Pumpkin Nanaimo Bars

And here we go again. After the summer that wasn’t it’s time to seek solace in all things autumnal. Shades of ochre and ember signaling days dwindling in trade for shaking out cozy TV blankets; warming comfort foods and pumpkin. All things pumpkin! As much as we deride it Pumpkin, or more to the point Pumpkin Spice, has a unique and habitual place in our hearts.

Yes- we role our eyes with derision at the comically esoteric figure of “Becky” swaddled in her fall knitwear, demanding her PSL but we’ll all still be in the coffeeshop line-up with her- upsizing our regular morning caffeine to the mythical spice-laden liquid crack of meme heaven. Aside from the trees, foodie feeds all over social media turn fall shades of red and orange, taken over by recipes and plates of pumpkin inspired/ derived foods and bakes. How do we love pumpkin? Let me count the ways.

You may be thinking I’m lining up for an utterly dismissive and scathing post on pumpkin affairs, but let me say no. I’ve become as much a fan of warmly spice fall bakes as Becky (albeit with less of a penchant for chunky knit cardigans). So here we are at this recipe- my love for the Canuck stalwart that is the Nanaimo Bar embracing the gentle spiced earthiness of pumpkin. The first attempt at this recipe had me overshooting the mark on the addition of the pumpkin puree. The filing layer wasn’t so much the familiar creamy spreadable mixture as it was pourable, in fact pretty much bordering on soup. So- it was back to the recipe board with that one! After some tweaking a more workable result was achieved- creamy, orange-tinted and subtly spiced.

Keep these bars in the fridge to avoid them becoming too soft and undesirably squishy. I personally think the creamy pumpkin layer tastes so much better when chilled too. But that’s just my personal preference and I guess the only way for you to find out is for you to make them yourself- so what are you waiting for?

Makes 18 bars

Ingredients

Base layer

  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder, natural
  • 1/4 cup fine sugar
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 3/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 tsp ground ginger

Middle layer

  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened to room temperature
  • 3 Tbsp pumpkin purée
  • 2 Tbsp custard powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt

Top layer

  • 6 oz semi-sweet chocolate, broken/ chopped into pieces
  • 1 Tbsp corn syrup
  • 2 Tbsp butter

Method

To prepare the base layer

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 inch square baking pan with parchment paper 
  2. In small saucepan over medium heat, combine butter, cocoa and sugar, stirring occasionally until butter has melted and mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool
  3. Stir in egg, graham cracker crumbs, ground ginger and coconut
  4. Transfer to your prepared pan. Press firmly and level as much as possible
  5. Bake for 10 mins, then remove and leave to cool completely

To prepare the middle layer

  1. In bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment, cream together icing sugar, butter, pumpkin, custard powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, vanilla and salt. Spread the mixture evenly over bottom layer; smooth and chill for at least an hour

To prepare the top layer and finish

  1. In a bowl set over barely simmering water, melt chocolate, corn syrup and butter together, stirring occasionally, until smooth and shiny. Pour over the pumpkin layer and smooth
  2. Chill in the refrigerator overnight, or 2 hours minimum. Cut into bars (6 x 3). Keep the cut bars in a covered container either in the refrigerator (3 days) or frozen (3 months)

*To cut the bars, run a sharp knife under hot running water until the blade is hot. Quickly, and carefully, slice down through the bar layers into the number required- here is use 5 x 2 cuts to give 18 bars.

Spiced Chocolate Cake

This cake started out life as something different. In it’s original form it took inspiration from Bejamina Ebuehi’s “Hidden Pear Cake” from her book The New Way To Cake (which I thoroughly recommend). I loved the idea of having the pear fruit cheekily peaking though the ginger cake loaf, inviting you to dig in and explore what lies beneath. In one of my typical left of centre epiphanies I found myself reminiscing about a favorite childhood dessert- Pear Belle Helene. There always seemed to be something so refined and regal about this desert in my mind. Even now it conjures up images of sophistication and elegance- ivory pears poached to sweet, glistening tenderness slick with silky, warm chocolate syrup swirling hypnotically with pear syrup and melting vanilla ice cream.- each bite a sweet, sandy indulgence. So? could I create this in a cake? Well check out my IG feed for more details.

