The first time I had Belgian waffles was in Ogunquit, Maine, a long time ago. We used to vacation there and we found a wonderful little café that opened only for breakfast and their specialty was the Belgian waffle served with huge, fresh Maine blueberries. Naturally, a Belgian waffle maker had to be purchased so we could make them at home because waffles are, in fact, quite easy to make and just take standard baking ingredients!
Waffles are very versatile. They can be a breakfast food, eaten at brunch, lunch, for dessert or even as a main course for dinner, depending on the topping. There is nothing like creamed chicken atop a puffy Belgian waffle for good old-fashioned comfort food!
I love fresh berries, especially strawberries and blueberries, on waffles. Good drizzled with pure maple syrup, a rich chocolate sauce is also an option and a real treat for waffles. So, why not take a lowly basic waffle and dress it up for a tasty meal at any time of day.
1 cup all-purpose flour 1/2 tbsp baking powder 1/4 tsp baking soda pinch salt 1 cup milk 1/2 tsp vanilla 2 medium-sized eggs, separated 2 tbsp melted butter Separate the eggs. Beat the egg whites stiff. Set aside.
In separate bowl, mix the egg yolks and all remaining ingredients.
With electric mixer, beat until well-blended.
Gently fold the egg whites into the flour and milk mixture. Fold just until they are incorporated. This will yield a light, fluffy waffle.
Heat waffle maker and cook waffles according to manufacturer’s directions.
To serve, add sliced fruit, a dollop of whipped cream, and drizzle with your favorite syrup or topping. Dust with confectioner’s sugar, if desired.
Every year on November 11th we pause to remember the sacrifices and achievements of those who valiantly and selflessly served our country in times of war and conflict, and in peacekeeping missions around the world. We remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice – their lives for their country so future generations could have a better, more secure life. We think about their achievements and the role they played in forming Canada’s nationhood. We thank them for the peace, freedom, and human rights we enjoy in Canada today.
Those of us who have been fortunate enough never to have known or experienced war have opportunities to demonstrate our respect and gratitude for, and remembrance of, these acts of bravery and sacrifice. For example, we wear a poppy on the left breast, close to the heart to signify remembrance of the lives lost.
Thousands of people across the country will attend Remembrance Day ceremonies in their local communities where they will respectfully observe a moment’s silence at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month to mark the time the Armistice was signed to end WWI. Wreaths will be laid in commemoration.
One of the most well-known poems about war was written in May, 1915, by Lt. Col. John McCrae, a Canadian Medical Officer in WWI. While stationed near Ypres, Belgium, where some of the most horrific and bloodiest fighting of WWI occurred, he was motivated to write about the death he saw around him and of the prolific red poppies growing amidst the devastation of war in the Flanders area of western Belgium. His poem, “In Flanders Fields” has become synonymous with Remembrance Day in Canada and Lt. Col. McCrae is often credited with being the catalyst that led to the poppy being identified as the symbol of remembrance of the blood shed by soldiers who were casualties of battle.
On this Remembrance Day, I am going to focus my food blog feature story on war cake, a wartime dessert that is still made and served in several Island households today.
As a small child I well remember my grandmother making war cake and this was long after WWII had ended. I loved her war cake! It is such a simple raisin-spice cake that is characterized by the absence of eggs and milk — ingredients that would have been scarce during wartime. This cake is sometimes referred to as “boiled raisin cake” because raisins form the main content and the majority of the ingredients are boiled, then cooled, before they are mixed with flour and baking soda and then baked in the oven. Because of food shortages during war time, many foods were rationed.
Born of necessity, homemakers during wartime became resourceful, frugal, adaptable, and creative in order to feed their families. Cooking tended to be very basic. Women were known to have saved their ration stickers so they could buy the raisins and sugar that the war cake recipe called for – thus war cake would have been a very prized commodity.
War cake was made for consumption on the home front but many also made the cakes in tin cans and packed them in socks, mittens, and underwear they were shipping overseas for their loved ones serving in the war. Imagine the excitement when a soldier would have received this package from home and discovered a mother’s or sister’s war cake inside! Amazingly, with the slow mail and ship service during WWI and WWII, there is evidence these cakes were received as the soldiers would refer to them in their letters home, letters that would have looked much like the July 7, 1914, letter in the photograph below.
