Monday, June 28, 2010

TWD: Raspberry Studded Vanilla Cake

This week's selection was made by the lovely Wendy of Pink Stripes. This was a dense, substantial cake, kind of like pound cake. Very good and very easy to make... even depite the fact that I ran out of baking powder and had to do the good old baking soda + cream of tartar substitution. :)

Me not being a fan of using alcohol in cooking or baking (just a quirk of mine... can't really explain it), I omitted the "rum-drenched" part of this recipe. Instead, I added a cup of raspberries. While I loved the bright burst of tangy flavor they gave the cake, I wasn't quite so fond of the funny color they tinted the rest of the loaf. Next time I'll have to toss them in flour before adding them and also be sure to fold them in a little more gently. The recipe can be found on Wendy's blog.

Grandma's Soft Oatmeal Raisin Cookies - Copycat

Think back to your school lunches... what was your favorite food to find inside? Did you get sandwiches or hot lunches? Storebought foods or homemade? Did you get notes from your mom wishing you a good day?

My mom can't cook/bake or boil water (no exaggeration). Additionally, my parents both worked full time so time was always an issue. As a result, my school lunch memories revolve around pre-packaged food with my most vivid association being with Grandma's soft oatmeal raisin cookies.

It's silly of me to think of sharing a piece of my childhood with my son by putting these cookies in his lunch-bag, but the truth is it secretly makes me happy. It does a little tug at my nostalgic heart strings. At least I'm packing him the homemade version - preservative free and fresh from the oven.

GrandMa’s Cookie Company was founded back in 1914 by Foster Wheeler, but it wasn’t until 1977 that the company introduced the "Big Cookie". This large, soft cookie comes in a 2-pack. The company offers several varieties.

These cookies are soft and chewy even after they cool. The secret to their softness is the moisture from the pureed raisins in the dough itself. Be sure to take them out when they are just beginning to turn light brown around the edges. Even if you aren't a raisin-lover, don't click away just yet! You can use the same technique with dried apricots or other dried fruit. Just be aware of the sweetness of the dried fruit is and adjust the sugar in the recipe accordingly, because raisins don't have as much sugar as say, dried mangoes or pineapples. These keep really well without drying out. Grandma knows best!

This recipe is from one of Todd Wilbur's "Top Secret Recipes" books that has copycat recipes of famous or restaurant foods. It also qualifies as an entry for Cookbook Sundays hosted by Brenda's Canadian Kitchen. I love the simplicity of this group. All you do is make one recipe - any recipe - from any cook book - then post on Sundays! It's so simple yet such a great motivator to get busy in the kitchen.

Grandma's Soft Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
adapted from Top Secret Recipes | Makes 20

1/2 cup raisins
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 egg
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups rolled oats (not instant)
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup raisins

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Combine 1/2 cup raisins with water. Puree in a food processor until very smooth.

2. Combine raisin puree with the vegetable shortening, egg, brown sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl. Mix well until smooth.

3. In a separate bowl, combine flour with oats, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Pour this dry mixture into the wet mixture and mix well until ingredients are incorporated. Mix in 1/2 cup raisins.

4. Roll 3 tablespoon-size portions of the dough into a ball in your hands and press to 1/2" flat on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 18-20 minutes until just browning around edges. Be careful not to overcook, or the cookies will not be chewy. Cool then store in an airtight container.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

DB: Pink Pavlova Cookies

The June 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Dawn of Doable and Delicious. Dawn challenged the Daring Bakers’ to make Chocolate Pavlovas and Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse. The challenge recipe is based on a recipe from the book Chocolate Epiphany by Francois Payard.

I took some liberties with this recipe because of the group I was cooking for. They are not chocolate fans so I had to adapt and also to fit the them
e of a 21st birthday. It turned out pretty well and I'm pretty pleased.
1) I didn't do the chocolate part of this recipe. Instead I went with vanilla flavoring and colored these pretty in pink.
2) They were filled with a whipped sweetened cream cheese filling.
3) I made them cookie sized - individual sizes pavlovas.

