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.

Holiday Baking Round 2

IMG_0791This weekend, I spent an afternoon in the kitchen, adding 3 new treats to the baking stockpile. My Kitchenaid mixer got another workout, this time with Whipped Shortbread (dipped in chocolate), and I followed that up with 2 simple but delicious no-bake cookies: Chocolate Haystacks and Butterscotch Confetti squares.

The shortbread and squares are both classics, throwbacks from childhood, just as delightful and addictive as ever. Just today I shared the Butterscotch Confetti with a friend and we discussed what vintage gold they are. As a rule, I’m not a huge square fan as sometimes they are best left in the 1980s, but these are just the right mix of peanut butter and butterscotch, and if you eat them super cold, the texture of the marshmallows is irresistible.

And the beauty of these 3 treats is that they each have so few ingredients, chances are you have them already in your pantry.

Whipped Shortbread
(From Best of Bridge)

Ingredients
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup icing sugar
3 squares of semi-sweet baking chocolate

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 325F.
2. Whip the first 3 ingredients together in a stand mixer for 10 minutes, until very smooth and fluffy.
3. Drop by the teaspoon onto a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake for 13 minutes at 325F.
4. Cool the cookies while melting the chocolate. Dip the cookies half in the chocolate and cool in the fridge.

Butterscotch Confetti
(From Company’s Coming)

Ingredients
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 bag mini marshmallows

Directions
1. Melt the first 3 ingredients together in a saucepan or the microwave.
2. Stir in the marshmallows and pat into a 9×9 pan.
3. Refrigerate until firm. Cut into squares. These freeze well for later use.

Chocolate Haystacks

Ingredients
1/2 cup butter
1 1/4 cups white sugar
1/2 cup milk
6 tbsps cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flaked coconut
3 cups quick oats

Directions
1. Boil the first 4 ingredients together in a saucepan for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
2. Stir in the final 3 ingredients quickly.
3. Drop by the teaspoon onto a cookie sheet and refrigerate until firm. These freeze well for later use.

And finally….Kevin is asking for gingerbread…so perhaps we’ll have adventure #3 in Christmas baking someday soon.

Double Chocolate Pudding Pie

I love a creamy, dairy based dessert. Since I can’t eat dairy anymore (or at least now seriously limit my intake), I often feel left out at dessert time, or end up cheating so as not to disappoint a host- or myself.

When I saw a chocolate pudding pie recipe on the Post Punk Kitchen, a tasty vegan blog, I had to give it a go. I made a few changes, which I think made the recipe even better, but I thank the brilliant IsaChandra of PPK for giving me a starting point.

This pie is so chocolatey and creamy, and the coconut milk so undetectable, that anyone will love it. I fed it to a crowd a few months ago at a bbq, and every piece but one disappeared- I didn’t let the dairy free secret out of the bag. I really think the oreo crumb crust perfects the recipe.

Ingredients

Crust
1 1/2 cups oreo cookie crumbs
1/4 cup vegan margarine (or butter), melted

Filling
750 ml canned coconut milk (or milk of your choice)
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 tsp. vanilla
1 pinch of salt

Topping
Cool Whip, whipped cream or other whipped topping

Directions

1. Mix melted butter and oreo crumbs together in a pie pan, press them into the pan to form the crust.

2. Bake the crust at 350F for 10 minutes.

3. Combine a small amount of the coconut milk and all of the cornstarch in a medium saucepan, whisk to mix. Alternately, shaking them together in a small jar works well to get rid of any lumps.

4. Add in the rest of the coconut milk, sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Whisk to combine.

5. Bring the mixture to a boil while whisking. Once boiled, lower the heat to simmer, and whisk until it thickens, around 5 minutes.

6. Once thickened, stir in chocolate chips and vanilla, stir until the chocolate chips melt and everything is combined.

7. Pour the mixture into the pie crust. If the mixture has any cocoa or cornstarch lumps, pour it through a fine mesh sieve and your pudding will be silky smooth.

