Tag: nuts

Swiss Tarts

The title “Swiss Tarts” may be a bit of a misnomer. All I know is that years ago when I first tried to make these, I was attempting to re-create a tiny frosted treat I once had. It was a firm little tart filled with soft, fragrant almond paste, topped with a sweet, snow-white glaze and the glowing dome of a perfect, glossy, half maraschino cherry. Some brief research online tells me that these are also known as Bakewell Tarts. Whatever they are, they have become a bit of a Christmas treat tradition in our house and they are only ever made for Christmas. Unfortunate, because they are very delicious. They are a labour of love if you make your own pastry. If you are at all inclined to skip that step (as I almost always do) they will turn out beautifully (and be so much quicker) if you go the route of frozen pastry shells. If you are a lover of almonds or marzipan, these little gems will undoubtedly make an appearance on your holiday dessert table.

For the pastry:

Prepare 1 recipe of pâte sucrée. Once the dough has chilled and rested, roll out  and cut into rounds the appropriate size for the tart or muffin tins you’ll be using. I used a standard mini muffin tin which meant that my rounds of pastry were 2 ½”. Your pans might be different, be sure to do a test.

Line the pan with the dough, pricking the bottom of each tart shell. Blind bake for 8 minutes at 350° or until the dough starts to appear dry and set, but uncoloured.  Remove tart shells from oven and allow to cool as you prepare the filling.

For the almond filling:

2 C blanched almonds

1/2 cup sugar

2 Tbsp flour

1 egg

1 tsp almond extract

1 tsp vanilla extract (or paste)

In a food processor, pulse together the almonds, sugar and flour until the almonds are ground down to the consistency of cornmeal. Once they are well mixed, stop the machine and add the remaining ingredients. Mix until the paste comes together and is smooth, damp and glossy.

To assemble:

Spoon a small amount of cherry jam (or your favourite jam/preserve) into the bottom of each tart shell. Cover the jam with a mound of the almond filling, filling them about 3/4 full. (how much you use will depend on the size of your tarts.)

Bake at 350° for 22 minutes. The filling should be puffed and golden.  My preference is for nice flat tops, so I usually push them down gently with the back of a teaspoon. Cool completely.

Frosting and finishing:

1 C icing sugar

1 tsp lemon juice

1/2 tsp almond extract

maraschino or glacé cherries

Mix until smooth and pourable. The frosting should be a thick liquid, but still thin enough to slowly pool when poured. The surface will lightly crust when dried.

Maraschino cherries make a beautiful last minute decoration, but the moisture of the syrup will disrupt the smooth glaze.

Glacé cherries work well if you are decorating the tarts ahead of time.

Cherry Almond Blondies


In life there are ‘everyday’ foods, foods you can eat anytime that are delicious and healthy and if they aren’t doing you any particular good, they certainly aren’t doing you any harm.

Then there are ‘once in a while’ foods, the ones that feel and taste great, but you know you shouldn’t have regularly.

These tender, chewy, sweet bars are of the latter category: they are made for ‘once in a while’. Luckily this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy them. You should. And because they are so delicious and you like them so much, you should share them with friends. It’s a win-win!

Cherry Almond Blondies

preheat youir oven to 350° and grease an 8×8 pan

½ C butter or margarine, melted and cooled

1 C light brown sugar, firmly packed

1 egg, beaten

1 tsp vanilla extract (or vanilla paste)

1 tsp almond extract

1 C flour

½ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp baking soda

pinch of salt

½ C dried cherries, chopped

½ C sliced almonds, divided

In a medium bowl combine the egg and light brown sugar, stirring well until very smooth. Add the vanilla and almond extracts. Slowly add the cooled melted butter beating well to incorporate.

Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Add to the wet ingredients and stir well to combine. Add the cherries and half the almonds, stir them through the batter.

Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth it into the corners. Sprinkle with remaining almonds. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes until golden and set. Allow to cool fully in the pan on a wire rack. Cut into 24 little pieces and serve.

Cranberry Pecan Loaf with Orange

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas …

The tree is glinting in it’s silver and blue finery. The stockings have been retrieved from storage. We have snipped and unfolded dozens of snowflakes and hung them in an arch between the living and dining rooms. We have had a festive December, indeed. One thing that our Christmas does not include is a fruitcake.