Next time I'll try the chocolate version. Thanks for a great challenge! I made these ahead of time and only put the filling in at the last minute. Sorry, no pics of the filled version, it was too rushed at serving time to snap any pictures.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Raspberry Nectarine Pie

Summer fruits are the best. Vibrant, juicy and refreshing. They tantalize all your senses and embody the essence of summer. The only problem is - just like summer, they are fleeting with only a short window of time to be enjoyed before they quickly get bruised and overripened. Luckily for us overripe peaches and nectarines are wonderful for baking. These fruits take on a new life in this pie, playing a melody of sweetness and tartness. Ruby-red raspberries contrasted against the bright yellow nectarines.

Did you know?
-genetic studies show that smooth nectarine skin is from a recessive gene, whereas fuzzy peach skin is from a dominant gene.
-nectarines bruise more easily from not having fuzz.
-peaches shouldn't be refrigerated.
-these fruits and they stop ripening after they are picked.
-peach skin should be removed before using in baking but nectarine skin can be left on.

I had to use a pie crust shield (like the one above) because my edges were browning way too quickly, however, as you can see the edges are still too brown. By the way, the pie crust shield is an invaluable tool. I use it every time I make pies and it saves so much time over fiddling with aluminum foil to cover the edges. Well worth the $5 investment.

Raspberry Nectarine Pie
9" Pie | Canadian Living Baking Book

Sweet Pastry for double-crust 9" pie (below)

5 cups (1 1/2 lbs) sliced peeled peaches/nectarines
1 cup raspberries, fresh or frozen
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup sugar *could probably use less but I used it all and loved it
1 tbsp lemon juice

Milk and sugar for brushing/sprinkling

1. Line 9-inch pie plate with bottom crust pastry dough. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. In large bowl, combine nectarines/peaches, raspberries, sugar, flour, lemon juice. Fill pastry shell with peach mixture.

2. Moisten edges of bottom crust. Cover with top crust (or latticed top crust). Trim and flute edges. Cut steam vents. Brush top with milk or cream; sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar.

3. Bake at 425 degree F in bottom third of oven for 15 minutes then reduce heat to 350 degrees F and bake for 35 to 45 minutes longer or until peaches are tender, filling thickened and crust golden. Cover edges with foil/pie shield if browning too quickly. Store at room temperature.

Double Crust Sweet Pastry
pastry for one 9" double crust | Chocolate & Zucchini

2 1/4 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
14 tbsp cold butter, cubed
4 tbsp milk

1. Combine flour, sugar, salt in food processor.
2. Pulse in butter, don't overprocess.
3. Add in milk as needed just so it comes togethers when you press some between your fingers. Divide dough in half and refrigerate or freeze, well wrapped.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

TWD: Dressy Chocolate Loaf Cake

I made 2 versions of this for 2 different occasions. It's good. Not the BEST I've tried but good enough to make more than once. The first time, I made it in a Bundt pan (doubled the recipe). I like the Bundt version better because it's prettier, but the simplicity of a loaf is also great. I smothered the Bundt in creamy milk chocolate frosting, didn't use filling; whereas the loaf got covered in ganache. The frosting wins in my books!

This week's TWD pick by Amy of Amy Ruth Bakes couldn't have come at a better time. My mom asked if I could bake a birthday cake for one of her friends. She wanted a small cake as it was only going to be for a few people, and she wanted something that would keep well for a day or so and still be presentable and yummy.

After flipping through a few books with no luck, this recipe jumped out at me from "Baking: From My Home to Yours". Dorie Greenspan describes this cake as being quick and simple to put together as a batch of brownies, yet elegant and sophisticated enough for a party. She's so right! For minimal effort, this had maximum taste and moistness. It sliced perfectly into 3 layers and looked pretty all dressed up with chocolate ganache. The raspberry jam filling provided a nice contrast to the chocolate and a little surprise for the tongue. It was a hit with the birthday guy!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Mocha Sables

This morning I woke up an hour earlier than I needed to. Wondering what to do with my morning, my mind wandered to baking and all the lovely recipes I have collected and not yet tried. I made some tea and flipped through my recipe binder and this one stuck out to me because of the short ingredient list and the quick prep time. I knew they would be good but these little gems blew me away! Anna Olson is amazing and I try to catch her Food Network (Canada) TV show "Sugar" as much as I can.

I have decided to participate in Cookbook Sundays with Brenda's Canadian Kitchen. Just like Magazine Mondays with Creampuffs in Venice, this group tries to bake its way through books/magazines that you own but have yet to use. What a great idea - it will give me incentive to actually bake from my existing cookbook collection before buying MORE books, lol.

