Sunday, March 30, 2014


This is my new favourite thing.

It's called a brigadeiro and I think I could eat about ten of them in a row.

(The only reason I haven't tried is that I need to save some for book club on Tuesday.)

I know, it looks like a plain old chocolate ball with plain old chocolate sprinkles on top.

That's what I thought, too.

But appearances can be deceiving. This is actually a little bit of dark-chocolate-dulce-de-leche heaven.

I know. Where have brigadeiros been my whole life?

In Brazil, it appears.

Apparently they're always served at children's birthday parties but while the adults say they're making them for the children, they're actually making them for themselves.

I found the recipe while I was madly hunting the internet for dessert recipes from Brazil.

You see, we're reading State of Wonder at book club and it's mainly set in Brazil. So we've got a Brazilian theme for the treats. (I suggested we all speak Portugese, too, but that idea doesn't seem to have taken off.)

So I found this recipe for brigadeiros and decided to make it because I already had all the ingredients in the house. That's pretty easy with just four ingredients: cocoa, sweetened condensed milk, butter and chocolate sprinkles. I also unearthed little tinfoil cups that I bought years ago on a whim  obviously foreshadowing my brigadeiro discovery.

The recipe itself is also simplicity in a heavenly form: cook the cocoa, sweetened condensed millk and butter together and watch magic happen.

The sweetened condensed milk caramelizes and almost becomes dulce de leche, even while it's binding with the chocolate and butter to create a whole new soft ball of deep, dark enchantment.

The final texture is so soft it almost melts but just manages to maintain its shape with the chocolate sprinkle coating and it is so, so good that the brigadeiro might just become your new favourite thing, too.

one year ago: night circus mice
two years ago: lemon gum drops
three years ago: up island
four years ago: sophisticated marshmallow squares

from cynthia presser 
rolls 30 35 small balls

2 tbsp. butter
300 ml. (10 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
3 tbsp. cocoa powder
chocolate sprinkles for rolling
little tinfoil cups for holding the brigadeiros

Get out a dinner plate and spatula, and set it aside.

Put the butter, sweetened condensed milk and cocoa in a medium pot with a good heavy bottom.  Turn the heat up to medium, and whisk often while it comes to a boil. Once it's boiling, set the timer for 10 minutes and keep stirring often to prevent it from sticking. Turn it down slightly if you think it's sticking but you want it to cook between a simmer and a rolling boil. The mixture will thicken, and by the end of the cooking time big bubbles will come to the surface as it boils.

Quickly use your spatula to scrape the mixture onto the plate. Set in the fridge for a couple of hours to cool and firm up. It will never get that firm, but it will be firmer by the time you go to roll the balls.

Put out a small bowl with chocolate sprinkles and set out about 30 foil cups. Butter your hands so the brigadeiros don't stick. Take a teaspoon of the mixture and roll it to make a bowl. Roll the ball in the sprinkles and place it in a little foil cup. Repeat, until you've made all your brigadeiros. Serve at room temperature or refrigerate until needed.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

salted butter break-ups

The salted butter break-up is like no cookie I've ever eaten.

I thought about calling it French shortbread, but that's not quite right.

Instead, it's like a crisp but still tender cookie shot through with layers of butter and salt.

Can you kind of see what I mean?

I am torn about the best part of the salted butter break-up: the taste or the process.

The taste, of course, is buttery with a haunting hint of sea salt. The crumb both shatters and gently releases itself in your mouth. (You see, I really can't decide if they are crisp or tender.)

And the process! Well, you roll out a big messy rectangle of dough, brush on some egg glaze, and bake until it puffs into a golden expanse of firm but slightly springy dough.

Once that big cookie is cool, you literally(!) break it up!

Seriously. You just break corners and work your way into the middle until you have pleasing shards of cookie that are perfect alongside your afternoon tea.

Or  if you make this for a dinner party  you can just bring the whole big cookie to the table and let your guests break it up. How fun is that?