Cool the pie in the fridge, and place plastic wrap or parchment paper on top of the filling to prevent a skin from forming. It will take 2-3 hours to set. Before serving, smooth on some Cool Whip or other topping, and decorate with berries or chocolate shavings if you desire.

Mocha Chocolate Icebox Cake

Cake Ingredients

The building blocks of dessert greatness.

Recently, I was watching an episode of the Barefoot Contessa, and learned how to make a stunningly easy and decadent cake. Check out the ingredients: whipping cream, marscapone cheese, kahlua, cocoa powder, espresso, and…….chocolate chip cookies! Icebox cake–it’s brilliant; like a more interesting version of tiramisu.

You can use store bought cookies, as long as they are fairly large and somewhat chewy. I baked my own, using the Tate’s Bake Shop recipe, which Ina Garten recommends. One batch, about 30 large cookies, was perfect. They need to be completely cool, so I made them the day before I was ready to assemble the cake.

Cake IngredientsCake IngredientsI was so convinced that I had to make this cake once I saw it on tv, I even went out and bought a new springform pan. In Ina’s recipe, she uses an 8″ pan and does 5 layers of cookies and mocha cream. The recipe for the mocha cream can be found here. My pan was 10″, and I was able to do 3 layers, but my cookies were somewhat thick, so I think they took up extra space.

Cake IngredientsCake IngredientsThe assemby is pretty easy, start with a layer of cookies, cover that with mocha cream, keep going, and make sure to end with mocha cream. The consistency made it really easy to spread, the marscapone gives the whipped cream a great texture. I think this would be amazing way to ice a chocolate layer cake as well.

The cake needs to chill overnight, so that the cookies can soften and the cake can set. When it’s time to serve, just remove the springform edge and you’re set.

I made this cake for a girl’s night, and I must say the slices disappeared fast! The cake is soft, creamy and decadent, with the chocolate chips adding a bit of crunch to the experience. The bottom layer of cookies stayed somewhat crisp, which made a perfect natural crust to the cake. Make this cake when you have a crowd to serve it to, because it’s so rich, you’ll never finish it yourself.

Cake Ingredients

The Best Chocolate Cake

This cake says "devour me." Can you hear it?

We recently improved out cable subscription, and now get a channel that shows old repeats of great cooking shows, my favourite being Nigella Bites. I love Nigella Lawson, everything she makes looks so wonderful and comforting; watching her is such a treat. It’s lovely to see someone really enjoy life through food, and although I didn’t realize it until now, I think she is probably one of my cooking inspirations. No calorie is ever at risk of being counted in Nigella’s kitchen, with lots of cream, butter and other delicious things finding themselves in many of her recipes.

The other day, I caught her making a chocolate layer cake, and I just couldn’t get the cake out of my head. Luckily, she has a recipe for it on her extremely cute and well organzed website. Her Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake is a slightly different recipe from what I saw on the old show, but this one seems to have been further perfected by her over time.  The only sticky part to making the cake was that because she is British, her measurements are in weights, which really makes much more sense when you think about it. However, North American me does not have a kitchen scale, and is used to using cups for baking measurements. Luckily, I found an on-line measurement converter tool that takes into account the density of different ingredients, and I share my conversions below.

This cake is a dream. I whipped the batter and the icing, and both ended up light and creamy, yet dense, if that makes any sense. There’s an extreme richness and sense of occasion to this cake, so I think it would make a great birthday cake. But it also did nicely as the piece de resistance of my Friday night dinner.

I do have to give a warning with this cake: it will be impossible to just eat one piece, so you may want to have people on hand to share it with immediately. Otherwise this cake will call your name over and over again…..until you’re staring at a plate of crumbs. Puting it in the fridge sort of dulls the cries, but I can still hear it right now.

Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake

The cake:

From nigella.com, measurements and instructions adapted.

