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Monique and Chelsea are going into their third year at McGill. They’ve been cooking together since they lived on the same floor of their university first-year residence and collaborated on weekends to make meals that had the whole floor hovering outside the teeny 5th floor kitchen.

[Monique] It started with Basil Ice Cream

[Chelsea] I made some Basil Ice Cream…it was strange, but it was delicious.  We ate it with some brownies for an afternoon snack with a friend the week before exams started.

[M] Being two aspiring young foodies, with a particular taste for desserts, we got to talking about new ice cream flavors:

“Mom did a mango cardamom ice cream once and strawberry.  I’ve had lavender crème brulée, maybe we can make lavender ice cream.”

“What would we pair it with?  Chocolate cake would be overpower the lavender. Vanilla would be too bland… Red velvet would be just plain weird.”

“What about a spice cake?”

*Victory Dance*

[M] That conversation took place maybe two months ago.  Before we got to any cake and ice cream making, we both needed to get through exam period and find jobs and also some food safe lavender.  This past week we found the lavender and made the ice cream but still needed to make the cake. – Cue flashback to dinner at my boyfriend’s cottage in mid March – Granny makes gingerbread for dessert. It was delicious, cakey, served-with-a-little-butter gingerbread that would become the perfect pairing for our lavender ice cream.

[C] So for June 5th, National Gingerbread Day, we present to you our greatest creation yet:

Moist, fragrant and flavourful gingerbread with a rustic scoop of sweet and floral lavender ice cream.

As far as how we made these scrumptious delights:

[M] When I was looking for a gingerbread recipe, I was looking specifically for a cakey-type gingerbread, like the one that granny made.  But there are cookies and bars and all sorts which would have made great pairings with ice cream. The bars were even recommended with ice cream, served like an ice cream sandwich. It was agreed that for our lavender ice cream, a cake would be the more appropriate, more elegant choice over a lavender ice cream sandwich.

Gingerbread (Gourmet, March 2007)

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, well softened
  • 2/3 cup fancy molasses (not blackstrap)
  • 2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons finely grated (with a rasp) peeled fresh ginger
  • 2/3 cup hot water

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour (or use cocoa if you’d like a little coat of chocolate) a 9-inch square or round baking pan. You could also use a bundt!

Whisk together flour, baking soda, spices, and salt in a bowl.

Beat together butter, molasses, brown sugar, eggs, and ginger in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until combined. Reduce speed to low and mix in flour mixture until smooth, then add hot water and mix until combined (batter may appear curdled).

Pour batter into pan and bake until a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool to warm in pan on a rack.

I didn’t have any all spice, so I added around half a nut’s worth of nutmeg, and an 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves in its place.

I was in no way precise with the ginger. I just chopped off a generous hunk and grated it all into the recipe. Try to avoid dropping the fibers in the bowl, they don’t combine as well and leave chunks.

[C] After looking at some recipes online one looked particularly nice; that is with a few of mine own modifications and additions…

Lavender Ice Cream

  • 2 c. Heavy Cream
  • 1 c. half and half
  • ½ c.  Granulated Sugar
  • 2 Tbsp.  Light Agave Nectar.
  • 4 Tbsp. Dried lavender
  • 4 lg. Egg Yolks
  • A pinch of salt

1. Heat half-and-half, agave, lavender, salt and 1 cup of the heavy cream in a sauce pan until kitchen thermometer reads 170 – 175 degrees F. This is actually really important. It’s not that it won’t work otherwise, but it turns out way creamier if you stick to the temperature.

2. Take it off the heat, cover, and let her brew for roughly 30 minutes. Strain mixture and discard lavender. This is something we didn’t do this time around but would recommend you do. We had imagined a creamy white ice cream with pretty bits of lavender, but as it turned out, the lavender tints the cream a grayish colour so we ended up dying it purple, and the lavender bits become a bit chewy.

3. Return strained mixture to sauce pan over medium heat and again warm to 170 degrees at which point you should stir in the sugar a little bit at a time until it has dissolved.

4. Whip egg yolks in a separate container, then to temper the eggs, add the cream mixture a little bit at a time – I don’t think the effect of scrambled eggs in ice cream is usually what people are looking for so be careful! – return to medium heat.

5. Cook, stirring steadily until mixture coats the back of a spoon and a finger drawn through the back of the spoon leaves a trail about 170 – 175 degrees F. Do not boil!!!! I’ve done it. It’s not pretty and your pot will not be thanking you

6. Pour mixture into a medium bowl in large bowl surrounded by ice.

7. Stir in remaining cream, add water to ice – like you do for a wine bucket – and keep stirring until the ice cream cools. You can refrigerate it, but I’m not patient enough to wait that long.