All my gratitude goes to the lovely Isabelle from The Little Red Kitchen, who first gave my Celiac husband a little container of these break-ups and said I could eat one, and who also converted them to be gluten-free. And, of course, many thanks for introducing me to Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table, from which these break-ups originally come.

one year ago: spiced red lentil stew with greens and lemon
two years ago: cheddar corn chowder
three years ago: grand forks borscht
four years ago: canadian boterkoek

salted butter break-ups
via the little red kitchen 
adapted from around my french table by dorie greenspan

1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
     or gluten-free:
     127 g. (4.5 oz) tapioca starch
     42 g. (1.5 oz) sweet rice flour
     42 g. (1.5 oz) sorghum flour
2/3 c. sugar
3/4  1 tsp. sel gris* or kosher salt
9 tbsp. (127 g./4.5 oz) cold butter, cut into 18 pieces
 5 tbsp. cold water
1 egg yolk, for the glaze

Pour the flour(s), sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse to mix. Drop the butter in and pulse until it loks like coarse meal with pea-sized and smaller pieces. While the machine is running, slowly add some of the cold water. Only add enough water to make a dough that almost forms a bowl. It will be very malleable.

Move the dough onto a big clean cutting board and form it into a square. Wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for about 1 hour (or up to 3 days).

When it's time to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and make sure your rack is centred. Line your baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.

Roll the dough out between sheets of plastic wrap until it becomes a rough rectangle that's about 1/4-inch thick and about 5 by 11 inches. Peel it onto your prepared baking sheet.

Whisk the egg yolk with a few drops of cold water, and use a pastry brush to brush the dough with the egg glaze.

Bake 30  40 minutes, or until golden. It should be firm to touch, but with a little spring when you press its centre. Dorie says the perfect break-up is crisp on the outside and still tender on the inside. When it's not too fragile, transfer it to a rack and let it cool to room temperature.

*Dorie says sel gris is "a moist, slightly grey sea salt with crystals that are large enough to be picked up individually." I used Maldon sea salt flakes and loved it.

Monday, March 3, 2014

eating out in japan

This is a bowl of udon noodle soup from a counter in Arashiyama, near Kyoto. It was good and cheap, and I happily ate it for lunch often while I was in Japan last October.

But I want to tell you about one particular lunch in Tokyo that my mom and I will always remember. (One particular lunch where I didn't bring my camera.)

We got off the subway under Mitsukoshi,* an expensive department store in the chic Ginza shopping district. It was Sunday afternoon and we had clearly joined the rest of Japan, who were also there to browse and shop.

I remembered Lonely Planet saying there were good food halls under Japanese department stores, and sure enough, we soon found ourselves amongst dozens of vendors and thousands of hungry shoppers.

My stomach growled and I saw gyoza. Six hot little dumplings were quickly packed into a clear plastic container, along with chop sticks and dipping sauce.

I turned around and saw my favourite Japanese vegetable  the lotus root  in salad incarnation. A big scoop was pushed into another clear plastic box, and I knew we just needed a drink.

Sure enough, there was a bottle of special green tea that you had to shake to release the green tea into the water. We paid for it and started looking around for a place to sit.

There was literally no corner that wasn't taken up by vendors and shoppers standing and buying food. I asked the man who sold me the green tea and he said to take the elevator up to the ninth floor.

We found the microscopic elevator and a clutch of 15 other people already waiting for it. Growing hungrier by the minute, we resigned ourselves to it.

Eventually, the elevator came and we packed ourselves in, arms and bags held as close as possible. At the next floor, we packed in as many people again and all rode up to the ninth floor together.

It was well worth the wait and the cramped ride up. Suddenly, we were out on a rooftop terrace with park benches and children running across patches of grass.

We found a bench and tore into our ten-dollar lunch. The gyoza squirted hot pork juice and the lotus root crunched in our mouths. We watched the children and looked out at the sunny Tokyo skyline and it couldn't have been better.

All that to say: I have finally added my favourite Japanese restaurants to hop & go fetch it. If you're visiting Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima or Kasugai, these were my favourite places to eat.

* It appears that Mitsukoshi started in 1673 to sell kimonos. It sure sells a lot more than that now.

one year ago: panna cotta with red wine syrup
two years ago: caramel chocolate mousse
three years ago: grand forks borscht (the most popular recipe on this site!)
four years ago: yellow split pea dahl