The resulting cake was good enough that I wanted to make it the feature on it’s own- fudgey, rich chocolate cake with a warming spiced undercurrent. For those of you in Ireland and the UK it has more than a passing resemblance to the infamous McVities Jamaica Ginger Cake. Here however the spicy ginger it is pared down a notch so it works in tandem with the rich chocolate flavor of the cake. Allowing this cake to sit for a day allows the texture and flavors to really develop. I would recommend making the cake and let to sit for at least a day in an airtight container at room temperature and bam! you’ll hit that sweet spot.

Now I’m somewhat of a puritan when it comes to eating cake. Not for me the silky adornment of cream or the smooth chilly sensations of ice cream- I like mine sliced pure & simple and this cake is a treat as such. However I do know that it tastes just as awesome when gently heated adjacent to a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or tenderly enrobed in smooth custard. The choice is yours.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsps ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup Canola oil
  • 1/2 cup fancy molasses
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp chocolate extract
  • 1/4 cup whole milk

Method

  • In a bowl combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt and spices. Whisk to combine and set aside until needed
  • Combine the oil, molasses, juice and sugar in a small saucepan. Set it on low heat and stir till the sugar has dissolved. Set aside to cool for about 10 minutes
  • Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. Grease an 8″ x 8″ square cake pan with oil or line it with baking parchment and allow the edges to overhang for easy removal
  • Transfer the cooled molasses mixture to a large mixing bowl and add in the eggs, vanilla and milk. Whisk well until smooth and well combined
  • Fold in the flour mixture gradually into the liquid until incorporated. Make sure the there are no pockets of dried flour mixture. The final batter may look a little lumpy- this is okay
  • Pour the batter into the prepared tin, level the top and bake for 35 to 40 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. If the top is darkening quickly, cover the tin loosely with foil and continue baking
  • Allow the cake to cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then remove and place on a wire rack to cool completely before slicing. Store in an airtight tin for about 3-4 days at room temperature, or refrigerate, tightly wrapped, for a week

Rum Chocolate Banana Pudding

I wish I could say this was inspired by some long-lost childhood memory or fortuitous epiphany but sadly no. The truth of the matter is that this Rum Chocolate Banana Pudding found it’s way in to my kitchen for no other reason than indulgence.

Since moving here to Canada I’ve succumbed to the North America love of “pudding”- that smooth, creamy, slippery dairy concoction of comforting goo. Yes I’m aware it has it’s nay-sayers who believe it should be kept to the confines of school lunchrooms and toddler snack times but… I LOVE it! Banana pudding hailing from the Deep South’s Hall of Comfort Food Fame, is one of Life’s simple pleasures and it’s easy to see why this layered dessert has made it’s way into the repertoire of home cooks on a national scale.

Personally I find it a reassuringly less pompous affair than it’s cousin- the English Trifle. Neat lines of composition are neither desired nor required here; and keep anything resembling jello to yourself! This dish is less about show and more about bringing sublime joy to the eater’s face- making them grin from ear to ear whilst filling their belly. Think of this as the oral equivalent of sliding into the comfiest armchair, wrapped in the fluffiest duvet, in the dusky porch twilight. Each spoonful a testament to the pudding’s sinfully indulgent, creamy cocoa laden, booze-tinged delights. Yes- I think it’s that good!

When you do try it feel free to disagree- all the more for me!

