Best of Baking

IMG_0803The holiday break has afforded many opportunities to rev up the new Kitchenaid mixer. I look at it daily and think “what can we make today?” And then I tell my mixer that treats cannot be an everyday occurrence. Although they should be.

For a New Year’s get together I jumped on the chance to bring dessert so that I would have an excuse to make a chocolate cake. I made my favourite Nigella version, posted here. It was more-ish as always and was promptly demolished, as chocolate cakes should be. You should make it. And fill your face with it-but don’t blame me for your derailed resolutions. Blame Nigella.IMG_0793

If you want something a little lighter and less guilt-inducing, I made holiday gingerbread in December and didn’t get around to posting it. I shared the cookies around at a few holiday shindigs and people are still talking to me about it. It’s just a McCormick recipe, but I think the magic is in the technique. Roll the dough as thin as you can and bake them until firm, and you’ll end up with light, crispy, refreshing ginger bombs. They are so good and so delightfully spiced that I am thinking about making another batch just to have for after-dinner treats. They keep really well in the freezer, just waiting for when you need a ginger pick-me-up. You can also tell yourself that ginger is good for digestion and therefore this cookie is good for you. Plus they have molasses and that’s better than white sugar, right?Blueberry Muffins

So finally, in a moment of holiday boredom, I whipped up some blueberry muffins to pass the time. I used my favourite recipe from Smitten Kitchen (see my previous post here) and they were perfect to have on hand for post-Christmas snacking and lounging about.

So here are 3 ideas for homemade treats to start 2013 with a bang and give the finger to any thoughts of healthier living and self-denial. Plus, some self-righteous food guy once said (something to the effect of) “it’s ok to eat treats as long as you make them yourself.” And that’s the mantra I live by. Although it’s also ok in my books if Pan Chancho or Bread & Butter Bakery make them too.

Blueberry Raspberry Crumble

Berry Crumble

This has to be the easiest dessert I make. We always seem to have frozen fruit hanging around for smoothies, and everything else is waiting in my baking drawer. I don’t really have a recipe, I just like to eyeball things, and it always tastes great. The key is to put the crumble on the top and bottom, so the fruit is sandwiched between layers of sweet buttery oats.

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Soften 1 stick of butter in a bowl. Add 2 large spoonfuls of flour, 1/3 cup of brown sugar, 1 or 2 cups rolled oats and a generous sprinkle of cinnamon. Crumble all ingredients together, if it’s too buttery, add more oats.
  3. Press half the mixture into the bottom of an oven safe dish.
  4. Spread a few cups of frozen berries over this layer.
  5. Sprinkle the last of the oat mixture over the top.
  6. Bake at 350F for 30-40 minutes.

Simple, comforting, hearty, great for breakfast the next day. This is one dessert I am happy to make again and again.

Beery Crumble

Beautiful Blueberry Muffins

Blueberry Muffins

As I mentioned in the Peach Buckle post, I am a big follower of the blog Smitten Kitchen. I’m going to take the risk of looking like a blog stalker, and re-post another one of Deb’s masterpieces. And then I’ll give it a rest for a while, I swear. It’s just that there’s so much great local fruit around lately, and Deb just keeps giving me delicious ways to use it up!

I love blueberry muffins. My mom used to make huge batches when I was little and our family would devour them in a few days. Her recipe was called “Helen’s Blueberry Muffins,” I can still see them written out in her recipe notebook. I don’t know who Helen was, but she made a good muffin.

However, the muffins I made today have blown Helen’s out of the kitchen. They are a masterpiece of a muffin. I think they’d be great with peaches or raspberries too.  I followed the recipe pretty much to the letter, so I’m going to be lazy and just give the link to Perfect Blueberry Muffins.

I am usually rushed when baking, but today since I am procrastinating from all the things I should be doing, I decided to go all out with the hand mixer and the sifter.  Actually following the recipe produced the fluffiest muffin to ever come out of my oven.

The only changes I made were to add a drop of vanilla to the wet ingredients, a squirt of lemon juice because I didn’t have a lemon for zest, I used 3% plain yogurt and I baked them in a 6 cup muffin tin. Deb’s recipe made 9-10 medium muffins, so I went for 6 monster muffins. They were perfectly done at 25 minutes.

Blueberry Muffins

Moist muffin perfection!

Lazy Sangria

Wild Berry Sangria - Glass

I’m going to confess right off the top: this is not my invention. I can take no credit for my friend Laurel’s genius creation, and only hope she takes no offense at the “lazy” moniker. I only mean that is easy to make (and to drink). Heck, even drunk people can do it.

For the version pictured above, we threw a bunch of wild raspberries and blueberries in a jar, and topped those off with some sliced strawberries. Next, a bottle of cheap red went in, home made will do. Add to that a bottle of prepared Sangria wine, I can’t remember which brand we used but I have to assume they all contain some wine, some booze and some fruit juice. When you’re ready to serve, mix that together with the secret ingredient- Orangina! Who knew this cute little bevvy, the one I ordered so politely on 8th grade French fieldtrips, would come in so handy later in life.

This combo produces the perfect blend of fruit, wine, booze and fizz.  It disappeared pretty quickly, and we started topping it off with more wine, some orange juice, and even a scoop or two of lemonade powder when the going got tough. As long as there is fruit at the bottom of the jug, you’re obligated to refill.

Once you’re suitably tipsy, play some sort of board game that makes people reveal what they really think. We recommend True Colours……it’s fun any time, but so much more so with a glass of Sangria by your side.

The Berry Bounty

Wild Manitoba Berries

Make-shift berry container full of the "fruits" of our labours.

Few things are more fun and tasty to me than growing something myself and devouring it. Case in point, my recent penchant for tomato and cheddar sandwiches, with tomatoes courtesy of my patio garden. Living in a city for most of my life, I’d almost forgotten that sometimes tasty things grow wild, waiting to be discovered by birds and bears.

Wild Berry Sangria - Jar

The berries soak up the Sangria.

Imagine my enormous pleasure at discovering mother nature’s gift to us on a recent cottage weekend in eastern Manitoba. I’ve never seen so many wild blueberries and raspberries. It was a reminder of what these fruits used to look like before we engineered them. The blueberries were so tiny, they were hard to spot, and the raspberries were perfect and so delicate you needed your softest touch to capture them.

Wild Berry Pancakes

Wildberry pancakes on the vintage cottage stove.

Braving hungry mosquitos and nasty black flies, we collected many cupfuls over the weekend. I think the cottage road was picked clean before our departure. These tiny treats made for several Sangria adventures and a stack of berry pancakes that rapidly evaporated from the breakfast table.

When was the last time a walk in the woods produced a bounty for your table? I very much enjoyed my reminder that there’s nothing more “local” than sneaking berries straight from the forest floor.