Tag Archive for Baking

Coronation Grape Focaccia with Rosemary

A friend of mine has diagnosed me with a case of the ‘overwhelms’ and that’s a pretty accurate summary of where things are at right now. I’ll have book news (OMG!) in a blog post later this week, work is hectic and the last few months have been filled with lots of amazing and lots of truly heartbreaking things. For each of those there are drafts of blog posts that I haven’t been able to bring myself to finish writing and post.

But one bright spot has been that my Writer Girls — a collection of my closest friends from my early days at the University of Victoria — were in town a couple of weeks ago for a visit and we spent three glorious days eating, drinking, laughing and catching up. There is no better way to recharge than to spend time with people who know you almost better than you know yourself. And, better than that, have far better memory-retention skills and can recall, at a moment’s notice, all the hilariously dumb things you’ve done or said in the last 20 years. And trust me, there are a lot of them.

On the final day, between ferrying the girls back to the airport to catch their flights back home, we decided an afternoon snack was in order and my friend Julie wandered off to the local grocery store in search of cheese and crackers. She returned with those, along with a huge box of dusky dark purple Coronation grapes. Beyond their stunning colour, they have this beautiful slightly sweet, slightly pungent taste. They were perfect with cheese.

And then all of my girls were gone and I was left with the remainder of the grapes.

And for some unknown reason, I remembered seeing a recipe for a focaccia topped with Concord grapes and sprigs of rosemary and that’s all I could think about. Salty-sweet, with the grapes roasted and warm and all that lovely woodsy rosemary strewn over the whole thing.

In Italian, it’s known as Schiacciata con L’uva and it’s a truly autumnal bit of baking linked to the grape harvest in Tuscany. So, Concord or Coronation grapes are perfect for this focaccia since this is exactly when they are in season. Mostly you read about this being made with Concords. (The Coronation was developed here in Canada and seems more popular on this side of the border.) The benefit of using Coronations, though, is that they are seedless (yay!) and, judging from some of the recipes I found online, not having to de-seed grapes saves a lot of time and mess. Since I’m generally prone to getting food all over what I’m wearing, having an option to at least reduce the chance of staining myself purple is a good thing.

These grapes are delicious on their own — especially cold from the fridge and most definitely when served with some nice crackers and cheese. But roasting them into a focaccia that has been sprinkled with raw sugar, flaked salt and rosemary tranforms them to something so much more. They get a bit jammy, their skins wrinkle and their dark purple juice stains the bread around them. Their complex flavour plays well with the herbal hit of rosemary and, well, it’s all on focaccia, so what more could one ask for? Other than having my Writer Girls here for one more weekend to eat some with me.

Since we’re planning on next meeting up in Italy next fall, though, there’s a very good chance I’ll be able to make it for them then.

Coronation Grape and Rosemary Focaccia

I adapted this from a few different sources, mostly amping up the amount of grapes and rosemary — you know, the good parts.

  • 1 cup warm water (between 105 and 110F)
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5 to 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups Coronation grapes
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary leaves
  • 1 tablespoon raw sugar
  • 2 big pinches flaked sea salt

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the water, milk, sugar and yeast and let sit until the yeast has bloomed and is creamy looking. Add the flour, salt and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and mix on low speed until combined and then turn the speed up to medium and knead the dough until it forms a smooth ball, about 8 minutes.

Add 1 tablespoon of oil to a large bowl and use your fingers to spread the oil around the bowl. Transfer the ball of dough to the oiled bowl and turn to coat the dough all over. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper that hangs over the edges. (I’ve found this is the best way to make sure the focaccia doesn’t stick to the pan or the parchment.) Pour on 1 tablespoon of olive oil and spread all over the parchment that covers the pan. (There’s no need to oil the overhang.) Tip the risen dough onto the prepared baking sheet and, using the tips of your fingers, stretch the dough to fill it, dimpling the surface as you go. If the dough resists, wait a few minutes and then continue. It will fill the baking sheet with a little patience. Drizzle another tablespoon or two of olive oil over the dough, letting it fill the dimples. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let it rise again for about 30 minutes.

As it rises, preheat the oven to 450F.

Just before baking, scatter over the grapes, rosemary, raw sugar and flaked salt, pressing them in to the dough slightly. Bake until golden and cooked through, about 15 minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature (if it lasts long enough to cool to room temperature).

 

 

Kitchen Sink Cookies

Most of the time when I make cookies, I’ll eat one or two and then completely lose interest, taking the rest into work for my colleagues to enjoy. (Of which, I am sure, they have no complaints.)

Last year, over at my day job, I reviewed a cookbook called The Flying Brownie (The Harvard Common Press) by Shirley Fan that was all about sending edible care packages to people in the mail. I decided to try her recipe for so-called Kitchen Sink Cookies, which are similar to the more famous Compost Cookies from Momofuku in that, essentially, they’re about throwing in lots of different bits and bobs that may be lurking around the kitchen and in the baking cupboard. We all have those mostly empty bags of chocolate chips, nuts or dried fruit, perhaps a few random squares of chocolate for that recipe that didn’t require all of them in a box. I have amalgamated all my odds and ends — butterscotch chips, Skor bits, different types of chocolate chips — into a container, which is organized, at least, but doesn’t actually go very far when it comes to using them up. So, I was intrigued at the idea of making a cookie whose purpose was to do just that. (And, while I love Compost Cookies, I think we can agree they’re a lot more involved than what some of us want to tackle on a weekend afternoon when a cookie craving strikes.)

And, man, they did not disappoint. Rich, chewy, and salty-sweet, I could not resist their siren call.

As I said for my review of The Flying Brownie:

Since making them, however, I have eaten no fewer than a half-dozen cookies (over a 24-hour period) before bringing them to the office just to get them out of the house. They were snapped up immediately (as most baked goods in the newsroom are, for what it’s worth), but the reaction from colleagues was different: resounding compliments and requests for the recipe followed.

The cookies came out chewy and soft, with specks of chocolate and a slight crunch from the potato chips. Perfection.

I made more just a few nights later.

What I didn’t admit then is that I even held back a few because I knew I’d want a few more and didn’t want to give them all away.

I had a cookie craving the other day and they immediately came to mind.

The first time around I used up what was left in a bag of dark chocolate chips and some semi-sweet mini ones, as well as crushed ripple chips and some rolled oats.