Ingredients

Pudding

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups milk
  • 4 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped in pieces
  • 1/2 cup fine sugar
  • 6 egg yolks, room temperature
  • 3 Tbspn cornstarch
  • 2-3 tspns dark rum , dependent on personal taste (if you prefer an alcohol-free version use artificial rum extract)
  • 1 tspn vanilla extract
  • 320g (1 box) vanilla wafers eg Nilla
  • 6 large bananas, peeled and sliced apx 1/4″ slices

Topping

  • 2 3/4 cups whipping cream, whipped
  • 1/4 cup graham crumbs
  • 1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 Tbspn light corn syrup
  • 3 Tbspn butter
  • I tspn Vanilla extract

Method

  1. Place milk and cream in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer. Whisk in the chocolate pieces and heat until melted and smooth. Remove from the heat
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the yolks, sugar, and cornstarch in a large bowl. Add in 1/4 cup of the chocolate/ milk mixture and whisk to combine. Add in another 1/4 cup of the chocolate mixture and again whisk until fully combined
  3. Pour the warmed egg/ chocolate/ milk mixture back in to the saucepan with the other part of the chocolate/ milk mixture. Whisk to combine and heat over medium-high heat and continuously whisk until thickened
  4. Remove from the heat, stir in 1 tspn vanilla extract, and transfer to a clean bowl. Place a piece of plastic wrap over the surface of the pastry cream and let cool to room temperature
  5. When cooled, spread about 1 cup of the chocolate pastry cream into an 11 by 11-inch glass dish. Layer the wafers, bananas, and pastry cream in the bowl, ending a layer of wafers. Cover tightly and refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours or overnight
  6. Just before serving, spread or pipe the top of the pudding with whipped cream and return to the fridge while you make the chocolate drizzle
  7. In a double-boiler combine the chocolate chips, corn syrup and butter. Stir until melted. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Set aside to cool until slightly warm
  8. Remove the pudding from the fridge and drizzle over the chocolate sauce to personal taste and serve
  9. The finished pudding will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days. When storing cover lightly with cling-wrap

Elvis Banana Bread

Elvis. The very name conjures up images of sweaty excess, sexy rhythms and snake-hipped gyrations. I have to admit to not being a fan of the man himself but there’s one thing that I can’t deny and that’s his impact on the world.

Aside from his groundbreaking impact on the world of music and movies, Elvis’s impact even stretched as far as the food world. Yes it may not be fancy but the grassroots ingredients of peanut and banana have become synonymous with the Graceland god. Google “The Elvis” and you will find a plethora of entries on the unnervingly mouth-watering combination of peanut butter, banana and bacon- usually in sandwich form. Is this actually a combination so off the wall it works? The answer is actually- yes. The unctuous smoothness of the peanut butter and banana spiked by the salty bites of bacon crispiness stopping it becoming overwhelming and bland.

It was within a week of watching cookery competition shows and Netflix culinary food-show binging that I noticed a bizarrely serendipitous trend- the theme of PB&J and Elvis appeared to crop up rather a lot. We’re talking epiphany-like levels folks. The universe was speaking to me and it was saying, “Elvis”. But how to incorporate this make-up into something unexpected? The answer was literally right under my nose- I pondered the question whilst munching on a slice of last week’s banana loaf.

Now whilst I love banana bread, a certain Covid-quarantine ennui had settled on my taste buds in regards to it. I had become a lockdown Lancelot in a quest to revamp the moist. rich loaf- as my recipe for Buttermilk & Cardamom Banana Bread bares testament to. And this Memphis-kissed combination provided another excuse for kitchen experimentation.

The peanut/ banana combination was an obvious treatment for the loaf itself, and pockets of flavored jelly would of course provide surprising nuggets of sweet, sticky joy in the dough. But where to work in the final signature ingredient of the King? I didn’t want anything as obvious as just a couple of bacon slices on top. My other concern was that mixing bacon pieces into the batter would cause them to become chewy and soft gribene-esque morsels in the batter. So how better to avoid them becoming gummy crumbs than to put them outside the batter…on top…in a topping…a STREUSEL topping!

