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.

Advertisements

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.

The holidays are here…

December is upon us and I find myself in the mood to stockpile delicious baked treats in my freezer. It may have something to do with my new friend. We met last weekend in America, while doing some browsing of the holiday sales, I came upon a Kitchenaid mixer in need of a good home. This amazing piece of kitchen equipment had never really been on my radar because of the steep pricetag, but I found a deal too good to pass up, and now I have a glossy black Kitchenaid Professional 5 Plus standmixer staring me in the face every time I walk into the kitchen.

I used it earlier this week to whip cream in record time, but have been thinking all week about holiday cookies. I decided to make a favourite, Bird’s Nests with Raspberry Jam, these are always such a nice mix of crispy cookie and sweet-tart jam (pictured in the foreground). Those didn’t seem enough, so I let Kevin pick from Chatelaine’s holiday cookie list, and he wanted Birthday Cake Icebox Cookies (pictured on the left). To be honest, I laughed and assumed they would not be great, but I have to say they are quite tasty. It’s basically a sugar cookie with a bit of crunch from the sprinkles and an extra sweet kick from the icing sugar glaze- a vanilla sugar bomb of a cookie.

To round out the weekend I decided to make some buttertarts. These didn’t need the help of the mixer, but I’ve been missing these in my holiday life for years. There are so many buttertart variations out there, pecan, walnut, raisin, no raisin, corn syrup-based, maple syrup-based, egg-based, etc., etc. All I really want is the kind my mom made when I was a kid: egg-based, with raisins and pecans. The recipe comes from a well-worn Best of Bridge cookbook and is simply buttertart perfection (pictured on the right).

The Best Buttertarts

Makes 12 buttertarts.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 4 tbsp. cream
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup seedless raisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 12 tart shells (recipe for 1 pie crust will be enough)

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 375F.

2. Beat eggs in a saucepan, then combine the next 5 ingredients in the saucepan. Boil on medium heat, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes.

3. Sprinkle a few pecan pieces in the bottom of each tart shell, then spoon 1/4 cup of tart filling into each shell.

4. Bake for 15 minutes at 375F. The tarts will be done when the filling is set and the crust is flaky and golden.

Pastry tip: Make 1 pie crust using the Crisco recipe (3/8 cup shortening, 1 cup flour, 1/2 tsp. salt and 4 tbsp. cold water), shape into a ball and chill 30 minutes. Roll out to 1/4″ thickness, cut into 12 circles with a cookie cutter or water glass, and shape into a 12-muffin tin. Chill the tart shells another 30 minutes, then fill with hot filling and bake immediately. The cold crust will turn out extra puffy and flaky.

So, holiday treats to come…perhaps some Butterscotch Confetti, Chocolate Haystacks, Whipped Shortbreads? Stay tuned.

Holiday Baking!

Bird's Nests with Raspberry Jam

I am back in my childhood home for the holidays, and could not resist making my favourite childhood Christmas cookie on a lazy afternoon. There’s something so lovely about getting out all the supplies that haven’t changed much in 20+ years, including the 1970s Tupperware flour and sugar containers, and using the same old oven to make a comforting and familiar treat. Thanks to some baking skills that have improved over the years, I think these were the best batch ever.

They go by many names: Bird’s Nests, Thumbprint cookies, Polish tea cookies, and have many variations: rolled in coconut, pecan or walnut pieces, or plain, filled with chocolate, cherries or jam.  The combos are numerous, but I think my mom’s way is the best; rolled in crushed pecans, and filled raspberry jam. The toastiness of the pecans, the buttery crumbly cookie, and the sweet-tart raspberry jam are delightful, and cannot be matched. I love this cookie so much I am ignoring my egg allergy for a day or two, because there would be no egg-free way to recreate this cookie perfection.

They are so simple, just a few ingredients that are probably already in the pantry, and they bake up crisp and begging for a jam centre. A wonderful way to kick off the holiday break.

Pecan coating assembly line.

Bird’s Nest Cookies with Raspberry Jam

Ingredients

1/2 cup salted butter, softened

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 large egg, separated

1 cup flour

1 small package crushed pecans

good quality raspberry jam

Directions

      1. Preheat the oven to 325F.
      2. Cream butter and sugar until smooth, then mix in egg yolk. Stir in flour until a crumbly dough forms.
      3. Using your hands, form one inch balls from the dough, you will get about 15 balls total.
      4. Give the left over egg white a quick whisk in a small bowl, and pour a small amount of crushed pecans in a separate bowl.
      5. Dip each ball first in the egg white and second in the crushed almonds, rolling around to coat.
      6. Place the rolled balls on a cookie sheet and press an indentation in each cookie using your index finger or a thimble.
      7. Bake for 10 minutes, remove from oven and re-press the indents. Bake another 15 minutes. Cookies should have toasty bottoms but still be slightly soft. They will firm up as they cool.
      8. Once cool, cookies can be frozen for later, or filled with jam for serving immediately.

 

 

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

Tasty Treats from the ‘Net

Isn’t recipe surfing on the internet the best? I have to say that I am almost always satisfied when I follow random recipes I find on the internet.

I am part of a community shared agriculture (CSA) group, and this week we received delicata squash in our box. They are small, striped and oblong, and I must confess I saw no use for them beyond a Thanksgiving centrepiece. Luckily, the CSA organizer sent us a link to a recipe for these little guys.

You can find the recipe for Delicata Squash Rings here. I made them tonight, with a bit of skepticism, and must admit that these are a delicious idea. The skin is thin, and it gets pretty tender while roasting, so you can actually eat the whole ring, skin and all. I would recommend roasting each side until very crispy and brown; the contrast of the crisp outside and the sweet, soft innards is wonderful. I’d love to get a few more delicatas this week in my veggie mix.

Another lovely recipe I tried this week was for Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits. I was making beef stew and wanted a quick partner for that, and these were perfect. I halved the reciped, and baked 4 medium biscuits in my toaster oven for about 15 minutes on 400F. I switched the buttermilk for plain milk and added some parmesan cheese.  Also, I was too lazy to roll them out and cut them, so I made them into biscuit shaped lumps, which turned out just fine.

Finally, I was chilly this weekend and thought that nothing warms a house up quicker than turning on the oven. So, in order to put that hot oven to good use, I baked up a batch of Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies. This recipe comes from the Canadian Living test kitchen, which has yet to let me down. As an aside, the host of their cooking show (Best Recipes Ever) is like nails on a chaulk board, but the food always looks good. These cookies are chewy and moist, and semi-sweet chocolate chips go well with the sugary vanillaness of the cookie dough.

Those are just a few of my recent web recipe successes. Please pass your favourites on!