8. Freeze mixture in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions. For mine I find 35 minutes is usually ideal. Then scoop into an airtight container and put in freezer to harden.

9.  Serve with ginger bread cake and let your taste buds be wow-ed.

[C] Most recipes call for honey but due to my childhood love of tea, my mother replaced honey for agave. It’s just as sweet, but it doesn’t raise your blood sugar. Fancy that.

I used 4 teaspoons of lavender even though the recipe only said two. The more the merrier. You can get lavender as some spice stores, or you can go to a florist. Just be sure that the lavender you get from your florist is actually food safe!

[M] This pairing is perfect.  We knew it would be good, but were really pleasantly surprised by how yummy it was! If you want to serve your gingerbread like cake, with ice cream, try something like a lavender or a rose or a basil. And if you want a cake to serve with your lavender/rose/basil/rosemary ice cream, try the holiday favourite, even in June!

̴ Monique & Chelsea

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Pfeffernüsse (German), also spelled “pfeffernuesse” or “peppernuts” (English) or “pebernødder” (Dutch), is a hard little cookie made with, well, pepper, and a whole bunch of other spices.  Because of its deep “winter” flavours, it’s often associated with Christmas (kind of like gingerbread).

I kind of get the idea that pfeffernüsse is to Germans what biscotti is to Italians.  As described by Jim Hoy and Tom Isern (from Emporia, Kansas and West Fargo, North Dakota, respectively):

… most of the Pfeffernuesse you get in that part of the country are mighty hard and crunchy; folks dunk them in coffee before eating, and they use the leftover ones to fill holes in their driveways.

According to Wikipedia:

Pfeffernüsse are extremely hard when they are first baked. For at least a week, it is difficult to bite into them without first dunking into a beverage. However, they soften with age.

Hmmm.

Well, since there’s already a lovely blog about pfeffernüsse here, I thought I’d talk about Christmas traditions instead (‘tis the season, after all).

What are your Christmas traditions?  As I’ve already hinted, one of Deanna’s family traditions is to make their own eggnog on Christmas Eve (I, for one, cannot wait for that post).  My friend Di is not a huge fan of turkey dinner, so last year she and her family did hot pot (what a great idea!).

In my family, we open one present on Christmas Eve (it really sucked if you opened the batteries!).  In Jim’s family, Santa puts the candy canes on the tree when he delivers the presents.

As we’ve gotten older, we’ve developed a tradition of Christmas morning Caesars (mmmm).  And Jim’s sister makes the best sherried eggs ever (so bad for you, you can only have them on Christmas!).

Sherried Eggs:

  1. melt a whole bunch of butter in a frying pan
  2. crack in a bunch of eggs
  3. pour a goodly splash of sherry over the eggs
  4. cover, and poach in the butter and sherry
  5. sprinkle with freshly-grated parmesan cheese, and serve!

Oh, wait!  We were talking about pfeffernüsse, weren’t we? I think I’ve had pfeffernüsse before (and haven’t been a huge fan), so I approached this blog with some trepidation.  I looked at a few recipes online and then pulled out my good ol’ Joy of Cooking.  I was pretty sure I wanted them a little more peppery, so I adjusted the spices.  What follows is my adapted recipe (with some comments sprinkled in).

Pfeffernüsse:

This is a very small recipe – it only makes about 60 wee Pfeffernüsse (Pfeffernüsses?).  I was taking it easy, in case I didn’t like them and ended up throwing the whole lot away.

1. Sift:

  • 1 C + 1 T flour
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • ⅛ tsp baking soda
  • ⅛ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1½ tsp cardamom (the recipe called for ½ tsp – really?)
  • ¼ tsp cloves
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp allspice (my addition)
  • ½ tsp black pepper (recipe called for ⅛ tsp.  They’re called peppernuts for goodness’ sake!)

2. Beat until fluffy:

  • ¼ C butter (softened)
  • ½ C sugar

3. Add and beat: 1 large egg yolk
4. Stir in:

  • ¼ C ground almonds (the recipe said “¼ C slivered almonds, finely chopped”.  I only had whole raw almonds, so I threw them in my spice grinder–which in its last life was a coffee grinder— and they made a nice, moist almond paste)
  • 2 T finely chopped candied lemon peel (it asked for candied orange peel, and fresh lemon zest, but I actually had candied lemon peel on hand.  And I felt like the lemon zest would be “too much” for the cookies)

5. Stir in the flour mixture alternately with:

  • 3 T molasses
  • 3 T Havana Club rum (the recipe asked for brandy, but I only had apricot brandy, leftover from Sangria Day—and it seemed like that would taste a little gross—so I used rum instead)

6. Cover and refrigerate for about 2 hours (recipe said 8, but really?  Who has that kind of time?)
7.  Shape into ¾ inch balls and arrange on greased cookie sheet.  Bake until lightly browned (about 14 minutes).
8. Remove from oven, then toss in confectioner’s sugar.
9. Cool on a rack.