In my research for this story, I examined many recipes for war cake and found similarities amongst them all. Some were very sketchy in terms of amount of ingredients to be put in the batter and many were almost totally devoid of any directions. While the amounts of the ingredients may vary slightly, all of the recipes I reviewed were essentially the same in ingredient content. All called for big, sticky raisins (you may know these as “Lexia” raisins), a variety of spices of the cook’s choice, either brown or white sugar or a combination of both, shortening or lard, boiling water, flour, and soda. One thing I noted was the significant amount of sugar that the recipes called for – i.e., two cups per cake. Sugar was one item that was commonly rationed during wartime and a cake taking two cups of sugar would certainly have been considered a luxurious dessert, I am sure. Flavour may vary from cake to cake based on spices used in the batter. The choice of spices varies but typically consisted of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, as a minimum, with ginger frequently appearing in recipes. I added mace and cardamom to my cake to give it a bit more flavour (recipe follows at end).
I am told these cakes were often made with lard (as opposed to butter) for a couple of reasons. First, lard has a longer shelf life than butter would have had and, for cakes being sent overseas to the soldiers, it would have been a long journey for the cakes to reach Europe so shelf life of the cakes was an important factor. Second, butter was often scarce during wartime because there were no big herds of cattle on local farms so butter would have been used sparingly, even for those living on farms and churning their own. Lard, on the other hand, would have been much more readily available, particularly on farms. I found a couple of recipes that indicated either butter or shortening could be used in the recipe; however, butter was called for in a much lesser quantity than the shortening, if the latter was used instead. For example, I found one recipe that called for 2 tablespoons of butter or 1 cup of shortening which demonstrates how judiciously butter would have been used, if at all.
While its ingredients are simple, war cake takes some time to make. All of the ingredients, except the flour and soda, are boiled on the stove for 5 minutes. Then it is important to let the boiled raisin mixture cool to room temperature as the mixture will thicken naturally on its own as it cools. This will normally take 4-5 hours. If the flour and soda are added into a mixture that is too hot, the result is likely to be a gummy cake. When the raisin mixture is cooled, the flour and soda are stirred in and the mixture turned into the baking pan. My grandmother made her war cake in a loaf pan; however, traditionally, war cake seems to have been made in some kind of a round pan – usually a tube pan or, in the case of overseas shipping during war time, in tin cans. War cake is a very dense cake which makes it sometimes difficult to get the center of the cake baked without drying out the outside edges. It is also a heavier type cake which makes it somewhat prone to falling in the center. A tube (or Bundt pan, if you have one) removes the baking uncertainty and helps the cake to bake more evenly.
War cakes take, on average, about an hour to bake. The old recipes I reviewed didn’t even mention baking the cake let alone at what temperature (in fact, one recipe simply said “to thicken” but didn’t elaborate on what thickening agent was to be used!). These recipes predate our modern electronic ovens! While some suggest baking the cake at 350F, I thought that might be a bit high so I baked my war cake at 335F for one hour. Because there are no eggs or milk in the cake for moistness, it is very easy to overbake the cake and end up with a dry product. Hence, it is important to time the baking carefully and to use a cake tester starting at about the 45-minute point. If the cake starts to darken on the top or edges too quickly, simply place a piece of tin foil loosely over the top. Adding a small pan of water to the lower shelf in the oven while baking the cake will also help to keep the cake moist.
Because of the texture of the cake, it may seem soft on the top and not baked; however, if a cake tester comes out of the cake clean, it’s time to remove it from the oven before it dries out.
War cake is a “stick to the ribs” substantial, hearty kind of cake. It goes particularly well with a nice cup of tea.
In keeping with the traditional way war cake was served, I have photographed the cake plain, just as it would have been eaten during wartime.
War cake was not traditionally iced. However, it would be lovely served with a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla or maple ice cream. It could also be dressed with a brown sugar sauce or, to make a plain cake really decadent, why not serve all three – ice cream, brown sugar sauce, and whipped cream!
Regardless where you are in the world, if you have any wartime memories (either your own or those passed down to you from your ancestors) of war cake made for consumption on the home front or to send to the soldiers fighting the war, I would love to hear about them. War cake is a part of wartime culinary history.
Here are some photographs of the Remembrance Day Ceremony at the cenotaph in downtown Charlottetown, PEI, this morning.