Et viola! Elvis Banana Bread…enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 3 large bananas
  • 4 Tbspn Peanut butter (smooth or crunchy to you taste)
  • 1/2 cup Canola oil
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 tspn Vanilla extract
  • 2 1/3 cup AP flour
  • 3/4 cup Dark brown sugar
  • 2 tspn Baking powder
  • 1 tspn cinnamon
  • 1/4 tspn Kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup Grape jelly (feel free to sub with whatever flavour you like)

Streusel Topping

  • 5 slices bacon, cooked and crispy
  • 1/4 cup Dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup fine sugar
  • 1/4 cup AP flour
  • 1/2 tspn cinnamon
  • 2 Tbspn Butter, cold and diced
  • Pinch Kosher salt

Method

To make the streusel topping

  1. In a bowl combine both the sugars, flour, cinnamon, salt and butter pieces. Rub the mixture together with your fingertips until a pea-sized sand texture is achieved and a crumble is formed. Crumble in the crispy bacon slices, mix through and set aside until needed later. *This makes more than enough streusel topping with plenty left over for additional uses. It’ll keep in the fridge for up to 3 days in an airtight jar

To make the banana bread

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan and line the bottom & with parchment paper (this will help to lift the baked loaf out)
  2. In a large bowl, mash the bananas. Add the peanut butter, oil, milk and vanilla, whisk well to combine and set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt
  3. Pour the banana mixture into the dry ingredients and fold together until just combined and there are no spots of dry floury residue
  4. Pour 1 /2 of the batter into the loaf pan. Using a piping bag or spoon, place dollops of the jelly along the top of the loaf batter leavings about 1 inch border around. Once you’ve got the jelly piped in how you’d like,  pour the remaining loaf  batter over to cover the jelly and roughly level the top. Generously sprinkle over the streusel topping to an amount of your liking
  5. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until well risen and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean
  6. Remove the baked loaf from the oven, allow to cool for 5 minutes in the loaf pan before lifting out using the parchment paper, and leave to cool completely on a rack before slicing

Cinnamon & Toasted Coconut “Babka”

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Covid quarantine has been interesting to say the least. Amongst everything else the lighter side of things including apocalyptical shortages of toilet tissue; mind-numbing cabin fever and Netflix binges galore to say the least. But it’s the baking I’ll remember. Never in any pandemic themed movie was there a world where the protagonist’s quest revolved around that of All Purpose flour and yeast. CV-19 triggered peoples’ inner baking gusto. Was it the yearning for self-sufficiency in an uncertain world, or perhaps that solace of creative therapy? Everyone has their own answer no doubt. What I do  know is that never have my social media feeds been so alive with breads and bakes from domestic kitchen alchemists. Sourdoughs, scones and banana bread. Oh- the plethora of banana breads! 101 ways with that familiar speckley brown fruit. But another baked bread that’s been quietly enjoying a renaissance is the Babka.

This one’s been on my ‘To Do’ list for a while. Surely I’m not the only one who finds something hypnotic about the ripples, folds and swirls of the this loaf. And so multi-purpose too! Stuck for breakfast? Lightly toast a slice as a perfect crispy-edged morsel with your coffee. Last minute dessert needed? Gently oven warm and top with a scoop of French vanilla ice cream, and melt into the sublime comforting gooeyness.

There appears to be much debate about which is best, and dependent on which part of which city you live in who’s is best. Whether it’s to be chocolate filled, or cinnamon laden; sweet or savory. Just like the layers in a babka the opinions are many and varied. I will freely admit to using the term “babka” here in air quotes. Whilst it might have to multi-layered look of the traditional Jewish bread I use my go-to recipe for enriched dough which usually forms the basis of my cinnamon bun recipe. Whilst it’s not a laminated dough, in the sense of croissant structure, it is more akin to a couronne with layered structure twisted and on show.

I feel it only right to give a quick, but hopefully respectful, snapshot history on the baked loaf. The loaf’s name itself is in reference to it’s root’s in the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe- “babka” meaning “little grandmother” in Ukranian, Russian, and Eastern European Yiddish. It’s told that on Shabbat, grandmothers would twist leftover scraps of challah bread with seeds and nuts, forming something not that dissimilar, if a little less sweet, to the babka we know today. With the influx of Eastern European Jews to the United States, especially New York, sweeter fillings were introduced. Chocolate, for instance, was much more obtainable and was included in the bake making the babka closer to the sweet treat we know of today.

