Cinnamon Coffee Cake Kotniuk, improved

like I wasn’t going to crave sweets on a day like that…

Totally voidless.  No mass-data-drip Matrix-style turbo web for me, noooooooo, oh no.  And, it’s… surprisingly ok, if a little weird to be writing so so so many posts at a computer that is mercifully silent.  I changed my background to the very waves crashing the geological sculptures of Little Judique Harbour that I was climbing over yesterday, and only the sound of beetles, mayflies, crickets, wasps, mosquitos and potato bugs (super silent potato bugs) to interrupt my signals.

Maybe, it’s better this way.

okay, THAT’S the cure for rain.

Mostly uneventful day, so I’m going to take this opportunity to mention a kind of lazy-person’s cinnamon roll cake I made a little bit before leaving on this journey.  It’s actually kind of my favourite way to cheat a cinnabon, to make a coffee cake thingy instead of a yeast-and-time-dependant butter-bomb, although it’s equally as much of a warm spicy hug on a rainy afternoon.  Much.  Less.  Work.  High reward.  Eminently nommable.  Even better when you throw recipe convention to the wind and add in enough pure cinnamon cassia to make a macrobiotics adherent blush.  (Of all the spices, cinnamomum cassia is probably the only one I would probably sit down and want to eat straight.  Heck, sometimes when it’s in stick form, I do.  Moving on…).

Sprin-kel-ling action, doing the sprink-ku-ell thing.

It starts with butter, and sugar, and sour cream yogurt, and eggs.  It gets split in two, and layered in the middle and strewn on top with a cinnamon sugar mixture.  I actually cut the sugar amount in half and it was plentiful sweet, so I’m advocating once again to all internet-recipe followers – read all those useful comments and judge accordingly.

Anyhoo, it’s a thick batter and needed what I would call “spatching”, but bakes up lovely and light anyway, probably in part thanks to a neat trick where you mix the dairy with baking soda and watch the whole thing cloud up with wee little microbubbles.  Fun, fun times.

This might be a good time to mention the modular nature of a recipe like this, and how probably awesome it would be to mix in some berries at this point, or pineapple, or chocolate chips, or cardamom, or candied peel or cashews or whatever.  Please do have fun, I was just feeling really, really basic that morning, and fancied it up only as much as a cream cheese frosting would allow.  Because really… cream cheese frosting.  Obviously.

mother-frelling cc frosting, awwww yeah.

 So, in the end, it turned out exactly like how I wanted (which doesn’t *always* happen, just often enough to keep me confident in my abilities to satisfy elusive cravings) – spicy, yellow, sweet and tangy, warm as a firefly and just as quick to disappear from this world.  I dubbed it Cinnacake and felt kinda accomplished, and went back to bed with a piece of that and a hot tea and reasonably more cheery outlook on a dreary Sunday.  It’s that kind of magic, you know.

Cinnamon Coffee Cake Kotniuk

adapted from Stephanie Kotniuk via Epicurious.

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
  • 1 cup sour cream or yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

In a bowl whisk together the flour, the baking powder, and a pinch of salt.  In another bowl stir together the sour cream/yogurt and the baking soda.

In a large bowl cream together the butter and 1/2 cup of the granulated sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, and beat in the vanilla.

Stir in the flour mixture alternately with the sour cream/yogurt mixture and stir the batter until it is combined well.  Spread half the batter into a buttered 10-inch round cake pan.

In a small bowl stir together the brown sugar, 2 tbsp of granulated sugar, and the cinnamon and sprinkle half of it onto the batter already in the pan.  Spoon the rest of the batter over top of the cinnamon layer and carefully spread it smooth.  Sprinkle the top with the rest of the cinnamon sugar, and then swirl a butter knife through the batter to make some swirls.

Bake the cake in the middle of a preheated 350°F. oven for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean, transfer it to a rack, and let it cool.

Cream Cheese Glaze

  • 1/4 cup cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar, plus extra if needed
  • 1 tablespoons milk, plus extra if needed
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small bowl, mix the cream cheese and powdered sugar together thoroughly until no lumps remain, then whisk in the milk and vanilla.  Adjust ingredients for taste and texture (it should be tart but sweet, and thin enough to pour but thick enough to cling), then pour onto a waiting dessert.

PS: Yes, you can glaze this cake while it’s still warm.  MMM instant gratification.


Coconut Chai Rice Pudding with Crunchy Lemon Coconut, cooking in the woods edition

Every year I make a pilgrimage to the same place.  It changes, like a nebula, gaining limbs (friends) and losing others (uh, also referring to friends here), but the change is slow, organic, natural and altogether comfortable.  In the woods, time passes in it’s own microcosm, and the city just… doesn’t matter.  Ceases to factor in.

chai tea bags + coconut milk + raw sugar + brown rice = easiest forest treat ever.

It’s the kind of environment you might expect me to leave my kitchen tools behind in, while I’m on the train of liberty, right?  But, I dunno.  It’s in my animal nature to dice things and boil water, and make something from nothing, from maligned vegetables and extra time and waking up refreshed from 10+ hours sleep and the clacking of trees and birds and drumming.

Some context:  Many years running, my friends have thrown a kind of intimate woods festival, with a generator to make christmas lights and music, an exceptionally well equipped and beautiful kitchen, a classy kaibo (read: outhouse with tarps instead of walls),  absolutely no running water, and enough calm vibes to soothe even the most frazzled entrant upon making it through the big green gate.  It’s a little slice of paradise, and I’m lucky enough to be given some freedom in the kitchen there, turning the daily donations of fresh fruit and veg into stuff that’s more akin to dinner than the usual camper rations of dried crackery things.

