A gift from the heart

Jenna Prem, 12, bakes up a storm each year to buy Christmas presents for the kids at Canuck Place Children's Hospice, and their parents.

Jenna Prem takes a brief pause while she bakes up trays of about 200 jam tarts during a recent session in the kitchen.



When we last caught up with Hillcrest Elementary student Jenna Prem (“Jenna’s Gift,” Dec. 13, 2012), she was baking up a storm.

Jenna, now 12, and her mom Nicole Amato-Prem had laid siege to the family kitchen, where they were pumping out trays of Nanaimo bars, shortbread cookies, jam tarts and more, enough to fill 40 trays of mouth-watering, delectable Christmas treats.

For the third year in a row, the goodies were boxed up and sold to friends, family and supporters for $20 a pop. With the money raised, Jenna bought gifts for children at Canuck Place Children’s Hospice.

The project began when Jenna was 8 and is now an annual tradition, growing to 30, then finally 40 orders last year.

Forty, vowed mom Nicole, was the absolute limit.

What a difference a year makes. They’ve upped it to 50, and last Thursday, Jenna was elbow-deep in tart filling, prepping 200 jam tarts, as Nicole read out the various ingredient portions to Jenna, grease-stained recipe book in hand.

The tricky bit is doing the math – rapid-fire calculations are involved when you’re doubling, tripling, or quadrupling recipes.

“We need 50 eggs for everything and 16 pounds of butter,” said Nicole as husband Rich shouldered stacks of fresh eggs into the fridge.

Carving out baking time in Jenna’s busy soccer practice schedule is a growing challenge, and the family planned a weekend baking blitz to get everything done.

Why push it? A new convection oven, a better blender (discounts were had for both) and a broader island in the kitchen have helped streamline production.

“We can probably cut the baking time in half,” Nicole predicted. “This,” she smiled, surveying the trays waiting to go into the oven, “is the fun part.”

Jenna contacts local grocery stores for donations of gift certificates to purchase baking ingredients, stretching the budget as far as it will go. Thanks to their generous support (and from family members), Jenna will have nearly $1,000 to spend on presents.

Armed with a wish list, Jenna buys gifts for children she’ll never meet. They ask for crayons, paints and other craft supplies, or movie DVDs to pass the time.

“We’re actually buying gift cards for the parents, so they can take a break and go out for dinner,” Jenna said.

Jenna and her mom rely on tried-and-true recipes from a recipe book by Nicole’s aunt, Kim Thom, called Eat, Drink & Be Merry! Food, Drink and Gift Recipes for Thanksgiving, Christmas & New Years Eve.

The jam tarts in the book are based on a family recipe.

Jam tarts

Food processor pie dough

1/4 cup raspberry or strawberry jam

2 large eggs

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp cornstarch

1/4 cup butter, melted

1/2 Tbl lemon juice

1/2 tsp vanilla

1 cup medium coconut

 

Preheat oven to 375. Roll out pie dough and cut into 3 1/2 or 4” diameter rounds; press into ungreased muffin tins. Chill while preparing filling.

Place 1 tsp jam in each of the tart shells. Beat eggs with sugar, salt and cornstarch. Blend in butter, lemon juice and vanilla. Fold in coconut (will seem runny but coconut absorbs the liquid).

Fill tart shells 3/4 full. Bake on bottom rack for 10 minutes then reduce temperature to 350 and bake until golden, about 10 minutes more.

– From: Eat, Drink & Be Merry! Food, Drink and Gift Recipes for Thanksgiving, Christmas & New Year’s Gatherings.

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