Those who know me know well how much I love salty-sweet combinations, so the ripple chips (which I like for the texture as well) were a given. The fact that I had to buy some specifically to add them to the cookies maybe goes against this cookie recipe’s concept, but I’m OK with that.

Among the things buried in my baking cupboard, which I cleaned out and organized over the Labour Day weekend, was a bag of Valrhona Caramelia chocolates I bought several months ago from Duchess in Edmonton when I was up visiting friends. They are these little disks of chocolate that taste like a cross between milk chocolate and caramel. It’s tempting to eat them straight up, and I did do that with a few of them, no lie, and then I put them away so I didn’t eat the entire bag and then, of course, promptly forgot they were there until a much more recent trip to Edmonton (and the requisite visit to Duchess) when I remembered I still had them. Roughly chopped, I knew they’d be a great addition.

I decided to also throw in some semi-sweet chocolate chips, a handful of butterscotch chips, some roughly chopped pecans and those ripple chips.

Since making them that first time, I have adapted the recipe slightly. Since I decided I wanted the chocolate chips to be an option instead of a requirement, this adaption allows for a little more flexibility with the add-ins. However, I do recommend using a combination of sweet (like chocolate chips) and salty or crunchy or things with texture (coconut, nuts, potato chips, pretzels etc.). I use softened butter instead of melting it because I always have butter softening for one baking project or another and I am lazy enough that I don’t want to dirty a pot or pan just to melt it. I’m also so lazy that I don’t generally bother mixing the flour, baking soda and salt together in a separate bowl. I figure if I add the flour, then scatter the salt and baking soda evenly over it, it will all get mixed in well enough. Fan calls for golden sugar, but I’ve changed it to brown since that’s what most of us have around (and I think it totally contributes to that luscious, rich, caramel flavour).

Lastly, I found that while Fan’s recipe said it would make about 48 cookies, I got about half that. Not sure if that was bad math because I’m not convinced my cookies are much larger than what she calls for. I can say with some assurance there’s no way I ate that much dough. Though, yes, I ate dough. And it was damn good.

Kitchen Sink Cookies

Mildly adapted from Shirley Fan’s The Flying Brownie.

  • 3/4 cup (180 mL) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup (250 mL) packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (500 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp (2 mL) baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) add-ins (such as chocolate chips, chopped chocolate, old-fashioned rolled oats, crushed potato chips, pretzels, raisins, nuts or unsweetened shredded coconut)

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking liners; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and both sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the egg, egg yolk and vanilla and mix until well combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl if necessary. Add the flour, baking soda and salt and mix on low speed until blended. Fold in the add-ins. (If time permits, refrigerating the dough for at least 12 hours before baking will improve the flavour of these cookies.) Using your hands or a cookie dough scoop, form 1-inch (2.5-cm) balls with the dough. Place the dough balls on the prepared baking sheets, about two inches (5 cm) apart. Bake until the edges are lightly browned, 9 to 10 minutes. They will look slightly underdone in the centre.

Cool the cookies on the pans for five minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough. Pack in zippertop plastic bags, pressing out any air, or in airtight containers, separating the layers with waxed or parchment paper.

Makes about 24 cookies.

 

Strawberry Scones with Strawberry-Black Pepper Butter

It’s hard to be creative when it’s this hot and my laptop is cooking my thighs.

It’s probably even too hot to be turning on the oven, but I did it today anyway. The idea of fresh scones overpowered my hatred for the heat. Especially the idea of scones studded with fresh and sweet strawberries.

I had bought the strawberries yesterday for no reason other than I wanted that taste of summer. As I lay in bed last night, I was thinking Strawberry Shortcakes would be the perfect vehicle. And then I started to think about some scones where the strawberries are actually baked into them instead of being served on the side. Cream scones, I thought. Playing with the whole idea of strawberries and cream. And also, not dealing with trying to keep cold butter actually cold on a hot day.

The idea isn’t original; there are a lot of recipes out there on the web for Strawberry Scones. But I also thought of putting a twist on them by serving alongside some compound butter made from strawberries and a bit of freshly cracked black pepper.

It was tempting enough to turn on the oven.

The beauty of cream scones is how quickly they come together and how little forethought is needed. The dangers of cream scones are exactly the same.

But when you don’t want to put in the kitchen for very long, they are ideal. Stir together flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Add cream. Stir. Pat together. Cut and bake. Done.

Compound butter is just about as easy. Mix softened butter with herbs, zest, bits of fruit, spices or whatever else and then refrigerate.

So, as baking projects go, this one couldn’t be much more straightforward.

When I started trying to figure out what to say about these recipes, I joked on twitter that I should just write, “Makes these, they’re tasty.”

But, really, make these, they’re tasty.

Strawberry Cream Scones

Adapted slightly from Joy the Baker who, in turn, adapted them slightly from King Arthur Flour.

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1 1/2 cups whipping cream (approximately), plus more for the egg wash
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup strawberries, cored and chopped
  • 1 egg

Preheat the oven to 425F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Add the chopped strawberries. Pour over the whipping cream and then drizzle in the vanilla before gently stirring it all together. If there are a lot of dry patches, add another tablespoon or two of cream — just enough to create a dough. Scrape the dough out onto a clean surface and gather it together, kneading slightly until it all comes together. Pat into a circle about 1 inch thick and cut into eight wedges. (Or, alternatively, use a biscuit cutter to cut out circles of the dough.)

Place the wedges on the baking sheet.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and a splash of whipping cream. Brush over the top of the dough wedges and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake until golden and cooked through, about 14 to 18 minutes.

Serve as is or with the Strawberry-Black Pepper Butter (recipe below).

Strawberry-Black Pepper Butter

  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 large strawberry, minced (approximately 2 tablespoons)
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch sea salt
  • Pinch or two of sugar

In a small bowl, mix together the butter, strawberry pieces, black pepper, salt and sugar. While stirring, press bits of the strawberries against the side of the bowl to squish them and release some of their juice. Taste for seasonings, adding more sugar, pepper or salt.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Norwegian Rhubarb Cake

Around this time every year, I wait for them to appear, those ruby red or speckled green-and-pink stalks of rhubarb.

More than any other fruit or vegetable, rhubarb to me is a sign of the changing season. It is the signal that summer is arriving in bundles of tart stalks to be baked into pies and cakes, stewed to make a bright pink syrup for cocktails.