The cookies are light, crisp with strong coffee flavor. The granulated sugar they are rolled in after baking adds a nice crunch and hit of sweetness. These are the kind of cookie you could nibble on all day long. The photo does not do these cookies justice. You've gotta try them and I promise you will be pleasantly surprised.

Mocha Sables
Adapted from "Sugar" by Anna Olson

1 cup butter
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup espresso or 2 1/2 tsp instant coffee powder in 1/4 cup hot water
2 1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
icing sugar for rolling and granulated sugar for dusting

1) Cream together butter and icing sugar until fluffy.
2) Add in vanilla and cooled espresso.
3) Sift together flour, cocoa and salt. Add to creamed butter mixture.
4) On a surface dusted with icing sugar, shape the dough into 2 logs, approximately 1 1/2 inch in diameter.
5) Cover and refrigerate until fully chilled (or freeze if you want to bake them at a later date).
6) Remove chilled dough and slice into 1/4 inch thick slices and place on baking tray. These do not spread so they can be placed quite close together.
7) Bake at 325 degrees F for 15-20 minutes.
8) In a bowl filled with sugar, toss warm cookies to coat. *To make sure the sugar sticks you need to work quickly while the cookies are still hot/warm.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The "Baked" Brownie NYC

If you've been reading food blogs at all over the past year or so I'm sure you've heard about THE Baked Brownie (aka. Oprah's favorite brownie). Its praises have been sung by The Today Show, Martha Stewart and America's Test Kitchen. They don't have any nuts, chocolate chips or frosting and that's because they don't need any such frills. Nothing fancy, nothing showy. Just pure bliss.

As you can see, they are fantastic, at least by my son's standards. Extremely chewy with a crinkly, papery top. My supervisor said these were "the closest thing you can get to fudge without it being fudge!"

This recipe is a must-try. Even if it's just so you brag and say "I've tried the BAKED Brownie recipe". So far I have made it with both dark chocolate as called for in the recipe and with milk chocolate because it's what I had on hand. Both were wonderful. I have been tempted to add walnuts but right now I'm so happy to have 'discovered' these that I'd rather not mess with a good thing!

The recipe is found in Baked: New Frontiers in Baking along with other winners like Lemon Lemon Loaf, Peanut Butter Crispy Bars and Malted Milk Ball Cake.

The "Baked" Brownie
9 x 13 inch pan | Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder
11 ounces dark chocolate (60 to 72% cacao), coarsely chopped
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the sides and bottom of a 9-by-13-inch glass or light-colored metal baking pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt, and cocoa powder together.

Put the chocolate, butter, and instant espresso powder in a large bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth. Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water and add the sugars. Whisk until completely combined, then remove the bowl from the pan. The mixture should be room temperature.

Add 3 eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Add the remaining eggs and whisk until combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not overbeat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be cakey.

Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture. Using a spatula (not a whisk), fold the flour mixture into the chocolate until just a bit of the flour mixture is visible.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it. Let the brownies cool completely, then cut them into squares and serve.

Tightly covered with plastic wrap, the brownies keep at room temperature for up to 3 days.

"Baked" Note:
A great brownie is easy to make, but here are a few pointers: (1) Use a dark unsweetened cocoa powder like Valrhona. A pale, lightcolored cocoa does not have enough depth. (2) Make sure your eggs are at room temperature, and do not overbeat them into the batter. (3) Check your brownies often as they bake. An even slightly overbaked brownie is not a Baked Brownie.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Strawberry Cake

I'm floating on a cloud right now. I finished my Certified Mgmt Accountant (CMA) exam on the weekend and now I'm totally done with school. This is the first semester EVER since high school that I'm not going to school. I am really happy with how it went. It was a group effort and I think we crossed all our T's, dotted all of our I's. Now all that's left is to wait for the marks to come out in August, If I pass then I will (finally) have my accounting designation. It's am amazing feeling to have jumped through all the CMA hoops but at the same time I feel a little lost with so much more free time on my hands.

What have I been doing with this extra time? Baking, of course. And if I'm not baking I'm looking at recipes deciding what to bake next. It's good timing as the fruits in my fruit bowl have been ripening faster than I can keep up, so they've been getting incorporated into baked goods so they don't go to waste.