Some years we even make sushi!  Okay, maybe, every year we make sushi.  It’s kind of a tradition at this point.  I was grateful I didn’t have to spearhead that operation this year, and it’s a good thing it was up to two of the other incredibly talented cooks working in the kitchen.  I don’t know how they did it, but was the nicest sushi rice I’ve tasted in like, a year.   Seriously.

one of the most talented and lovely chefs I’ve had the pleasure of cooking with. Together we made curry night happen! And that wild blueberry apple compote with rosemary cashew-crisp topping? Genius.

If you’ve never organized a festival kitchen (and I never really have, I’ve only stuck my hand in to help for a few days, and observed a bit along the way), there are a few things to keep in mind.  First: Keep It Simple.  For everyone’s sanity, and your enjoyment, and frankly, as a favour to the food.  It’s not the time to try and reinvent the wheel or get all mission impossible about things.  Work with what you’ve got and cook it well.  Have eggplants and tahini?  Salt those, wring them, fry them and drizzle with sesame goodness, lemon and mint – faboo.  Have too much stale bread and old bananas?  Vegan french toast, my friends.  Coleslaw is easy, colourful, keeps well, and there’s always big hard grate-able veggies around – notwithstanding that I think it’s important to aways have a good crunchy salad out there on the front table to counteract the effects of partying all night and day.  No wimpy lettuce.  Tell your friends not to bring lettuce.  Cut up plenty of fruit for people.  Figure out how to A: boil (sanitize) water, B: make coffee, and C: keep the dish-pit supplied with said sanitized water.  Do some dishes when no one’s around.  Other things.

it’s all for you <3

And so, when it rained on the last day, like a biblical 6AM head-bucket of lake-sized proportions, turning my tent (without fly, without tarp) into a swimming pool in about eight seconds, I turned to the campstove for warmth and made morale-chili while everyone was asleep.  And, later when I had to finally take my toes from the soft ground and force them back into socks and sneakers and turn them towards the loud distilled air of the city, I was cool with it (I guess).  Because it won’t be for long, really.  I’m going to the maritimes in a week, and I’m bringing my campstove, my metal dishes, and a few select spices with me. ;)

Coconut Chai Rice Pudding with Crunchy Lemon Coconut

Serves 8-10

  • 1 cup brown rice
  • two 400ml cans of coconut
  • 1 litre carton of rice milk
  • 2 chai tea bags
  • 1/2 cup raw organic sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 vanilla bean, split
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • pinch of cloves
  • 1/2 cup dried fruit (raisins, apricots or mango would be nice)
  • maple syrup (optional)

Add all ingredients except the dried fruit to a large sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and gently simmer, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t burn, for at least 60 minutes or until the rice is very soft and thick.  Stir in the fruit.

Lemon Coconut

  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/3 cup coarse organic sugar
  • juice of 1 lemon

Toast the coconut in a heavy skillet over medium heat until golden brown.  Add the coarse sugar and lemon juice and toss until the coconut is well coated in crystals.  Let cool, and serve sprinkled on the pudding.

Sautéed Apple & Cheddar Crepes for a stormy Sunday


Hurricane Irene passed through Quebec this weekend, demoted along it’s way to a “tropical storm”, but still chilling and blustery enough to make brunch the only sensible option for a bunch of skids on a cozy Sunday morning.  Cloudscapes came over early to make crepes, and after braving the icy rains for some apples and cream, we headed on to the kitchen to get the butter-sugar-flour-eggs-vanilla from the cupboard to find….. butter-sugar-flour-eggs-vanilla already laid out and toasty morning-pan smells coming from our rickety stove and wafting back through the hall.  Room-mates/great minds thinking so alike!  They were making sparkle-cakes, though.  Ie; pancakes doused liberally with good cheer and party sprinkles.

It wasn’t much work to throw together a reliable crepe batter – Alton Brown’s does the trick – cook some fruit up with maple syrup and whip up a bit of fresh cream, and soon breakfast was served.  Eeeeek!  Finally.  Starved by then, and happy to see that the sangria could be enjoyed alongside straight white wine, since it was after 3 PM by the time we sat down!  Aha!

A little Balderson cheddar goes a long way…..

Basic Crepes

Recipe by Alton Brown

makes 17-22 crepes

  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar or maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons liqueur (optional)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • butter, for coating the pan

In a blender combine all of the ingredients and pulse for 10 seconds. Place the crepe batter in the refrigerator for 1 hour. This allows the bubbles to subside so the crepes will be less likely to tear during cooking. The batter will keep for up to 48 hours.

Heat a small non-stick pan. Add butter to coat. Pour 1 ounce (2-3 tablespoons) of batter into the center of the pan and swirl to spread evenly. Cook for 30 seconds and flip. Cook for another 10 seconds and remove to the cutting board. Lay them out flat so they can cool. Continue until all batter is gone. After they have cooled you can stack them and store in sealable plastic bags in the refrigerator for several days or in the freezer for up to two months. When using frozen crepes, thaw on a rack before gently peeling apart.

Sauteed Apples

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 large cooking apples (Granny Smith or Yellow Delicious are nice)
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon honey or golden syrup
  • generous grating of fresh nutmeg
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • zest of half a lemon

Cook butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until beginning to brown.  Add apples and sauté until tender, about 9 minutes. Add all remaining ingredients; stir to blend. Cool. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill.)

Putting it All Together…

  • grated sharp white cheddar
  • syrup
  • icing sugar
  • whipped cream and chocolate (if you feel like going over the top… we did this but I don’t think it was necessary)

Preheat your oven to broil.

Take a crepe and spoon some of the hot apples into the center.  Top with a small handful of cheese and broil until the cheese is just melted through, then fold up any way you like and top with your favourite things.