanding sugar, edible glitter, or sugar stars. They won’t be quite as melt-in-the-mouth, but they’re still delicious.

And, since I wasn’t able to make any of the Dorista recipes I received for this post, I’m going to update a family recipe that I shared in 2011. Sucre à la crème is a French Canadian favourite that my mother’s family has been making for generations. There are as many versions as family members, it seems, and I’ve finally come up with my own favourite formulation. My mother’s family is Franco-Manitoban, so they use brown sugar in place of the maple sugar that’s more common in Québécois versions. Feel free to experiment with maple sugar if it’s easy to come by for you. You can see the versions I shared in my original post here.

Now, this isn’t the sort of fudge we usually think of in North America, in which you avoid the formation of sugar crystals so that it’s silky smooth. This fudge is more like Scottish tablet, in which the sugar crystals are part of the pleasure. So, you don’t have to worry about sugar crystals forming on the pan and stirring is encouraged.

sucre a la creme

Teresa’s Sucre à la Crème

3 1/2 cups light brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 cups whipping cream
1 1/2 tsps vanilla

Butter an 11 X 7-inch pan, metal or heat-proof glass work equally well.

Combine the sugars and whipping cream, whisk together until well-blended and cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the mixture starts to thicken, sugars the spoon (a metal one is best), and forms a ball when dropped into a dish of cold water. The lower end of the soft ball stage (234-236°F) is just right. Remove the pan from the heat and stir vigourously, adding the vanilla when the candy is just beginning to stiffen. When the scrapings are becoming solid, it’s time to pour the candy into the prepared pan. Chill in the fridge for several hours or overnight, then cut into small squares. It keeps for a week in the fridge or several months in the freezer. Bring to room temperature before serving.

I made some sucre à la crème yesterday, after sharing a Boxing Day meal with my parents. I left most of it there for my Mom to share out with the family and took a small box home to share with a Québécoise friend who hasn’t had the genuine article in some time. There was also a bit for Kevin and me, but that seems to have disappeared. The shortbread is long gone, too, shared at all my parents’ holiday gatherings and even at a cookie swap.

If you try either of these recipes, I’d love to see your results – find me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and share a photo.

I’d like to wish everyone the happiest of holidays and a wonderful 2015. I also want to thank my fellow Doristas for making my weekends brighter with our weekly virtual get-togethers. I’m looking forward to the final few months of Around My French Table with all of you.

You can find the rest of the Dorista recipe exchange fun here: Holiday Card/Recipe Exchange or Makeup.

‘Tis The Season

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We’re entering the countdown to Christmas now, with a week to go. There’s still time, though, to do a little good while you’re finishing up your holiday preparations. I was thinking about this last weekend, when I attended the Vancouver Giants‘ Teddy Bear Toss night. As you can see, the Giants’ first goal caused a shower of generosity in the form of stuffed animals – more than 10,000 fans threw several hundred of them onto the ice. The toss benefits the Vancouver Province newspaper’s Empty Stocking Fund, the CKNW Orphans’ Fund, and the Lower Mainland Christmas Bureau. It was a feel good event, with stuffed animals flying through the air, a shutout win against one of the Giants’ toughest rivals, and a sense of giving back to the community permeating the happy, friendly crowd .

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However, there’s always more to be done and here are a few organizations that could use your help:

Lookout Emergency Aid Society provides low-barrier services to the homeless and other people in need. They’re accepting cash donations, but are also accepting warm winter clothing, blankets, and gift items for distribution.

RainCity Housing provides low-barrier outreach, shelter, and housing for Vancouverites in need and you can contribute cash or much-needed items for distribution.

Check out the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre wishlist for things that are always in short supply for their clients.

A donation to Family Services of Greater Vancouver will go toward Christmas hampers for families in need or will help fund their programs throughout the rest of the year.

The Kettle, which does great work in my own neighbourhood, has partnered with Harbour Centre for a donation drive that runs until December 20th.

A Loving Spoonful provides nutritious meals for people with HIV/AIDS throughout the year. Donate to them directly, or support them by attending the All-Star RnB Christmas.

Buying your Christmas tree can be an act of giving, too – Aunt Leah’s Tree Lots raise funds to support foster kids and teen moms.

Finally, if it’s your time you’d like to donate, HuffPo has compiled a list of Christmas volunteer opportunities.

Wherever you live and however you choose to celebrate the holidays and the turning of the year, I hope that it’s a time of peace and abundance for everyone in your community.

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Christmas at Canada Place

I attended a media tour and event preview of Christmas at Canada Place as a guest of Port Metro Vancouver. Nevertheless, all opinions in the following post are my own.

This time of year can get a little expensive, especially for families. It’s not just gift-giving and holiday feasts that can strain the wallet, but also the events and activities that pop up just in time for the school break. Even taking a family of four to a Christmas movie can run to nearly $100.00, if you include a trip to the snack bar.