One person said this tasted like angel food cake meets pound cake. Another said it was like a baked version of strawberry shortcake. I couldn't have described it better. If you use frozen strawberries instead of fresh add 10 mins to your baking time. The cake batter is sturdy and versatile and it works great as a base for other summer fruits like peaches/berries. The sugar bakes and melts to create a crunchy topping that is to die for. While the orange zest is optional, I strongly recommend it for the brightness it imparts.

Strawberry Cake
9" Pie Plate | Martha Stewart, June 2005

6 tablespoons butter, softened
1 tbsp orange zest (optional)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the pie plate. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together into a medium bowl.

2. Put butter and 1 cup sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy (3 minutes). Reduce speed to medium-low; mix in egg, milk, zest (if using)and vanilla.

3. Gradually mix in flour mixture. Transfer batter to pie plate. Arrange strawberries on top (cut sides down and as close together as possible). Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over berries.

4. Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees F. Bake until cake is golden brown and firm to the touch, about 1 hour. Let cool in pie plate on a wire rack. Stored at room temperature, loosely covered for up to 2 days.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

TWD: Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread

Cinnamon and sugar. Those words are like poetry to my ears. I can't think of a better marriage of flavors so I was really looking forward to this week's TWD selected by Susan of Food.Baby.

The sweet dough is based on Dorie Greenspan's recipe but the filling is inspired by Martha Stewart. I chose Martha's filling because she says to brush with egg before sprinkling with sugar in order to keep the filling from falling out. It worked better than previously when I brushed with butter, but I think next time I will mix the raisins directly into the dough and do a plain cinnamon sugar swirl. Martha's filling calls for 3/4 cup sugar whereas Dorie's uses only 2 tablespoons. Sugar is good! If you're gonna eat cinnamon bread you might as well indulge all the way, right? I included the recipe because of the filling changes I made.

Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread
adapted from Dorie and Martha | Makes 1 - 9x5" Loaf

1 packet active dry yeast
1/4 cup sugar, plus a pinch more
1 1/4 cups warm milk (110-120 degrees F)
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of nutmeg
3 3/4 to 4 cups flour

1 egg, beaten
3/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp water
1 cup moist raisins

1.Put the yeast in a small bowl, add a pinch of sugar and 1/4 cup of the warm milk, stir it together and let it rest for 3 minutes. It should foam.
2. In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, combine the rest of the 1 cup milk, the butter and the 1/4 cup sugar. Mix on low speed until combined, then add the dry ingredients. Mix on low for another minute. Add the yeast mixture and mix one minute more.
3. With the mixer off, add 2 3/4 cups flour and begin mixing again on low until the flour is just worked in. Switch to the dough hook and with the mixer on speed setting 2 beat the dough for a few minutes. The dough should begin coming together off the sides of the bowl. If it doesn't, then add up to 1/4 cup flour one tablespoon at a time until it does. Knead for 3 minutes more until smooth, shiny and very soft.
4. In a large buttered bowl, turn out the dough and cover tightly with cling wrap. In a warm place, allow the dough to double in size, about 1 1/2 hours. Once fully risen, turn the dough out onto a large piece of cling wrap and wrap tightly before either refrigerating overnight or freezing for 30 minutes.
5. Filling: Combine the sugar and cinnamon. Stir in th1 1 tbsp water and mix well. Remove dough from the refrigerator/freezer and turn onto a lightly floured surface. Roll out into a 12x18" rectangle. Brush 1/2 the beaten egg onto dough then sprinkle with the cinnamon/sugar mixture and spread the raisins in an even layer, gently pressing them into the dough. Reserve leftover egg wash for step 6. Roll the dough snugly, beginning with a short end. Pinch the seam shut. Place the dough seam-side down in a greased loaf pan and tuck the ends under.
6. Cover and allow to rise for another 45 minutes or so. Once the dough is risen, brush the top with remaining egg wash, place on a baking sheet and put on the center rack in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, then tent with foil and continue to bake for about another 25 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Heath Bar-Inspired English Toffee

Make your own English Toffee Bits (like Heath or Skor bars) for a fraction of the cost! Plus, it's fun to take out a little of your energy by pounding the toffee to little pieces in a heavy duty zipper-lock bag. Don't let the words "candy thermometer" scare you like they used to scare me. Just be watchful that it doesn't burn and take it off the heat when it gets near the right color as the candy will keep cooking from the residual heat.