I snap up what I can when I see it at the farmers’ markets and I’m not above begging friends with healthy supplies to share their wealth. I take all I can and more, slicing and freezing the excess for rhubarb cravings that come later in the season.

Year-round, I save rhubarb recipes as I wait, imagining the hand pies, scones and fools I will make once I get my hands on the first stalks of the season.

A few weeks ago, tweets began appearing in my timeline that the time for rhubarb was finally here. But I was going to be away for the following two weekends and didn’t want to buy any without having the proper time to dedicate to making all the things I had been craving over the past several months. I would have to wait.

On the final day of being away, as I played fetch with my friend’s dog in the backyard of their Victoria, B.C., home, I spied in the corner of their garden a mass of rhubarb.

Sure, he only has three legs but I tired of playing fetch long before he did.

The giant, lushly green leaves created a canopy over the bed, hiding away a forest of ruby stalks that had visions of baking filling my head. Could I please, I asked, take just a little bit of it home with me?

“Take as much as you’d like,” I was instructed. “We probably won’t use much of it.”

With knife in hand, I culled a huge bundle of the stuff (trying to still show some restraint, though tempted to take it all), rolled it into a plastic shopping bag and packed it in my luggage for the flight back to Calgary. I was glad I hadn’t bothered to take much out to the coast, giving me that much more room for this care package of rhubarb.

It was the best souvenir of the trip.

A few days later, I finally had enough time to get into the kitchen and put that souvenir to use.

In the past, I’ve fallen in love with crumb cakes and little cobblers. I have serious plans for pie. And no summer is complete without a rhubarb cocktail from a recipe my grandmother gave me several years ago.

But for the first rhubarb of the season, I wanted to start simply. A recipe for Norwegian Rhubarb Cake seemed like the right place.

A very straightforward cake, there’s no need to cream butter and sugar, no fussing over letting the rhubarb macerate in sugar. There’s not even a need to break out the mixer.

So, in the space of less than 45 minutes, I had cake — and the first bite of rhubarb this year.

Still warm from the oven, it was the perfect afternoon snack. Not overly sweet, it’s punctuated with tart pieces of rhubarb that played nicely against the tender cake.

Thankfully, too, it only put a small dent in my rhubarb supply, leaving me plenty more for the next project. I just need to decide which one.

Norwegian Rhubarb Cake

I found the recipe on a blog called Outside Oslo and adapted it only slightly, upping the amount of rhubarb and omitting a dusting of icing sugar, which people should still feel free to do just before serving. A dollop of sweetened whipped cream would be nice, as well, but is not necessary.

  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) butter
  • 1/3 cup (80 mL) milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup (250 mL) sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup (310 mL) flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/4 to 1/3 lb (125 to 170 g) rhubarb, sliced into 1/2-inch (1-cm) coins

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).

Butter an 8- or 9-inch springform pan.

In a small saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter, then stir in the milk. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until pale and well mixed. While still mixing, slowly pour in the butter and milk. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and stir until just combined, then pour into the prepared springform pan. Sprinkle over the rhubarb slices.

Bake until lightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 35 minutes. (Cakes baked in a smaller springform pan will take a bit longer because the cake is deeper.)

Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the cake, if necessary, before removing the springform side.

Serve warm.

Makes 1 cake.

Katharine Hepburn Brownies

There is deep, dark and dangerous knowledge that comes from knowing how easy it is to make brownies.

A few standard ingredients, a pot and spatula, a bit of time and you are rewarded with deep, dark, chocolate goodness.

Late-night cravings for something a little bit sweet and decadent no longer need go unanswered. At least not in my house. Nor mid-afternoon cravings. Or even morning ones. (Don’t tell me you’ve never craved something deliciously chocolate in the middle of the morning.)

The trick, though, is to find the right brownie recipe.

By and large, they’re all easy — though the grades of difficulty increase when adding things like peanut butter or cheesecake swirls — because it’s a simple matter of melting butter with chocolate, adding sugar, eggs and flour, then baking the entire thing. No forethought is required because there’s not even a need to wait for the butter to soften.

Depending on the ratios of eggs, flour and butter, though, some brownies will come out cakey, while others dense and fudgy.

My ideal brownie is on the fudgy end of the spectrum, with that crackle-like top that hides the rich, dark bar below.

In my search for just such a brownie, I stumbled onto numerous posts extolling the virtues of the recipe from famed film actress Katharine Hepburn.

She may be better known for her film roles and assertive, unapologetic personality, but among baking circles, the woman who starred in The Philadelphia Story and the African Queen is also known for her brownies.

How the recipe first came to be part of the public realm varies as widely as the number of brownie recipes found on the Internet.

Some say she was persuaded to give it up to gossip columnist Liz Smith; others report a neighbour secured the recipe after bringing over a batch of brownies to the actress who declared they had too much flour and had been overbaked before she listed off her own recipe.

The story, though, is far less important than the recipe results; gooey and rich, fudgy with the requisite crackled top, these are the decadent brownies that do prompt cravings.

A scant amount of flour keeps them dense and chewy, the richness cut only by the chunks of toasted walnuts littered throughout.

Although easy enough, I wanted to simplify the recipe even further. With all due respect to Ms. Hepburn, if I can avoid washing additional dishes, I will. So, I skipped the step of using a double boiler to melt the butter and chocolate in favour of a one-pot method that doubles as a mixing bowl. Within just a few minutes, and with very little effort on my part, I was pouring the finished batter into the pan and putting the whole thing in the oven. The hardest part, truthfully, was waiting for the brownies to cool before slicing. (It’s possible I didn’t actually wait as long as I should have.)

With the craving answered — and a new favourite brownie recipe in hand — life could go back to normal.

But I know that when it comes again, it won’t take much to appease it. And that is dangerous.

Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies

Take caution not to overbake these as that will cause them to dry out. Swap the walnuts for other nuts, or omit entirely, as desired.

  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) unsalted butter
  • 2 oz (60 g) unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 cup (250 mL) sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
  • 1 cup (250 mL) walnuts, chopped
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) flour

Preheat oven to 325F (160C).

Butter an 8×8-inch (20×20-cm) pan and line with parchment paper, letting a few inches hang over each side, like a sling.