By Barbara99 Published: November 11, 2012
Yield:1 cake (12-14 Servings)
Prep:5 hrs 0 min
Ready In:6 hrs 0 min
An old-fashioned cake made with large sticky raisins and a mixture of spices. Common cake during war time.
Into a large saucepan, place the shortening, brown sugar, raisins, salt, spices, and boiling water. Over medium-high heat, bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and boil mixture for five minutes. Remove from heat and set saucepan on cooling rack. Let mixture cool to room temperature (4-5 hours), stirring occasionally.
In bowl, whisk the flour and baking soda together. Set aside.
When raisin mixture has cooled completely, add the flour and baking soda. Stir until dry ingredients have been completely mixed into the raisin mixture.
Spoon mixture into greased pan. Add a small pan of hot water to lower shelf in oven for moisture while cake is baking. Bake cake on middle rack in 335F preheated oven. If cake starts to brown on the top too quickly, loosely place a piece of tin foil on top of cake. Bake apx. 1 hour but begin to test cake for doneness, using a cake tester, at the 45-minute point as cake can dry out very quickly.
Remove cake from oven and place pan on cooling rack for 10 minutes then remove from pan. Allow cake to cool completely before cutting.
Okay, so I must admit the thought of baking and cooking with something I have always considered a perfume can be a bit daunting but with lavender being the trendy new culinary herb, I thought why not be a bit venturesome. But can I use just any lavender for culinary purposes? To find out, I paid a visit to The Five Sisters of Lavender Lane – aptly named because there are five sisters involved with the growing, harvesting, and production of the lavender products.
Through the scenic rolling hills of Kelly’s Cross in rural PEI, on the Island’s South side, I find PEI’s only lavender farm. In 1999, Carol Cook bought the farm and, in 2001, planted her first 100 lavender plants to see how they would ‘weather the winter’ on the Island. They did well and, today, there are over an estimated 3000 plants of two varieties (Hidcote and Munstead) grown on the farm.
Carol tells me that starting lavender from seed is not necessarily a guarantee of success. Instead, her preference is to start new plants by propagating from cuttings. This is where a long stem of lavender attached to the mother plant is buried under some soil and left to grow its own roots. The following year it can be cut from the mother plant and, voila, a new lavender plant is started. Another option is to take a cutting from a plant, cut it on an angle, dip it in a root boost starter product, and place it in a sandy soil mixture to take root.
Most of us know lavender as a perfume and potpourri product. However, lavender is actually an herb of the mint family and certain varieties of it are known as culinary herbs. These are primarily the Hidcote and Munstead varieties. Lavender is often considered to be similar to thyme, rosemary, and sage and it can, in fact, be substituted for rosemary in many recipes. If you have ever cooked with Herbes de Provence, chances are you have already tasted lavender since it is a common ingredient in this herb mix along with the typical mixture of thyme, rosemary, and savory.
Lavender is one of the more aromatic herbs and some say it bears citrus notes or even a hint of pine. The lavender buds (the stage just before the plants blossom into full open flower) possess a higher oil content and have the most intense taste. They tend to have a stronger, minty flavour and, when used in cooking or baking will be more pungent and have “more bite” to them. When crushed or ground, the lavender buds have a sweeter, milder flavour. While the leaves, stems, buds, and flowers can all be used for culinary purposes, the flower buds are said to give the most flavour.
In PEI, harvesting of lavender occurs in mid-July. When at their bud stage, the beautiful purple/mauve buds are removed from their tall spikes, washed, and spread on screens to dry. They are then ready to be used in various products. It is possible to get a second, smaller harvest from the same plants late in August or early September. The photographs below were taken at the lavender farm on July 10, 2012, the day before they began harvesting. I can only imagine the wonderful scent there must have been during the harvesting process!
The Five Sisters of Lavender Lane only sell their culinary lavender in the small gift shop at their farm in Kelly’s Cross and it is not uncommon for local chefs to stop by to pick up their supply for their restaurants. If you are cooking with lavender, just make sure that it is the culinary variety you are using and that it has been grown organically, pesticide-free. Besides the culinary lavender, the farm also produces and sells a number of other lavender products onsite including perfumed products. This year, they are currently experimenting with the production of lavender extract which can be used in culinary products in the same way that vanilla, almond, or lemon extract is used.