Are you a fruitcake fan? It seems so few people are these days. Growing up there was always fruitcake, often made by my aunt Judy. It was dense and dark and boozy. I made it with her once or twice and it was astonishing to see how much went into it: cups and cups of fruit and nuts, so much so that there was barely room for the spiced batter that held it all together. I never loved it, but each Christmas I like to have just one small piece, a couple mouthfuls, just because it tastes like Christmas.

The recipe here for Cranberry Pecan Loaf has become the closest thing to fruitcake in my household each year. It has the Christmassy zing of orange and it is studded with other ‘mix-ins’ that give it the look and feel of fruitcake, but with a much cleaner, more modern flavour profile. It’s a great balance of sweet, tart, bitter and nutty. As a simple quick bread it mixes up quickly and bakes reliably making it a no-fail nod to the season.

Cranberry Pecan Loaf with Orange 

preheat oven to 350°

1 ½ C flour

1 tsp baking powder

a pinch of salt

juice of 1 large navel orange (¼ C)

¼ C milk

6 Tbsp butter, room temperature

¾ C packed light brown sugar

1 vanilla bean, scraped, pod discarded

2 eggs

1 C chopped pecans

½ C chopped dried cranberries

½ C white chocolate chips

the zest of 1 large navel orange

Using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until pale and well creamed, about 2 minutes. Add the vanilla bean seeds. Add the eggs, one at a time until fully incorporated.

In a separate bowl mix the dry ingredients together. Likewise, mix the orange juice and milk together in a measuring cup.

Add the dry ingredients to the butter, sugar and egg mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the wet ingredients.

Stir in the pecans, cranberries, zest and white chocolate chips. Scrap the batter into a greased loaf pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the top is golden.

Cool completely on a wire rack before wrapping. This loaf freezes well once it is completely cool.

Spinach Pesto

Isn’t spring wonderful? Spring weather makes me want to eat green things. This spinach pesto is no exception. It is milder than the basil pesto you may be familiar with and this version is kept lighter in taste without the addition of cheese like many pestos.

I would have happily used walnuts or pine nuts, even almonds, but I happened to have pecans on hand. Pecans have a mild buttery-ness and they are very oily, making them a good pairing to the deeply green tasting spinach. A good squirt of lemon juice balances the flavour as well as keeping the colour bright by preventing oxidation. This pesto came together in minutes and with the exception of peeling garlic, required essentially no preparation. I tossed it with hot orzo and steamed pea pods for a brilliantly green supper but you could put it to many uses: sandwiches, pizza, salad dressings, a mix-in for mashed potatoes or scrambled eggs, or a delicious instant sauce for hot vegetables. With 4 ingredients (plus salt and pepper) it’s likely the easiest and most spring-like thing you can make.

Spinach Pesto

This recipe makes use of a food processor, but you could use a blender (or even a mortar and pestle) instead.

4 cups (packed) fresh spinach

3/4 cup pecan halves (or use any oily nut: walnuts or pine nuts <which are actually seeds> are excellent choices)

juice of half a lemon

3 large cloves of garlic, peeled

salt & pepper

Olive oil

In the bowl of your food processor, pulse the pecans until they become like coarse sand. Add the garlic and enough olive oil to allow the mix to become a paste. Add the spinach leaves. Run the processor until the spinach is mulched into the nuts and garlic. Add the lemon juice and while the machine is still running, begin to slowly drizzle in olive oil. How much olive oil you will use depends on the texture you want your pesto. I like mine less oily and somewhat mousse-like, you might prefer yours wetter and more oily (more like the store bought version). Add the oil, stopping occasionally to check the texture. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Once blended to your desired consistency, scrape the pesto into a tight sealing container and keep in the fridge up to 2 weeks. If you want it to remain the pristine emerald colour, after each use, smooth the pesto so the surface is flat and pour a thin layer of olive oil over the surface to seal it and prevent it from darkening.

Use to flavour soups, tossed with hot pasta, on potatoes, spread on bread, etc., etc.

Pavlova with Chocolate, Caramel and Hazelnuts

We have a lot of cookbooks in our house. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that despite having a lot of cookbooks, I don’t cook with them often. Instead they are more like resource books, pages of near endless inspiration. I have read all of them, many of them much more than once, cover to cover, absorbing their insight and learning, wondering, questioning and memorizing. It shouldn’t be surprising then, that some of my most beloved books have incredible photos. As much as I love vintage cookbooks, they do lack the visual stimuli of contemporary books with their full colour, often full page, photos oozing with sharp realism and also, somehow, blurred fantasy.