I don't have a picture of the toffee crushed up into bits. I kinda forgot to do that, but you get the idea. You can either put the chocolate on or leave ir off. I like the chocolate on for snacking but if I'm just using the toffee in baking then I leave it off.

Homemade Toffee Bits
Makes 1 tray

1 cup sugar
1 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup water

1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional)

1. Heat sugar, butter and water to boiling in heavy 2-quart saucepan, stirring constantly; reduce heat to medium. Cook about 13 minutes, stirring frequently, to 300 degrees F on candy thermometer or until small amount of mixture dropped into cup of very cold water separates into hard, brittle threads. (Watch carefully so mixture does not burn.)

2. Immediately pour toffee onto ungreased large cookie sheet. Quickly spread mixture to 1/4" thick. Immediately sprinkle chocolate chips on top if using. Let stand to soften then spread out evenly over the surface with an offset spatula.

3. Let stand until fully set and firm (overnight is best).

For baking bits: Break into pieces the place in a sturdy plastic bag and pound with rolling pin/meat tenderizing mallot/other heavy object until you have a toffee bits. Store in airtight container or use as you would use storebought ones.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Orange Almond Shortbread Wedges

Crisp around the edges and slightly chewy in the centres. These are cookies that pack a whole lot of great flavors while not being overpowering. Orange zest, toasted nuts, buttery cookie and sugary crunch on top. They would go so well with a cup of tea, poised on a little white napkin. However, because of their sturdiness they would also fit right in packed into a picnic basket.

The recipe is originally from Martha Stewart's Holiday Cookies 2005 magazine but is also published in Martha Stewart's Cookies (2008). I love this book for its beautiful pictures and delicious recipes. It ain't just a pretty face!

Orange Almond Shortbread Wedges
Makes 24 | Martha Stewart Holiday 2005
1 1/2 cups (6 oz) hazelnuts (I used almonds), toasted
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
2 tablespoons sanding sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees with racks in upper and lower thirds. Process nuts in a food processor until finely chopped, about 20 seconds (do not overprocess). Transfer nuts to a large bowl; add flour, granulated sugar, melted butter, zest, and salt. Mix with hands until dough just comes together and forms a ball.

2. Halve dough; shape each into a disk. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. With lightly floured hands, shape 1 disk into a 7" round, and score to mark 12 equal wedges (do not cut through). Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sanding sugar. Repeat with remaining dough.

3. Bake, rotating halfway through, until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. While shortbread is warm, cut wedges to separate completely. Cool slightly on sheets, then transfer to a rack to cool completely. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 week.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Oatmeal Apple Cookie Cake

I wish there were a cool name for a cookie/cake hybrid.
Cakey. Cakie. Coocake. Cookie-cake?
It just doesn't sound right... but it sure does taste good! The recipe featured today is a cinnamon oatmeal apple cookie - in cake form. The result is slightly denser than a cake but fluffier than a cookie though not heavy like a brownie. I loved biting into the tender chunks of apple dispersed through this cake. The top is crispy/crunchy from the carmellized sugar while the cake is soft/moist.

The recipe is adapted from the Aug/Sept 2006 issue of Taste of Home - it's one of their contest winning recipes and has a 5-star rating on the website. It tastes like a warm apple pie but is more portable and gets even better the next day as the cinnamon mellows and infuses itself into the whole cookie/cake. This is a great alternative to oatmeal raisin cookies.

Oatmeal Apple Cookie Cake
9x13" pan | Adapted from Taste of Home

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup diced apples
2 tbsp cinnamon-sugar for sprinkling

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Combine the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture, beating well after each addition. Stir in oats and apples.

Scrape into greased 9 x 13 inch pan and sprinkle with 2 tbsp cinnamon sugar mixture. Bake at 350 degrees F for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown and toothpick comes out with just a few crumbs clinging to it. Let stand for 1 minute before removing to wire racks.

**Alternative: To make individual cookies use 1/2 cup dried apples instead of fresh and drop by the tablespoon onto cookie sheet. Reduce baking time to 10-12 minutes or until light golden brown

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Twirly Seeded Everything Rolls

A rich, buttery, soft Parker House Roll gets dressed up with peppers, bacon, jalapeno, sesame seeds, poppy seeds and sharp cheddar cheese. I loaded these with so much filling, they were like meal in and of themselves. Grab-n-go picnic kinda food and comfort food at the same time. The crunch of the seeds worked well with the soft crumb of the bread.