In a medium saucepan set over low heat, melt the butter and chocolate, stirring often, until smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the sugar, then eggs and vanilla. Switch to a spatula to fold in the salt, walnuts and then the flour, stirring until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out with only a few moist crumbs on it, about 40 to 50 minutes. Cool completely before using the sling to remove the brownies from the pan and cutting into squares.

Makes 1 8×8-inch pan of bars.

Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins

I was thinking about this recipe all day today now that blueberries are back at the markets and couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t find it on my own blog. Turns out I failed to post it after writing it last year (or even further ago). Making some of these tonight.

Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins I

My cupboards are stuffed with ingredients I’ve used for one recipe and then promptly forgotten about. Half empty packages of rice noodles, more Israeli cous cous than I know what to do with, cans of coconut milk and assorted pastas.

And amongst all those bags and packages are several of finely ground cornmeal, which I’ve bought to use in corn bread or polenta, then forgotten about and bought more. (I might be a candidate for some sort of kitchen-related hoarding intervention.)

I like polenta; I like corn bread. I even liked the bit of cornmeal added to the crust of a Rhubarb Crostata I made a couple of weeks ago. But none of these things has me getting through those bags of cornmeal quickly.

So, when I was looking for baking inspiration on Monday and stumbled across a Nigella Lawson recipe for Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins, I knew exactly what my next project would be. (To add to my eagerness, I had a large basket of blueberries in my fridge slowly wrinkling that needed to be dealt with immediately; clearly, it was a sign.)

Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins III

Like all muffins, this recipe is easy and comes together quickly.

But the addition of just a bit of cornmeal makes them more than just your average blueberry muffin. The top – which stays flattened – becomes a tasty golden crust, revealing beneath a tender and light muffin dotted with blueberries.

It’s neither overly sweet nor cakey, which seem to be more cupcake-like traits than muffin ones. And, while very soft, the cornmeal gives it a heartiness.

Having one more recipe in my arsenal that uses up my abundance of cornmeal – and such a tasty one to boot – pleases me.

And the fact that I got to use up some festive, polka dotted cupcake liners at the same time made this an even better way to clean out the cupboards.

Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins IV

Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins

This recipe comes from Nigella Lawson’s book Kitchen. I added a few more blueberries than called for and added a pinch of salt, which you can feel free to leave out, but I think rounds out the flavours in baked goods. The muffins were fully baked at the 15-minute mark, so consider checking a minute or two early.

Lawson suggests they are best eaten on the day they’re made, but can be stored in an airtight container, layered with parchment paper, then reheated in a warm oven for 5 to 8 minutes.

  • 1 cup (250 mL) flour
  • ½ cup + 1 tbsp (140 mL) cornmeal
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) baking powder
  • ½ tsp (2 mL) baking soda
  • 2/3 cup (150 mL) sugar
  • pinch salt
  • ½ cup (125 mL) vegetable oil
  • ½ cup (125 mL) buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • ¾ cup (175 mL) blueberries

Preheat the oven to 400 F (200 C) and line a muffin tin with papers.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and sugar and salt. In a measuring jug or bowl, pour the oil and buttermilk and whisk or fork in the egg.

Stir the oil mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients – remembering that lumpiness is a good thing when making muffins – and fold half the blueberries into your thick golden batter.

Divide this batter between each muffin case (they will be about two-thirds full) and drop the remaining blueberries on top; you should have about 3 for the top of each muffin.

Cook in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, till a cake tester comes out cleanish (obviously it will be stained if it hits a berry). Leave the muffins in the tin on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then remove the muffins, in their cases, to the wire rack to cool a little (not too much) before you serve or eat them.

 

Candied Ginger Scones

I keep butter in my freezer at all times for scone baking emergencies.

They used to intimidate me; one bad batch – which would have been flattered to be called hockey pucks – had me thinking I would never make a successful scone.

Learning Nigella Lawson’s trick of grating frozen butter into the flour was a game changer and now I find them to be one of the easiest, and fastest, things to bake when suddenly craving something sweet to eat with a bit of jam or butter.

Candied Ginger Scones I

They are also one of the most adaptable things to bake: lemon zest and glaze for a spring scone, chocolate or spices for fall, cheese and herbs for a savoury version.

This also makes them perfect for bits and pieces one may find in their baking cupboard.

So, when I discovered a handful of candied ginger leftover from a cupcake project and an uncracked jar of Devonshire cream at the back of the fridge (who impulse buys Devonshire cream? Me, apparently.), it was clearly time to make some scones.

Even if it was 11 at night.

After quickly whisking together the dry ingredients, grate in the frozen butter. This creates the perfect little nuggets of butter easily incorporated in the rest of the dough. When they hit the heat of the oven, they melt, creating the flaky layers that make scones so tender and light.

Sometimes I will cut out my scones, in circles or squares, using biscuit cutters or an upended glass. But other times, I like to just pat the dough into a circle and cut it into wedges for something a bit more rustic . . . and fewer things to wash.

Candied Ginger Scones II

Candied Ginger Scones

  • 2 cups (500 mL) flour
  • 1/3 cup (80 mL) sugar
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) baking powder
  • ¼ tsp (1 mL) salt
  • ¼ to ½ cup (60 to 125 mL) candied ginger, chopped
  • ½ cup (125 mL) butter, frozen
  • ¾ cup (180 mL) cream, plus more for brushing the scone tops.
  • 1 egg

 
Preheat oven to 400F (200C).

In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and chopped ginger. Using the large holes on a box grater, grate the frozen butter into the dry ingredients. With your fingertips, gently toss the flour and butter until thoroughly combined. In a small bowl, mix together egg and cream. Pour into the butter-flour mix and stir until just combined. (Sometimes an extra tablespoon or two of cream is necessary, but the mixture should not be very wet.)

Turn the dough out onto a clean surface and squish together, patting it into a circle about an inch (2.5-cm) thick.

Cut the circle into eight wedges and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving space between them to grow.

Brush lightly with cream.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until golden.

 

Lemon Polenta Cookies

To glaze or not to glaze? That was, in the end, the question.

And, with apologies to Shakespeare, it was a far tastier one.

Lemon Polenta Cookies II

It started with some Lemon Polenta Cookies and an overachieving lemon that gave off copious amounts of juice – far more than necessary for the recipe. It developed when I remembered once seeing a recipe for a different lemon cookie featuring a glazed top — all smooth and pale white, just hinting at the lemon flavour. And it culminated with me mixing up just a bit of a glaze, enough to use up the last of the juice – waste not, want not, after all – and drizzle some of it over a handful of cookies to see which were tastier.