Whilst traditionally there seems to be a preference for topping the loaves with a sweet streusel topping I opted here for the lesser known alternative of a simple syrup glaze in order to have those wonderful braid-induced swirls on show. I’ve added toasted coconut to the traditional cinnamon paste filling to add an extra layer to the caramel tones of the paste whilst appealing to my penchant for all things “coconuty”. The recipe here is ample for two loaves- one for immediate scoffing and the other is ideal to pop in the freezer for later date. Simply thaw at room temperature until defrosted to enjoy!

Ingredients

For the simple syrup glaze

  • 1/2 cup fine sugar
  • 1/2 cup water

For the dough and filling

  • 1 cup milk
  • 3/4 stick salted butter
  • 2 1/4 tspns active yeast
  • 1 tspn sugar
  • 1/4 cup lukewarm/ tepid water
  • 4 cups AP flour
  • 1/2 tspn kosher salt
  • 1 tspn ground cinnamon

For the filling

  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1 stick salted butter, softened
  • 3 Tbspns ground cinnamon
  • 2 Tbspns maple syrup

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Method

To make the simple syrup

  1. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan
  2. Bring to the boil over a medium high heat, until the sugar is dissolved
  3. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the syrup to cool fully

To make the dough

  1. In a jug combine the yeast, sugar and warm water. Stir and set aside for 10 minutes until foaming
  2. Gently heat together the milk and butter over a medium heat until the butter has fully melted. Remove from heat and set aside to cool until lukewarm
  3. In a pan over a medium heat, toast the shredded coconut until golden brown and fragrant. Set aside until needed
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer with bread hook attached, combine the AP flour, salt, and cinnamon. Once the yeast mixture has foamed up nicely, tip it on, along with  the cooled butter/ milk mixture. Set your mixer to knead for between 6-7 minutes until it comes together in a single ball and has cleaned the bowl
  5. Remove the dough from the mixer bowl, place in an oiled large bowl, cover and leave to rise until at least doubled in size
  6. Whilst the dough is rising you can make the filling. In a bowl combine the softened butter, brown sugar, ground cinnamon, and maple syrup. Stir these together until well combined
  7. Line 2 loaf pans with baking parchment, up and over the sides
  8. Divide the dough in half and set one piece aside. Knock back the first piece of dough and shape into a rectangle, approximately 12″ x 18″
  9. Spread half of the cinnamon paste over the flattened, shaped dough. Once you have this done, then sprinkle half of the toasted shredded coconut over the paste covered surface.
  10. Roll up the dough, along the long side, until fully rolled into a swiss/ jelly roll shape. Using a sharp knife or bench scraper, slice the roll, lengthwise, down the middle to expose layers of filling. Pinch together the twp halves at one end and carefully, keeping the exposed filling layer side on top twist together, overlapping into one long “tentacle” shape. Pop one end of the tentacle into the lined loaf pan and arrange the remainder of it, folding it back on itself, so that it fills the pan. It doesn’t have to be too neatly done as this adds to the overall look of the baked babka
  11. Cover with oiled clingwrap, set aside and repeat with the second batch of dough to fill the second loaf tin. Cover as the first and set both aside to proof for a further 45 mins
  12. Near the end of the proofing time, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F
  13. Once proofed after 45 mins, remove the cling wrap and bake in the middle shelf of your oven for 25mins. After 25mins rotate the tins front to back and bake for an additional 25mins or until the middle of the babka loaves have an internal temperature of 185 degrees F. (If you notice the top of your loaves becoming excessively brown you can tent them with some aluminium foil)
  14. Once your loaves are fully baked, remove from the oven and straight away brush with the cooled simple syrup. Continue until you have used up all the syrup on the loaves. Allow the loaves to cool in their tins before removing
  15. The baked babka loaves are best eaten within a couple of days. They can be stored for 2 days in an airtight container. They also freeze really well. Tightly wrap in baking parchment, then cling wrap and finally aluminium foil. To defrost, remove from freezer and allow to come to room temperature for slicing and serving

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