My latest obsession is with classics like the Joy of Cooking, Better Homes and Gardens and Betty Crocker. My grandma is an awesome cook/baker and has a ton of knowledge and tons of traditional recipes - none of them written down though. She also has always lived really far away so I've never had a chance to cook alongside her to learn from her. I hope that by the time I get a chance, it is not too late. Perhaps that is where my fascination with old cookbooks comes from - a link to a generations past. It's a neat feeling when you think about making something in your own kitchen following the same instructions others did decades before you were even born. Then feeling like you are a part of baking history by taking that old recipe and putting a modern twist on it.

Twirly Seeded Everything Rolls
Makes 12 | Adapted from The Joy of Cooking

2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 package)
3 tablespoons warm water (105º - 115º F)
1 cup warm milk (105º - 115º F)
5 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 - 2 cups all-purpose flour
Melted butter or milk for brushing

2 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp poppy seeds
1 1/2 cups coarsely grated sharp cheddar, divided
1 cup cooked bacon/ham/sliced deli meat, cut small
1/2 red pepper, small dice
1 jalapeno, no seeds/ribs, very small dice

1. Combine yeast and warm water in a large bowl or in the bowl of an electric mixer and let stand until the yeast is dissolved, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the warm milk, melted butter, sugar, egg, and salt. Mix by hand, or on low speed, for 1 minute.

3. Gradually stir in the bread flour, and then add the all-purpose flour until the dough is moist but not sticky. Knead for about 10 minutes by hand or with the dough hook of your mixer on low to medium speed, until the dough is smooth and elastic.

4. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and turn it over once to coat with oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

5. Set aside 1/2 cup cheddar. Toss remaining filling ingredients together to mix (except for mayo). Roll the dough out into a large rectangle about 1/4" thick. Spread mayo evenly over dough then sprinkle with filling. Roll up tightly and seal the seam. Cut into 12 pieces using a serrated knife.

6. Arrange several inches apart on baking sheet (you don't want them to touch after they rise). Cover with oiled plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

7. Preheat the oven to 400F. Brush the tops of the rolls with melted butter or milk. Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Halfway through baking sprinkle with 1/2 cup reserved cheddar cheese.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

TWD: Strawberry Shortcakes

Random info: the Strawberry Shortcake doll was updated in 2008: She has a cell phone now, doesn't wear blush and has a tinge of lipstick. She also has forgone gumdrops in favor of freah fruit. Those marketing people must have so much fun dreaming up all this stuff.

These are delicate and crumbly and wonderful. I cut mine into rectangles to avoid having leftover pieces to squish together. I didn't serve them warm out of the oven as recommended. I only served them later in the day and I zapped them for 15-20 seconds each in the microwave to heat before filling with ice cream (instead of whipped cream) and sugar-tossed sliced strawberries. It tasted like the embodiment of summer. I almost forgot about our erratic BC weather. I have yet to put away my winter jackets because some days it's still so cold here!

I read that this recipe made a big batch so I made 1/2 a batch with less sugar and used them to make ham and cheese 'sandwiches' that got toasted in the oven just until the cheese melted. The slight sweetness actually went really well with the cheese and ham. My son's not a big sandwich eater but he actually ate them without bribery! Sweet or savory, these are yummy!

Thanks to Cathy for a yummy treat that will hopefully kick off more good weather in the weeks to come.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle

I am not usually one for crisp cookies but these cookies were crisp in a good way. Just crisp enough to hold the whole thing together and showcase the whopping 1 lb. of chocolate chunks. I took the cookie brittle idea from A Piece of Cake but was feeling extra devilish so I did a coffee-spiked version. I adore the artsy presentation of all the irregular, jagged cookie pieces beside each other. You could even make them prettier with a drizzle of white chocolate.

They are infinitely adaptable and forgiving. I'm sure if you under-baked them you would get chewy cookies, so there's no excuse not to try making them. Recipe is from Baking with Julia - a book my mom bought for me while she was in New York back in April. I'm still working my way though it but so far so good!

Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle
1 jellyroll pan | adapted from Baking with Julia

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 to 3 tablespoons instant coffee powder (to taste) or cocoa powder if you don't want any coffee flavor
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, chunks
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 pound chocolate chunks (bittersweet, milk, white, or a combo)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Whisk the flour, coffee powder, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl to blend; set aside.

2. Put the butter in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or work with a hand-held mixer) and beat on medium speed until the butter lightens in color. Add the granulated sugar and beat for about 30 seconds, just to blend. Add the brown sugar and beat for another 30 seconds. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for a minute after each addition. The mixture should be light and fluffy; if necessary, beat 1 more minute. Add the vanilla and beat until blended.

3. Turn the mixer speed down to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing until they are incorporated. Remove the bowl from the mixer and clean the paddle and the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Stir in chocolate chunks with the spatula to distribute equally. Line a heavy-duty baking sheet with parchment paper. (If you do not have heavy-duty sheets, double up the pans—these cookies need a heavy sheet so that the bottom doesn’t burn.)

4. Drop mounds of dough onto the lined sheets, leaving 1" of space between them so that the cookies will spread into each other. Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating pans halfway through. The cookies should have all melted into one big cookie by now. Transfer the whole parchment sheet to cooling racks. Cool to room temperature then break into irregular, brittle-like pieces.

***Alternately: If you want individual cookies, refrigerate dough to chill fully (2 hrs+) then scoop into tablespoon sized mounds and place 2" apart on baking sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes or until centres are slightly soft to the touch. Do not over bake.

Storing: Wrapped in plastic bags or in tins, the cookies will keep at room temperature for 3 days. They can be frozen for up to 2 months and should be thawed at room temperature.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Sweet Potato Focaccia Bread

Apparently potatoes are really good in bread-making because they are starchy and give the bread a nice softness and airyness. I pretty much followed the recipe in the America's Test Kitchen family baking book just swapping sweet potato for regular potato. I was really happy with the result and the dough was not difficult to handle at all, despite the high hydration which is typical of focaccia doughs.

Sweet potato vs regular potato:
-Helps blood sugar remains more stable than regular potatoesa because they have more fiber.
-Good source of copper, vitamin B6, potassium and iron.
-High in Vitamin A, C and antioxidants
-Grown by vine or root cuttings (instead of seeds)
-The flower "Morning Glory" belongs to the same botanical family
-Completely different family from a yam
-Lastly, it makes cool looking orange-tinted bread

Sweet Potato Focaccia Bread
10" x 14" x 1" | adapted from Cook's Illustrated

1 1/3 cup cooked sweet potato, mashed
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup water (warm, 105 to 115 degrees)
2 tablespoons olive oil , plus more to grease bowl/pan
1 1/4 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
3/4 teaspoon sea salt , coarse

1. In large bowl of electric mixer or work-bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, mix or pulse yeast, 1/2 cup flour, and 1/2 cup warm water until combined. Cover tightly with plastic wrap (or put work-bowl lid on) and set aside until bubbly, about 20 minutes. Add remaining dough ingredients, including sweet potato. If using mixer, fit with paddle attachment and mix on low speed (number 2 on KitchenAid) until dough comes together. Switch to dough hook attachment and increase speed to medium (number 4 on KitchenAid); continue kneading until dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. For food processor, process until dough is smooth and elastic, about 40 seconds.

2. Transfer dough to lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat with oil, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise in warm, draft-free area until dough is puffy and doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

3. With wet hands (to prevent sticking), press dough flat into generously oiled 15 1/2-by-10 1/2-inch jelly roll pan or halve and flatten each piece of dough into 8-inch round on large (at least 18" long), generously oiled baking sheet. Cover dough with lightly greased or oil-sprayed plastic wrap; let rise in warm, draft-free area until dough is puffy and doubled in volume, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

4. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees F. With two wet fingers, dimple risen dough. For the topping: Drizzle dough with oil and sprinkle evenly with rosemary and coarse salt, landing some in pools of oil.