  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup soft unsalted butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Butter 2 round cake pans and lightly flour them.
  2. Using a hand mixer, beat the butter and eggs together. Add in the sugar and get things fluffy and well blended. Finally, add the vanilla and sour cream and ensure that everything is smoothly combined.
  3. Sift the dry ingredients on top of the batter. Stir gently to combine the wet and dry ingredients. The batter will be quite thick.
  4. Spread into the 2 cake pans and bake for 20-25 minutes.
  5. Cool on wire racks, flip the cakes out of the pans after 10 minutes of cooling time.

The icing:

This recipe is my own.

  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 4 squares semisweet baking choclate, softened
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • 1/4 cup light cream
  • 2 tbsp. cocoa powder
  1. Soften the butter and chocolate in the microwave, but don’t let it completely melt. Add the vanilla and stir well.
  2. Using a hand mixer, blend in one cup of icing sugar and half the cream.
  3. Continue adding icing sugar and cream until desired consistency is reached. Cocoa powder may be needed if you like things extra chocolatey.
  4. Whip a few minutes more to make sure the icing is velvety smooth and fluffy.

To assemble the cake:

  1. Ensure that the cakes are completely cool before icing them.
  2. Place the first layer of cake on a pretty plate. Spread 1/3 of the icing on the first layer.
  3. Place the second layer on top, and cover the top and sides with icing.
  4. You could add some decorations or fruit, but I didn’t have any, and it looks pretty great as is.

The first piece disappears............

An Early Holiday Feast

It seems fitting that my final post of 2010 be all about la gourmandise. Kevin and I have a week with family and friends lined up for the holidays, so last night we decided to have a holiday party for two. We wanted steak, and then thought up tasty things to go along with it. It ended up being a party in the oven, as everything got roasted at some point.

The baked potato was simple enough, 375F for 45 minutes, remember to poke them a few times, rub the skin with olive oil and just put them right on the oven rack. Crispy skin, fluffy insides. Next, roasted butternut squash wedges, coated in olive oil, sprinkled with some Italian seasoning. They joined the potatoes for 30 minutes.

Then, things got a bit more complicated (and the oven got significantly hotter). The roasted mushrooms with garlic butter needed 450F for about 20 minutes, and the steak needed to get finished in the oven for 5-10 minutes. A juggling of oven racks occurred.

This steak method is perfection when you can’t BBQ (or maybe even better than BBQ’d). Buy a good cut of meat, sear both sides of the steak on the stove, meanwhile saute a few cloves of minced garlic in 2 tbsp of butter, then stir a handful of fresh parsley into it. Once the steak is seared, transfer it to a baking sheet, pour over the butter and parsley mixture, and put it in a 450F oven for 5 to 10 minutes. The steak will be perfectly medium rare, and the butter-parsley combo will remind you of an expensive steakhouse. The roasted mushrooms also help the fantasy.

This meaty, buttery feast was heaven, and was accomplished for less than $20, something I cannot say of any steakhouse. To finish up the extreme decadence, home made brownies with ice cream and chocolate sauce. The best thing about making a feast like this is sitting in your comfies on the couch after, thinking of all the money you saved. And what a fabulous chef you clearly are.

Cheers to the coming week of holiday indulgence!

Hazelnut Cake with Mocha Cream

In case you haven’t noticed yet, I love baked goods. More specifically cake, and lately, layer cake. There’s something so incredibly indulgent about a layer cake. No one makes a layer cake and then comments that they used whole wheat flour, or applesauce, or some other healthy ingredient that has no business being in cake. Layer cake is all about admitting that you love cake, and probably also the icing or whipped cream that encases it. And hopefully, it’s also a little about making something so beautiful that any person you share it with exclaims at your effort and talent.

And so, I was ecstatic when my friend Trina brought this confection over as her contribution to a dinner party. I know I just posted a chocolate layer cake, but this cake is so drool worthy that I had to share it as quickly as possible. We fed the leftovers to our curling team and the verdict is official—yum!  Trina learned this recipe from a friend in rural Quebec, and I’m so happy that she’s agreed to let me share it with you.

Trina’s cake before we devoured it. So pretty!