I was first attracted to this recipe after discovering, to my dismay, that I have three packages of finely ground cornmeal in my cupboard – the product of forgetting I have some, buying more and then forgetting again. I had been through a cornbread phase, followed by an actual made-from-scratch polenta phase. And then those bags were forgotten about until a fit of not-quite-spring cleaning.

(Truly, if there is a zombie apocalypse, please come to my apartment. My overly stocked cupboards should keep us fed for the first few months.)

The idea of adding cornmeal to a cookie was intriguing. The result didn’t disappoint.

The addition of cornmeal gives them a slight heartiness, a nuttiness and a nice texture, even though they’re still soft and chewy in the centre.

The zest and lemon juice add lots of bright flavour and the whole recipe comes together quickly.

Unadorned, they were lovely. But there was all that leftover, freshly squeezed and strained juice just asking to be made into a glaze.

So, a glaze I made, drizzling it thickly over the cookies and letting it coat the nubbly surface.

Friends were divided on which they preferred.

As one said, when there is a chance to glaze, the answer is always to glaze.

Another disagreed, noting the plain version of the cookie had a crunchier top, which was preferable.

I ate both – possibly a few times – and still remain completely divided.

Surely, the only solution is to try yourself and see which you prefer.

Lemon Polenta Cookies I

Lemon Polenta Cookies

  • ½ cup (125 mL) finely ground cornmeal
  • 1 ½ cups (375 mL) all-purpose flour
  • ½ t (2 mL) salt
  • ¾ cup (175 mL) butter, softened
  • 1 cup (250 mL) sugar
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) lemon juice
  • 1 egg

Preheat oven to 350.

In a bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour and salt. Set aside.

Using a mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the lemon zest and juice, mixing until incorporated. Beat in the egg.

Add the cornmeal mixture and mix on low speed until just incorporated, about 1 minute or less.

Scoop tablespoon-sized balls of dough onto cookie sheets, allowing room for them to spread a bit.

Bake until just golden at the edges, between 14 and 18 minutes, depending on the size of the dough balls.

Makes 18 to 20 cookies.

 

Optional Glaze

  • ¼ cup (60 mL) icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon juice

In a small bowl, mix together the sugar and lemon juice until completely incorporated. Drizzle over cookies.

This should be enough to glaze about half the cookies.

 

Apple Muffins

I am not a breakfast person.

I mean, I love breakfast — or maybe more accurately, I love brunch. A plate of eggs and sausages and hash browns? Yes, please. Huevos Rancheros? Absolutely. Even classic eggs Benedict is a perfect way to start the day.

But during the week, I’ll grasp at any extra sleep I can get in the morning and if that means foregoing a sit-down breakfast, then that’s the sacrifice I will make.

That doesn’t mean, though, that I skip the meal entirely. There’s no way I could last until lunch and I recognize the importance of starting off the day right (while still hitting the snooze button at least once).

So, I like to have stuff around that I can grab and take with me. Fruit, small chunks of cheese, maybe even a sandwich. And, occasionally, I have fresh muffins.

Apple Muffins

Bran or blueberry are standard, but when I saw the small collection of apples on my counter (my go-to fruit for snacking) this week, I thought it might be nice to incorporate them into a muffin.

It would have to be spiced with some cinnamon and nutmeg and the chunks of apple should be big enough to notice, but small enough to get well distributed in the mix.

After digging around on the Internet, I found a recipe from Martha Stewart to use as a guide, but I made a few changes, including adding nutmeg (a warm flavour I think is perfect with apples) and reducing the butter; a little fat is fine in a muffin, but I think a half a cup is unnecessary.

I made it with Fujis and Galas because that’s what I had around the house. The original calls for a Granny Smith, which would give off a tarter flavour, but these sweeter apples were just as nice.

And I didn’t bother peeling the apple before dicing it because:

a) There are lots of great nutrients in the peel;

b) I can’t be bothered;

c) All of the above.

Plus, I like how the skins imparted a slightly pink hue to the baked muffins.

These turned out really well, warmly spiced and full of small chunks of apple. With a chunk of cheddar and a cup of tea, it’s a good way to start the day — right after hitting the snooze button.

Apple Muffins

Apple Muffins

  • 2 cups (500 mL) flour
  • 1 cup (250 mL) sugar
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) baking soda
  • ¾ tsp (3.5 mL) salt
  • ½ tsp (2 mL) cinnamon
  • ½ tsp (2 mL) nutmeg
  • 1 apple, cored and diced into ½-inch (1-cm) cubes
  • 1 cup (250 mL) buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

 

Preheat oven to 400F (200C). Line a muffin tin with liners or spray with vegetable oil.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and spices until thoroughly mixed. Stir in apples.

In a separate bowl, using a fork or whisk, mix buttermilk, eggs and butter.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet. Using a spatula or spoon, gently fold together the mixture until just combined. Do not over mix.

Divide batter between muffin cups, filling three-quarters full. Bake until the muffins are brown and a toothpick or tester comes out clean, about 16 to 18 minutes. Let cool slightly in the pan before removing to a rack.

Serve.

Makes 12 to 18 muffins.

 

Bourbon Blondies

I like a good bourbon cocktail.

An Old Fashioned, a Sour, a Mint Julep.

But when I pull out my bottle of bourbon at home, more often than not it’s because I’m adding it to something I’m baking.

There are the Bourbon Pecan Pie Brownies, the Vanilla Cupcakes with Bourbon Buttercream and these, the Bourbon Blondies.

Bourbon Blondies II

Since first unveiling a plate of these boozy bars at a friend’s house a few summers ago, they have become my go-to dessert for potlucks and parties. They’ve been packed along to ski weekends and made an appearance at a party kicking off 2013. They remain one of my most requested baked goods within my circle of friends.

Though maybe not after I reveal just how easy they are to make and everyone just starts whipping up their own batches.

I don’t remember when or how I first stumbled upon a recipe for blondies. They don’t seem quite as well-known on this side of the border as they are south of it.

So, when I put out a plate of them, I’m often asked just what they are exactly. And the answer is they’re kind of like a brownie, but minus the cocoa, which makes a brownie, well, brown.