5. Bake until focaccia bottom is golden brown and crisp, 23-25 minutes. Transfer to wire rack to cool slightly. Cut rectangular focaccia into squares or round focaccia into wedges; serve warm. Can store on counter for several hours and reheated just before serving. Or, wrap cooled focaccia in plastic and then foil and freeze for up to 1 month; unwrap and defrost in 325-degree oven until soft, about 15 minutes.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Apricot Cranberry All-Bran Muffins

Call me nostalgic or a sucker for advertising - I ca't help but look at 'back of the box' recipes and cookbooks put out by big brands like Jell-O or Philadelphia Cream Cheese or Hershey's. It's all a strategy to get you to buy more of their product by producing recipes that call for it as an ingredient.

Some are so obviously product plugs that it's comical, like the dessert that calls for Jell-O powder, Cool-Whip and a pre-made graham crust. Hmm... could this be Kraft Foods? Cheeeeeeezy. Puh-leaze. Reminds me of those soap pumps that say "Only refill with Brand X" as if it wouldn't work if you used a different brand. lol.

Other brands like Kellogg's actually have a lot of great muffins, breads and biscuits that can be made using its cereals as a base. It's done subtly and the recipes taste good!

All-Bran Apricot Cranberry Muffins
Makes 12 | adapted from

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
3 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
3 cups All-Bran/Bran Flakes/Raisin Bran dry cereal
1 1/4 cups buttermilk (or use regular milk and sub 1 tbsp baking powder for the baking soda)
1 egg
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup dried cranberries

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare twelve 2 1/2-inch muffin tins - grease or line.

2. Stir together flour, the 1/2 cup sugar, salt and baking powder. Set aside. In large mixing bowl, combine cereal and milk. Let stand 2 minutes or until cereal softens slightly. Add egg, oil and dried fruit. Beat well. Add flour mixture, stirring only until combined. Portion into prepared tins.

3. Bake for about 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

TWD: (Not) White Chocolate Brownies with Brown Butter Frosting

Marthe of Culinary Delights selected White Chocolate Brownies on pages 110 and 111 of THE BOOK. I am the hugest white chocolate fan ever. I'll pick vanilla over chocolate hands-down anyday. I should have been all over these but silly me, I forgot to buy white chocolate. The lack of white chocolate combined with my aversion to meringue meant that these evolved into milk chocolate brownies with brown butter frosting. I also added a crushed Ritz cracker crust for that salty/sweet balance. I'm glad I did as the brownie itself was pretty sweet.

On a side note to White Chocolate Lovers (or Haters, we'll convert you lol ): I beg you to try a warm (Copycat) Moxie's Restaurant White Chocolate Brownie dressed up with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream and hot fudge sauce. Let me just say one more thing to convince you: the recipe for a 9" pan calls for 1/2 lb. white chocolate plus 1/2 cup more chocolate chips!

Brownies with Brown Butter Frosting
9x13 pan | Adapted significantly from Dorie Greenspan

2 cups crushed Ritz crackers
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted

2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup finely ground almonds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, cut into 8 pieces
4 ounces milk chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup raspberries

1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 9-x-13-inch pan. Combine crushed crackers, sugar and melted butter. Press into bottom of pan.

2. Whisk together the flour, ground almonds and salt. Melt butter and white chocolate using a double boiler.

3. Cream together butter and sugar. Add the eggs and beat on medium-high speed for about 3 minutes, or until pale and foamy. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and blend in the melted butter and chocolate. Still working on low, mix in the dry ingredients, stirring only until they disappear into the batter. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the raspberries evenly over the batter.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the brownies pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer the pan to a rack and allow to cool to room temperature in the pan. Frost with brown butter frosting when completely cool.

*Kept in the pan and covered lightly with plastic wrap, the brownies can be kept at room temperature overnight. Or wrap the brownies airtight and keep them at room temperature for up to 3 days and frozen for up to 2 months.

Brown Butter Frosting
Real Simple, May 2007

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon corn syrup

1.Brown the butter: Melt the butter in a skillet or small saucepan over medium heat. Swirl or stir the butter with a wooden spoon as it starts to foam and sputter. Remove the butter from the heat as soon as it begins to turn golden brown and smells nutty, about 1 minute. Strain through a fine sieve or coffee filter and let cool to room temperature.

2.Meanwhile, place the confectioners' sugar, milk, and corn syrup in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk. Beat to combine.

3.With the mixer on medium, drizzle in the brown butter a little at a time, waiting until it is absorbed before adding more. Beat in another teaspoon of milk to make the frosting creamier, if necessary.