Hazelnut Cake with Mocha Cream

Cake:

  • 2 tbsp. flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 4 eggs
  • ¾ cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of hazelnuts (blended to a powder)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Using a mixer, blend flour, baking powder, eggs, and sugar for two minutes. Add hazelnuts and mix on high. Line two round cake pans with parchment paper and butter the sides. Pour batter into cake pans and bake on middle rack of oven for 20 minutes.

The aftermath.

Mocha Cream:

  • 2 cups of whipping cream (35%)
  • ¼ cup of cocoa
  • ½ cup of sugar
  • 1 tbsp. of instant coffee
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. vanilla

Blend all ingredients with a mixer on speed two, until cream thickens enough to form stiff peaks. After cakes have cooled divide into halves (totalling four). Spread first half with mocha cream mixture and begin layering until you have a finished product.

Fudgy Layer Cake

Cake layered with whipped cream and fruit.

On a very grey weekend, I decided to bake a cake instead of going for a run.  Isn’t that just the Gourmand thing to do?

I looked on Rachel Ray’s website for an easy dessert recipe, and the Fudgy Chocolate Cake caught my eye. It’s an interesting recipe, with very little flour and a low baking temperature.  I turned the 1 pan recipe into two thin round cakes to make a mini version of a layer cake. This cake is pretty perfect for layering, since it has very little flour and no baking powder, it stays pretty flat and is easy to transfer. I just made a 2 layer version, but plan to stack it 4-high the next time I need to make a birthday cake.

Whipped cream for icing, and some cherries and strawberries thrown into the mix, made for a very easy and highly delicious treat.  The cake is moist and extremely fudgy, just as the name implies, and whipped cream is the perfect partner since icing might be too sweet.

Fudgy Chocolate Cake

Ingredients:

  • 3 semisweet baking squares
  • 1 tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 tbsp. 5% cream
  • 1/2 stick butter (4tbsp.)
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp. flour
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 275°. Butter and flour 2 round pans. In a medium saucepan, melt the chocolate with the milk and cream over low heat. Add the butter and sugar and stir until smooth. Remove from heat.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda and salt. Add to the chocolate mixture and stir until smooth. Whisk in the egg and vanilla. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 15-20 minutes.
  3. To finish, whip a small container of whipping cream with a dash of sugar and vanilla. Allow the cakes to cool, then place one on a plate and cover with whipped cream. Add sliced cherries and strawberries to the middle layer, cover with second cake and ice the whole cake with whipped cream. Add fruit to top to decorate.

“I Made This For You”

Wacky cake with Oreo ice cream

Who doesn’t love those 5 words? It’s heartwarming when someone takes a bit of time to show their love through creativity. And I especially enjoy being creative in the kitchen.

I’ve been thinking about the concept of food as love. Does this mean that the chubby kid down the street is really just well loved? What about the inevitable weight we gain in new relationships?

I think it goes back to our childhoods, spent in the sandbox or the garden, when we made our mom that first mud pie (or perhaps a little something for our neighbourhood crush).

This week I roasted a chicken and baked a chocolate cake to tell Kevin that I love him. There’s something so cozy and heartwarming about making a good meal to share with your partner.

The truth of the matter is that I would certainly be slimmer if I were single, but I wouldn’t get to say “I made this for you” nearly as often.

Wacky Cake

My favourite chocolate cake recipe is unintentionally vegan. I’ve heard it was created in the depression-era when milk, eggs and butter were in short supply.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 6 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 cup water

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Use an 8×8 ungreased cake pan, or 9×9 if you want the cake to be the height of brownies.
  2. Mix flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and cocoa together in a bowl. Make a well in the dry ingredients. Pour in all wet ingredients and stir well. Batter should have a smooth, uniform consistency.
  3. Pour into pan and bake at 350 F for 20 to 30 minutes, or until tooth pick inserted comes out clean.

Easy Chocolate Icing

Mix 4 tbsp of butter (softened) with 2 tbsp cocoa powder, 1 cup icing sugar and a splash of milk, stir until smooth.  Add icing sugar or milk until desired consistency is reached.