Lavender is a strong herb so my advice is less is more and to exercise caution in the amount you use in a recipe. If you use too much, it will not be a pleasant taste because it may seem like you are eating soap or that you used perfume in the dish. I find a lot of recipes call for 1-2 tablespoons of lavender and that is way too excessive in any recipe for my taste. When trying a recipe with lavender, I start with a very modest amount and, if I find it is not enough, I will slightly increase the amount the next time I make the recipe until I get it to the point that it pleases my palette. Like any herb, you want it to accent the dish, not predominate and overpower it. Rule of thumb is that, if you are using dried lavender, use one-half what you would use fresh. Because it is not very pleasant to bite into a whole lavender bud, the herb is often ground in a spice grinder or coffee grinder. It is very important to carefully read a recipe that calls for lavender to determine when the amount of the herb the recipe calls for gets measured – i.e., is it before or after the lavender is ground or crushed. If the recipe calls, for example, for 1 tsp. lavender buds finely ground, first measure the whole buds as the teaspoon measure and then grind them as, otherwise, the flavour will be too strong if you were to use 1 tsp finely ground lavender in the recipe.
Lavender is now the trendy herb not only in baked goods like cookies, scones, and sweet breads but in ice cream, in vinaigrettes, in rice, on chicken and lamb, in jams, jellies, and honey, and in drinks such as herbal teas and lemonade. I have done a lot of experimenting with cooking and baking with lavender this summer and I am lucky because I live not far from the lavender farm where I can get my supply of quality culinary lavender. Not long ago, I prepared an evening tea featuring lavender – a Lavender Blueberry Banana Bread, lavender scones with homemade lemon curd, and Swedish Teacakes filled with the curd.
On Sunday evening I made an entire meal with lavender as the focus. For the salad course, I started with a roasted beet and goat cheese salad on garden greens. To roast the beets, I coated them with olive oil then sprinkled some fresh thyme, lemon verbena, basil, dried lavender buds, and a bit of minced garlic on them. I wrapped the beets in tin foil and roasted them at 400C for about 1 hour, till they were fork tender. I then sliced the beets and laid them on a bed of lettuce freshly picked from our garden, added some orange sections, and tossed some goat cheese and pecans on the top. I made a simple citrus-based vinaigrette to drizzle over the salad. The beets had a nice roasted flavour to them, not strong in any herb flavour, which is the taste I was aiming for.
For the main course, I chose a recipe from Sharon Shipley’s “The Lavender Cookbook” for Lavender Chicken Breasts in Champagne Sauce. This was delicious. The chicken breasts were marinated in lemon juice, thyme, and ground lavender buds then cooked in a skillet with a wonderful mushroom and champagne sauce.
For dessert, I wrapped my homemade Lavender-Honey-Vanilla Ice Cream in a dessert crepe and drizzled it with raspberry coulis made with fresh PEI raspberries picked near Hunter River. The ice cream, my feature recipe for this posting, is also good with a hot fudge sauce or drizzled with a good quality chocolate or raspberry balsamic vinegar that has been reduced to syrup stage.
The lavender farm at the Five Sisters of Lavender Lane is located at 1433 Route 246 in Kelly’s Cross, PEI. Check out their website at http://www.fivesistersoflavenderlane.com/ or call them at 902-658-2203.
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In double boiler, over medium heat, heat the whipping cream, half-and-half, milk, honey, sugar, lavender, and vanilla beans and pod. Stir occasionally and heat mixture until small bubbles start to appear around edge of mixture, about 10-12 minutes.
Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 30 minutes to allow the lavender flavour to infuse the warm milk mixture.
Strain mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a clean bowl. Discard remains in sieve and return strained mixture to a clean double boiler and heat to the scalding point, stirring to prevent the mixture from curdling or sticking to the bottom of the pot.
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk egg yolks and salt together. Whisk in vanilla. Add ¾ cup of the hot milk mixture to the eggs and whisk to blend. Pour this mixture into the custard in the double boiler. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture thickens to consistency that it will coat the back of a wooden spoon. Do not boil. Be patient as this takes time.
Strain mixture through sieve into a clean bowl. Cool completely then chill, covered, in refrigerator for at least 3 hours or more (can be chilled up to 24 hours). Freeze custard in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions. Transfer ice cream to an airtight container and place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the ice cream. Cover and place in freezer for at least 4-6 hours to harden completely.