Category Archives: dessert

QUEENLY BIRTHDAY

If you have a fear of sugar — the kind that’s heaped into quantities that makes your hands tremble and eyes twitch — then this cake is probably not for you. But for us, the sugar-high-riding gang at Lawrence (gummi worms at 5pm is a daily kitchen snack), well, we pine for the Queen Elizabeth cake, which is sweetened with not just regular granulated sugar, but also brown sugar, dried coconut, and dates.

The Queenie, as we affectionately called it, lived on the menu much longer than most of our desserts because it was so popular with clients. (It was also topped with a scoop of homemade Makers Mark-infused ice cream, so that probably didn’t hurt, either). And in the kitchen, we never got tired of the coconut-topped cake either, and we regularly ended shifts with a shared slice or two.

The Queen derives most of its sweetness from dates, which are soaked in hot water until a thick, mashable paste forms.  The rest of the cake is a breeze to assemble — cream some butter and sugar, add a few eggs and vanilla, then alternate sifted flour with the warm date mixture. I love making this cake in a single bowl, creaming butter and sugar by hand, with a good wooden spoon. No mixer required. The batter puffs and swells into a lovely tan-colored cake, which is then topped with cooked mixture of (more) butter, heavy cream, unsweetened shredded coconut, and brown sugar. Then, finally, the cake is broiled until the topping caramelizes into a crunchy, amber crust.

So when Jessica’s birthday rolled around, I surprised her with a Queenie encore, this time gussied up, American-style, into a three-layer birthday cake smothered with vanilla buttercream frosting. (I was in such a rush that the cake didn’t completely cool before I frosted it, which is why you can see that top layer sliding around in the final photo!) I can make this cake in my sleep — I realized I still had the recipe memorized — but it was an entirely new challenge to bake this cake during service with her only a few meters away from me. Jess could totally spy the action from her garde manger station (as in, she saw the cake layers cooling on our speed rack and overheard us whispering about it, oops), but I think she was surprised anyway.

Note — Warm out of the oven, this cake is cozy and comforting, but it’s even better the next day. The flavors are richer, the topping even crunchier, the innards moist and sticky. I’d bring it to a picnic for a sweet finish to a long afternoon.

A DOWNTON BIRTHDAY

For my birthday party this year (well, one of three parties… but more on that later!), Adam and I decided to throw a glorious Downton Abbey-themed dinner. The inspiration came from our friend Michelle — a die-hard Downton Abbey lover, just like me.

I can’t quite decide if I’m more upstairs or downstairs (which are you?), though I suppose working in a kitchen 10 hours a day lands me squarely downstairs. So we made our menu a celebration of both elements, with upstairs decadence like endless bottles of champagne and claret; roasted bone marrow with a simple parsley and caper salad; beautiful, soft French cheeses (I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of the Tomme du Maréchal); and the crowning glory, an apple charlotte that Michelle made and brought to the party. Fellow Downton aficionados will remember this dessert from the infamous salty pavlova episode (one of my personal all-time favorite Downton moments). Michelle’s apple charlotte was so gorgeous and well-constructed I felt a little heartbroken cutting into it. But the pudding — just imagine warm, soft cooked apples incased in a crisp, buttery shell of brioche — was one of the most delicious and memorable desserts I have eaten in my life.

The main course — braised beef shin served over boiled potatoes with chives and tarragon — was resolutely downstairs. Adam bought over seven kilos (!) of beef shin from Marc at Lawrence (P.S., there’s a nice story on his remarkable butchery philosophy over here) which he slowly braised until tender. We served it with a jiggly Yorkshire pudding (Hugh’s recipe, the only one I’ve ever used), roasted brussels sprouts with pancetta, and glazed carrots, and ate it, naturally, with plenty of strong Claret.

This was the dinner party of my dreams, even if my imaginary t.v. boyfriend Matthew couldn’t make it.

COOL FEASTING

My friend Josh — musician, artist, and cook at Griffintown Cafe — took over cooking duties alongside one of his colleagues at this summer’s edition of Cool Fest. (I chefed the last two). He did such a spectacular job. My favorite dish was dessert, a simple panna cotta made with coconut milk and spiked with orange blossom water and rose water. It was deceptively simple — a soft, voluptuous pudding with the most subtle of floral aromas. Lovely!