Perhaps a more accurate description is they’re kind of bar-like cookies.

The beauty of them lies in both how easy they are to make and their adaptability.

Like brownies, you melt the butter, which makes them great for impulse baking, as opposed to most cakes and cookies, which require room temperature butter.

The addition of bourbon puts a spin on things – no pun intended. The alcohol will mostly cook off – and the amount for the entire pan is a mere two ounces, or the equivalent of one of my favourite cocktails – but the flavour remains.

Bourbon Blondie batter

Bourbon Blondies baked

Bourbon Blondies out of the pan

Sliced

Bourbon Blondies I

Bourbon Blondies

To keep these kid-friendly or if bourbon isn’t your thing, simply omit the alcohol and the additional 1 tablespoon of flour. Use whatever additions feel good; I typically use chocolate chips and pecans, but have tried other nuts and even dried fruits, such as cranberries. For the bourbon, I use whatever I have on hand or, occasionally, whiskey instead.

  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) butter, melted
  • 1 cup (250 mL) brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) bourbon or whiskey
  • pinch salt
  • 1 cup plus 1 tbsp (250 plus 15 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350F (180C).

Butter an 8×8-inch (20x20cm) pan and line with parchment paper that has extra to hang over the sides like a sling. (This makes for easy removal and slicing.)

In a bowl, mix together the melted butter and sugar. Beat in the egg, then vanilla. Stir in the bourbon or whiskey and mix until combined. Add the salt and then gently stir in the flour. Add the chocolate chips and pecans and stir until just combined.

Scrape into the lined pan and pat down the rather thick batter so it creates a layer that reaches the edges of the pan.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the middle has set.

Remove and cool on a rack before removing from the pan and slicing.

Rhubarb Snacking Cake

Oh blergh.

I’ll spare the apologies for not being a good blogger lately. Mostly, I really should be apologizing to my blog because I’ve been careless, letting our anniversary slip by (four years!) with not even a cheap greeting card or cake (which I usually make to celebrate this little milestone) to mark the occasion. (Actually, I think the real loser here is me since it also meant that I didn’t get to *eat* cake for my blog’s anniversary either. Fails all around.) As these things go, I suspect these means I’ll have to do something absolutely stupendous to make up for it. What that will be, I know not.

Until then, though, I’ve got a Rhubarb Snacking Cake for you all. (And, ahem, for myself, as I have certainly enjoyed a slice or two.)

Rhubarb Snacking Cake III

My back went out a couple of weeks ago. Annoying as hell, but I’m on the mend. I had to take a handful of days away from the office since being flat out on my front was about the only comfortable position I could find and I returned to find a massive bundle of rhubarb on my desk. As in, the stalks — some a good 5 centimetres or so in diameter — were at least two feet long and the entire bundle had been wrapped up using two plastic bags end-to-end and a good binding of tape. I was amused at how I had to hobble out to my car at the end of the day with this bundle, but mostly I was grateful because I do love rhubarb. (Pudding cakes, large crumb coffee cake, upside-down cake, anyone? Or, perhaps my favourite, how about a rhubarb-based cocktail? Yes, click through; they’re named after my grandmother!)

Fortuitously, I had just come across Smitten Kitchen’s latest, a so-called Rhubarb Snacking Cake that she had put together, loosely based on a Martha Stewart recipe, so I knew exactly what I was going to do with at least part of the rhubarb bundle.

It was my first baking project in a number of weeks and it felt great to be back in the kitchen, even if it meant stopping to take breaks to lay down on the floor in between.

This cake has a fabulous crumb and I like how it’s not very tall, which does make it very easy to eat by hand, which my friends and I did that afternoon while sitting out on a back deck drinking Gewurztraminer and soaking up some sun.

(And later, a glass or two of Pinot Noir.)

Pinot Noir afternoon

While I normally follow a recipe exactly the first time I make it, I did make a couple of changes this time around. Namely, I omitted the cinnamon in the crumb topping (although a fan of cinnamon, I don’t love it with rhubarb, I’ve decided) and adding a bit more butter since the crumb wasn’t exactly “crumb-ing” with the four tablespoons called for. Next time (and there will be a next time), I think I’ll cut back on the flour a bit as the crumbs still seemed a bit dry. I know our Canadian flour is a bit stronger than that of our southern neighbours, so that may be why it wasn’t quite dead on. (If you click over and look at Deb’s photos on her post, you’ll see her topping looks different.)

But, really, minor quibble in the great scheme of things.

It should also be no surprise, but I upped the amount of lemon zest and maybe splashed a bit more of the juice in with the chopped rhubarb. The recipe below reflects that, but if you’re not as much of a fan of lemon as I am, feel free to rein things back in.

Lastly, as going through the recipe again, I just realized I mucked it up, putting only 1/3 cup sugar in the topping and a full cup in the batter. I actually thought it was quite tasty this way since then the rhubarb layer more tart (but not alarmingly so). Below is the recipe as it should be, but feel free to do it the wrong (and yet still super delicious) way that I did it.

Sliced rhubarb

All Scraped Out

Rhubarb Snacking Cake from the Oven I

Rhubarb Snacking Cake from the Oven II

Rhubarb Snacking Cake II

Rhubarb Snacking Cake I

Rhubarb Snacking Cake

From Smitten Kitchen, as inspired by Martha Stewart Living.

Cake:

  • 1 1/4 pound rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch lengths on the diagonal
  • 1 1/3 cup  granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/3 cup sour cream

Crumb:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (though I might do a tablespoon or two less next time)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon table salt
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Grease the bottom and sides of a 9×13-inch baking pan with butter or cooking spray, then line with parchment paper, extending it up two sides to make a sling.

Stir together rhubarb, lemon juice and 2/3 cup sugar, then set aside.

Beat the butter, remaining sugar and lemon zest until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, making sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl each time. In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Add one-third of the flour mixture to the batter, mixing on low until just combined. Add half of the sour cream and continue mixing on low, then add another third of the flour mixture, then the rest of the sour cream and finish with the rest of the flour. (I mixed the last addition until just barely combined, finishing it off with the spatula.

Scoop the batter into the pan and spread evenly. (Deb suggests using an offset spatula. I agree; it made it much easier to make the layer even and get it into the corners.) Top with rhubarb, spreading evenly.