Jim liked them – a lot. He said they had all of the qualities of a savoury treat – peppery, spicy, not too sweet.  He had several (shockingly).  They were not tooth-cracking hard, despite the warning.  I would make this recipe again!

xx Eva

“And I had but one penny in the world; Thou should’st have it to buy gingerbread”
–William Shakespeare, Love’s Labours Lost

You had to know there was something special about gingerbread. This is no demure sugar cookie, waiting by the side of the plate, hoping you’ll notice them. Oh no, gingerbread is the hussy of the cookie world – strong, spicy, sometimes garish with her gumdrop buttons, not always sweet.

But don’t judge gingerbread too soon – she’s come a long way. First along with the crusaders, tucked in their saddlebags, back to europe after they gave up on the holy land. Can you imagine the smell? I’m sure the ladies waiting at home were grateful for a little ginger to mask that musky man-in-armor-riding-a-horse-don’t-yet-believe-in-baths-thing.  After that radical relocation, gingerbread languished for many centuries on the store shelves of the apothecaries and in monastery pharmacies as a cure for the tummy ache and intestinal disorders. Poor gingerbread, considered only fit for flatulence.

But our girl gingerbread bidded her time – by the 1500’s gingerbread was being tarted up with sugar and ribbon and being taken out to every small town fair and church market. Ah, the glory days! But just when gingerbread was enjoying her time in the sun, The Men came and tried to control her (isn’t that always the story?!).  By the 1600’s gingerbread was not being baked in homes but rather was made by guilds–“as a means of quality-control” they said to gingerbread, but she know that the real reason was they wanted to limit competition and keep all of her spicy sweet profits for themselves.

Then this amazing thing happened–turns out there was a whole new continent to the west, prime for settlement, by intrepid settlers with no time for guilds or The Old Ways. Gingerbread was liberated from her small life in the guild halls, and brought to America, where she flourished. Well if the truth be told, this was the start of gingerbread’s hussy phase–our north american fore bearers had to make use of ingredients that were available regionally. Gingerbread really got around and mixed with the locals… if you know what I mean *wink wink nudge*. Maple syrup gingerbreads were made in Quebec, and in the South sorghum molasses was used. In Pennsylvania, the influence of German cooking was strong and many traditional Germany gingerbreads reappeared in this area, especially at Christmas time.

That gingerbread, she’s a survivor.

My favorite way to eat gingerbread is in a chewy cookie…you know the ones, with the crackle finish? I believe this recipe comes from a 2007 Canadian Living, but I looked and looked for the link online, and couldn’t find it. So if you’re out there reading this, and you own the copyright to it – please don’t sue. I’m happy to give credit where credit is due! Luckily I have the original dirty greasy-finger stained copy in my junk drawer in the kitchen to share with you:

4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp  baking soda
2 tsp each allspice, cinnamon and ground ginger
1 tsp  salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups  lightly packed brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 cup  fancy molasses
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips [yes. Trust me. The chocolate is delicious!]
3/4 cup granulated sugar

In a medium bowl, using a fork, stir flour with baking soda, allspice, cinnamon, ginger and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium, beat butter with brown sugar and 1 cup granulated sugar until well mixed, about 1 min. Beat in eggs one at a time, then molasses and oil. With electric mixer on low, gradually beat in flour mixture just until mixed. Scrape down side of bowl if necessary. Using a spoon, gently stir in chocolate chips. Divide dough into 4 portions. Form into round discs and wrap in plastic wrap.

Refrigerate overnight or up to 3 days.

When ready to bake, position oven racks in top and bottom thirds of oven. Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly spray 2 baking sheets with oil or line with parchment paper. Place remaining 3/4 cup granulated sugar in a bowl.

Remove one portion of dough from refrigerator. Pinch off about 1 tbsp and roll into a ball. Roll in sugar, then place on baking sheet. Continue with remaining dough, spacing balls at least 3 in. apart because they spread out while baking.

Bake on 2 racks in oven, switching sheets halfway through baking, until cookies begin to set around edges, 8 to 10 min. Remove baking sheets to a heatproof surface. Let cool on sheets about 5 min. Then remove cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.

~Deanna