One of our newest cookbook acquisitions is Seasons by Donna Hay which takes the reader/cook/food lover through a full four seasons of gorgeous, simple, foods, each appropriate to its time of year, each considered carefully and executed with artistic precision. It was while perusing the Spring section that Rob paused at a layered, cake-like concoction whose layers weren’t cake at all, but meringue. I had been brainstorming desserts to have with our all appetizer dinner as we watch the Oscars tonight and when he pointed out the beautifully layered Pavlova, I knew we had found a winner, or at least the inspiration for a winner. (I changed up the flavours and created my own luxurious combination here of a pale cream caramel, dark chocolate and toasted hazel nut.) Although Seasons identifies a similar Pavlova as Spring fare and we are still suspended in the clutches of winter, with unprecedented snow in February, this dessert is appropriately snowy and decadent enough to enjoy while watching Hollywood’s royalty and sipping a bottle of bubbly. I predict a sweeping win in the category of ‘Best Dessert’.

Layered Pavlova of Chocolate, Caramel and Hazelnuts

This recipe is constructed of  many parts. The meringue takes a while (a couple hours) to dry and crisp, so although this is not a tricky or difficult recipe, it does require some time and focus to have all the parts come together.

Part 1:The Nuts

Begin with about 2 cups of raw hazelnuts. Toast them by spreading them out on a dry sheet pan and warming them at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes. They are ready when the become fragrant.

While they are still hot from the oven pour them out onto a clean tea towel. Bunch the tea towel up around them into a bundle and rub them with your hands through the cloth. This causes the nuts to roll around and rub against one another and the cloth and enables you to get most, if not all, of the skins to come off. Keep rolling and rubbing until no more skins come off. Carefully remove the nuts and discard the skins.

Once the nuts have cooled a quick blitz in the food processor will give you ground hazelnuts. Don’t grind them into flour, leave them somewhat coarse.

Part 2: The Meringue

Begin by preheating the oven to 200 degrees. The intent is not to bake the meringue as much as it is to dry it, hence the low oven.

Prepare 2 sheet pans by covering them with parchment paper. Draw a circle (using a plate or pot lid) that is slightly smaller than the dish you plan to serve the Pavlova on. Set aside and make the meringue:

1/2 cup of eggwhites (4 eggs’ worth)

1 cup of sugar

Beat the egg whites in your mixer until they have stiff peaks. Slowly add the sugar until the meringue is softand glossy (it won’t be as stiff once the sugar is added).

Working quickly, immediately blob 1/2 the meringue onto the first sheet pan.

Spread the meringue to fill the circle. Leaving some jagged points and texture in the meringue is ideal. Repeat with the second pan and the remaining meringue.

Sprinkle both disks with some of the ground hazelnuts. Place in the low oven for 2 hours or until crisp and dry. if you are not building the Pavlova immediately, just leave the meringues in the dry oven to rest until it’s assembly time.

Part 3: The Caramel

In a small sauce pan, over medium heat carefully melt:

1 cup of sugar

into 1/2 cup of water

Allow the sugar to melt, undisturbed until it starts to turn a golden colour. It will boil and froth, but just let it do its thing. How dark you make your caramel is up to you, but be forewarned that when heating sugar it can go from delicious and golden to burnt in a matter of moments. I was aiming for a fairly pale caramel here, so when it had turned a light amber and thickened to the consistency of maple syrup, I pulled it from the heat and added:

3/4 cup whipping cream

1 tablespoon vanilla

The cold cream will make the caramel seize, but constant stirring and returning it to the heat will solve that. Stir again, over medium heat until the caramel is smooth. Remove from the heat and allow it to cool and thicken.

Part 4: The Chocolate

Melt, over medium heat, stirring constantly:

1 cup of dark chocolate pieces


2 teaspoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup of whipping cream

Part 5: The Assembly

Whip 1 cup of cream until soft peaks form.

Remove the dried and cooled meringue discs from their parchment lined sheets.

Secure the first disk to your serving plate with a dab of chocolate.

Drizzle over it:

1/2 the chocolate

1/4 of the caramel (this ensures that you will have some extra for serving)

1/2 of the remaining nuts

1/2 the whipped cream

Repeat with the second disc, etc.

Serving won’t be as precise as cutting, say, a cake, but be brave and just bust into the crisp/chewy layers of meringue and drizzle it with a bit more of the caramel if you like. Remember: this is a very free form dessert and it’s beauty is in it’s unique ‘imperfection’. It also tastes amazing. Enjoy!