For the crumb mixture, whisk together flour, brown sugar and salt, then mix in the melted butter with a fork. Scatter over the rhubarb.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes until a tester comes out clean of cake batter. Cool in the pan on a rack.

To serve, use the sling to lift the cake free from the pan and cut into squares.

Brownies with Sea Salt and Lime

Oh, hello!

Thanks for joining me here on my inaugural post on my NEW blog. While I should be a little ashamed (and I am a bit, to be honest) that it took me this long to get my own domain and I certainly should be (and am) irked that waiting this long meant a lot more hiccups in making ye olde switch from my WordPress version to this one, I’m just tickled that I finally broke down and did it. I own real estate! Internet real estate!

(Side note: I guess this is a good time to say that you may want to update your bookmarks.)

I’m still trying to work out some design kinks. Those classes in HTML that I took in my undergrad (read: a long time ago) haven’t really kept up with the times. But I figured it would be better to just get this thing live and try to fix as I went along rather than wait until it was perfect and have you all give up on ever seeing me post again. (Thanks to the kind person on Twitter who gently nudged me into getting things rolling again.) (Related: if anyone has a quick fix to get the blog’s tagline all on one line and to get the “What It’s All about” over to the left side of the page, I’d be totally grateful.)

And just a few weeks shy of my four-year (four year!) anniversary. Four amazing, heartwrenching, uh, fattening years. But tasty ones too. Of course, I’ll wax a little more poetic when I actually get there. After all, it’s not an anniversary without some cake. Or not in my world, at least.

So, stay tuned for that.

Today, though, I’ve got some really, really, really good brownies.

With lime.

And flakes of sea salt.

Like the margarita of brownies.

Brownies with Lime and Sea Salt

But, you know, without the booze. (Unlike these and these. Oh yeah.)

I had bookmarked them a while ago from the Kitchn, which is a fabulous resource for recipes and kitchen tips. And then kind of forgot about them — surprising considering my love of all things citrus.

But as I was getting ready for (après) ski weekend a few weeks ago, they popped back into my head. (Après) ski weekend is becoming an awesome tradition. We rent a house right at Kicking Horse, pack up lots of goodies to eat (and maybe a couple of bottles of wine, ahem) and then hang out for the weekend. The others ski and board, but the mountain is a bit advanced for me, so I just do the après part. All the hot tubbing, snacking, reading and laughing, none of the actual hurtling down a mountain. Good times!

These brownies totally delivered on all my expectations. They were darkly rich, slightly sweet with the tang of lime and kiss of sea salt.

The most unexpectedly amazing part of these were the chunks of unsweetened chocolate that you stir in before baking. After, they’re these little pockets of chocolate-y goodness and they taste as if they are dark or semi-sweet chocolate. The addition just takes these brownies over the edge.

Well, that and the lime, of course.

We didn’t manage to eat them all over the weekend. (No judgment; I had also packed some Bourbon Blondies and, of course, the Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies. Plus, everyone brought lots of other delicious dishes for dinner and the world’s supply of chips. Did I mention it’s a very good weekend?) So I took the rest in to work where they were gobbled up.

And now that I know how good they are, I certainly won’t be waiting until the next (apres) ski weekend to make another batch.
Lime and Salt

Brown, green and red

A sprinkle of salt

Brownie with Lime and Sea Salt

Brownies with Sea Salt and Lime

Adapted ever so slightly from The Kitchn.

  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped coarsely
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 lime, juiced and zested
  • zest of 1 lime
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
  • 3/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt

Preheat oven to 325F and line an 8×8-inch baking pan with parchment paper, leaving the paper extra-long and hanging over two sides.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and bittersweet chocolate over medium-low heat. Stir until smooth.

Remove pan from the heat and add the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, eggs, vanilla and kosher salt. Mix until combined. Then add lime juice and zest, as well as the finely chopped unsweetened chocolate. Stir to combine and pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle the sea salt on the top.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a tester comes out moist. It will not be perfectly clean, but it shouldn’t be sticky either. Allow pan to cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes before removing brownies from pan. To remove the brownies, run a knife around the sides of the pan to help release the brownies, then lift out the parchment paper. Place the brownies on the paper back on the wire rack. Cool completely and cut into 2 inch squares.

Meyer Lemon and Sea Salt Focaccia

I love all things lemon. Obviously.

And I have a fascination with Meyer lemons.

So, when I spotted a rather large clamshell package of them at Costco, I just couldn’t resist.

Meyer Lemons

So bright, so tempting. So many options.

A long time ago, I bookmarked a recipe over on The Kitchn (which is a fabulous site and well worth checking out, if you have not already) for a lemon and sea salt focaccia. Bread? Lemon? Flaky salt? Yes, that sounds like perfection.

And it did indeed sound like perfection.

I’m just not sure I loved the reality.

I thought a mandolin would get the lemons thin enough to top the focaccia, but the blade wasn’t sharp enough, so, in the end, I just used my extremely sharp paring knife. But I don’t think I got them quite as thin as they needed to be because even after baking they were a bit overpowering. I like the acidic bite of a lemon — maybe more than the average person — but the bites of lemon, even with the bread, were pretty sour.

That said, I loved the actual focaccia part of it. So, I’m going to keep this recipe around because the dough is so great.

Meyer Lemon Focaccia Dough

Meyer Lemon Focaccia I

Meyer Lemon Focaccia II

Meyer Lemon Focaccia III

Meyer Lemon and Sea Salt Focaccia

Adapted slightly from The Kitchn.

For the Dough

  • 1 envelope (2-1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
  • 6 tablespoons really good extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 cups bread flour, plus more for kneading
  • 2 teaspoons salt

To Assemble

  • Really good extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Meyer lemons, washed and very thinly sliced into rounds
  • Flaked salt, like Maldon

For the dough, dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup warm water in a the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir in 1-1/4 cups water and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil.

Add the flour and salt and, using the dough hook, mix until a ball of dough forms. Put 2 tablespoons of the oil into a large bowl. Roll dough around in bowl until coated with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm spot until it has doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Pour a thin film of oil into each of four 8-inch round cake pans. (Though I used a rimmed cookie sheet and spread the entire dough over it.) Quarter the dough and put one piece into each pan. Using your fingertips, spread dough out in each pan. The dough is elastic and will resist stretching. Let it relax for 5 minutes or so after you’ve stretched it as far as it will go. Eventually, it will cooperate and fill the pan.