Windows

Christmas at Canada Place is a welcome antidote to the premium prices that families face with many other holiday activities – it’s free! For the 26th year of festivities there, they’ve expanded their offerings considerably. Along with the display of Woodward’s iconic Christmas window displays, there’s a range of activities that could keep a family engaged for hours. The theme this year is Christmas in Canada and they’ve provided both curling and skating rinks (with artificial ice on loan from Park Royal Shopping Centre), miniature train rides (provided by CN and staffed by wonderful volunteers from the West Coast Railway Association), and an interactive virtual tour of the Northwest Territories. There’s also a craft area, featuring different holiday crafts each day, a #ChristmasinCanada photo booth, and visits from Santa on weekends. Food and drink will be available, with food trucks showing up mostly on the weekends, featuring Canadian foods – think bearclaws and poutine.

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What most impressed me about how this event’s been organized is how much planning has gone into making this a low cost affair for attendees. Though you can purchase food there if you’d like, folks are also encouraged to bring along their own meals to share at the gift-wrapped picnic tables. You can purchase professional photos with Santa, with packages ranging from $10.00 to $20.00, but staff will also take photos for you with your own camera. There’s a suggested donation of $2.00 for activities, which goes directly to Strathcona Community Centre’s Backpack Program, supporting food security for kids. In the case of the train ride, the funds are split between the backpack program and the West Coast Railway Association, another worthy recipient. There is also free entertainment at two stages throughout the month. When I spoke to Gillian Behnke of Port Metro Vancouver, this year’s lead presenter at Canada Place, she told me that making the event financially accessible was a planning priority for the event. This thoughtfulness makes this event a model for corporations and institutions wanting to connect with the community around them.

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Speaking of community, the entire district has come together for the first time this year to provide activities and festivities for the public throughout the month of December. I’ll tell you a little bit more about the Winter Waterfront District tomorrow, when I talk about my trip to FlyOver Canada. In the meantime, don’t forget to bring some non-perishible goods with you when you head down to Canada Place, as they’re aiming to fill a shipping container with donations to the Greater Vancouver Food Bank. You can’t miss it – it’s the enormous gift-wrapped container on the plaza.

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A Very Merry Christmas

I hope you’re having a peaceful, happy day today.

I’d like to share the recipe for one of my favourite Christmas treats – sucre à la crème. When I was growing up, my mother and I would make trays and trays of desserts for the big family Christmas meal my parents used to host, along with their Boxing Day open house. Cookies, squares, cakes, and candies, but of them all, we looked forward to sucre à la crème the most, especially if we were lucky enough to have a batch from one of my mother’s aunts back in Manitoba.

My mother is French-Canadian, but her family comes from the francophone communities anchored by St. Boniface. Our Christmas meals have always reflected this and it just wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t have tourtière, boulettes, and sucre à la crème. We’ve even occasionally had a réveillon after Midnight Mass, with goose, then had an anglophone Christmas dinner with my father’s Irish family in the evening.

Cooking the sugar.

Sucre à la crème is a sort of fudge, but it’s nothing like what you’d find in a candy store or market stand. It’s a simple affair of sugar and cream (obviously), versions of which pop up around the world. In Scotland, they’ve got tablet, in Mexico there’s dulce de leche, Italy has penuche, and India has burfi. There are probably tonnes of other examples, too.
The Québécois version uses maple sugar, but those trees are a little rarer on the Prairies, so my family’s recipes use mostly brown sugar. My mother’s aunts were famous for their versions, though my Tante Pauline’s was undisputedly the best, with my Tante Leona’s coming a close second. My mother and I went through their recipes for sucre à la crème recently and realized that they were all a little different and that the versions evolved over the years. When I was a teenager, I learned to make it with two cups of brown sugar, one cup of whipping cream, and a teaspoon of vanilla. When we were looking at the other recipes my mother has, this was what we found:

Tante Pauline’s Version

2 cups brown sugar (1/2 c white)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla
walnuts

Sauce

1 cup brown sugar
1 cup whipping cream

Tante Leona’s Version

3 cups brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 cups whipping cream

Mom’s Version

2 cups brown sugar (1/2 c white)
1 1/4 cups whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla

In all cases, combine the sugar and whipping cream, whisk together until well-blended and cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the mixture sugars the spoon (a metal one is best) and forms a ball when dropped into a dish of cold water. Remove from heat and stir vigourously, adding the vanilla when the candy is just beginning to stiffen. When the scrapings are becoming solid, it’s time to pour the candy into a buttered square pan. Chill in the fridge for several hours or overnight, then cut into small squares. It keeps for a week in the fridge or several months in the freezer.

Sucre à la Crème

I lost my sucre à la crème making mojo for a few years; for some reason I just couldn’t get it to set. When I went to my mother’s house this year, we made three batches, using my mother’s recipe. All but one was perfect and the imperfect one wasn’t bad. I think what made the difference was the two of us working together, just as we did when I was a child.

What are your favourite holiday traditions?

Roxy under my parents' Christmas tree.