Preheat the oven to 450°. Cover the pans with damp dishcloths and let the dough rest until it has swollen in the pans a bit, 30-60 minutes.

Uncover the pans. Sprinkle the dough with the rosemary (I didn’t have rosemary, so went without.) Using your fingertips, poke dimples into the dough in each pan, then liberally drizzle with oil so it pools in the hollows. Arrange just the thinnest rounds of lemon on top, drizzle with more oil, and sprinkle with sea salt. We like ours salty. Bake the focaccia until golden brown, 20-30 minutes. Drizzle with more oil when you pull the focaccia from the oven. Serve cut into wedges.

Cream Biscuits with Sausage Gravy

If I believed in past lives, I’d swear I was a southern belle in one of mine. Give me a pitcher of sweet tea, porch swings, some fried chicken or chicken-fried steak and especially give me some Biscuits with Sausage Gravy.

Biscuits and Sausage Gravy II

I’ve been bookmarking recipes for biscuits and gravy on Delicious for a while now. In fact, when going through to clear out some old links (I mean, do I need 800 bookmarked recipes? No, I don’t think so.), I found a few I had forgotten about. I left one of them because it was different enough that I think I’d like to give it a go later.

Because this certainly won’t be the last time I cook up some biscuits and gravy.

Oh yeah.

So, instead of the usual biscuits, which involve cutting in butter to make them nice and flaky, this recipe only uses cream.

And they were a total revelation. Light and fluffy, cracking perfectly in half when pulled apart and with not an ounce of butter to be seen. Not that using butter in shortcakes or scones is difficult, since I discovered Nigella’s trick, but avoiding it all together certainly makes things go much faster.

The sausage gravy recipe was just as simple and straightforward. I think next time I may want something where I have a bit more control over the flavours. However, this was super tasty and it came together very quickly, which, if I was making this for a crowd would definitely put this recipe in the win column.

It’s easy to adjust the flavours just by changing up the type of sausage you use, which is also nice.

I’d call this a very good starter recipe, but I’m certainly not done exploring the world of biscuits and gravy.

Cream Biscuits

Cream Biscuits

Sausage Gravy

Biscuits and Sausage Gravy I

Cream Biscuits

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for the counter
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Preheat oven to 425. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Stir in the cream (starting with about 1 1/4 cups and adding more if necessary) until a dough forms, about 30 seconds or so. Dump the dough out onto a lightly floured counter. Gather it together and squash it together (not quite kneading it) until smooth.

Shape it into a circle about into a circle about 3/4″ thick. Cut biscuits into rounds and place on parchment-lined backing sheet. Bake biscuits until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Sausage Gravy

  • 12 ounces bulk pork sausage
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat a medium pan over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook, stirring occasionally and breaking it up into little bits, until browned and cooked through, about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Sprinkle the flour into the remaining fat in the pan and cook for about a minute. Whisk the flour mixture while slowly adding the milk. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2 minutes or so to let the gravy thicken. Add salt and pepper to taste, then stir in the sausage.

Serve the sausage gravy over the cream biscuits.

Serves 8 or fewer, depending on how hungry people are.

Guinness Brownies

I first heard about Guinness Brownies through another blog, but forgot to bookmark it and couldn’t remember where I had seen it. I had sent the link to a friend who’s a fan of beer-based baking, but then thought it would be nice to just make them for her instead. A quick Google search brought up myriad other blog posts, including the one I had seen originally, as well as some other variations. After cruising through a bunch, I realized most of them were riffs on one standard recipe — one I liked much more than the recipe I had first come across.

Guinness Brownies II

Now, normally, I like to leave recipes alone for the first attempt, figuring I need to give it a chance to wow me before I make changes. But most of the versions I found called for white chocolate, which I loathe. And I knew it would cook out and be undetectable in the final brownie, but I still wasn’t keen on buying white chocolate just for this recipe. One other blogger had subbed in milk chocolate chips, which seemed like a good idea to me. I think the object here is chocolate-y sweetness and milk chocolate can certainly achieve that, with the bonus of being an ingredient I can use in other things.

Random rant: why do they sell baking chocolate squares in packages of 6 ounces? Most of the recipes I’ve come across call for 8 ounces, which means buying two packages and then letting the remaining four ounces sitting around in the cupboard (where, yes, I am likely to forget I have them and then go buy more. I really need a more organized baking cupboard).

Cracking a beer at 11 a.m. felt a bit funny, though it’s not my first time. (Those Guinness Cupcakes are also an excellent recipe, if you’re looking for something else to do with the dark Irish beer.) And I was a bit nervous about cooking it down. I’m not a huge beer fan and was afraid reducing it and intensifying the flavour would make it stand out far too much in the final brownies. Plus, it did seem a bit weird to cook beer.

But what do I know?

Not much apparently because these were fantastic. They were rich and dense, flavourful but not overly beer-y. A definite keeper.

Guinness

Guinness Brownie Batter

All Baked Up

Guinness Brownies I

Guinness Brownies III

Guinness Brownies

This is a hybrid recipe from a couple of sources, but I have to give Bitchin’ Camero a shout out because that is a seriously awesome blog name and Blondie’s Cakes for the smart idea of reducing the Guinness for additional flavour.

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted room temperature butter, cut into cubes
  • 8 ounces dark bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used 6 ounces of bittersweet and 2 of 70 per cent dark chocolate)
  • 3/4 cup milk chocolate chips
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 bottles Guinness beer, reduced to 1 1/4 cups
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • icing sugar for dusting (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, and salt until evenly combined. Set aside.

In a double boiler set over low heat, melt butter, bittersweet chocolate and milk chocolate chips. Remove from heat.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together eggs and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy. Pour in melted chocolate mixture and beat until combined.

Add flour-cocoa mixture and beat until just combined. Whisk in cooled Guinness and vanilla. (It will take a few minutes for the beer to incorporate. I used more of a folding technique with the whisk for the first minute or two to keep everything from slopping everywhere.)

Pour into prepared pan. Scatter over semi-sweet chips.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Note: mine only took 24 minutes; start checking at the 20-minute mark.

Let brownies cool. Dust with icing sugar if using and serve.

Bourbon Pecan Pie Brownies

The first time I had pecan pie was when I was 16 and visiting a friend in England for a month during summer holidays. There were visits to Stonehenge and London, trips on the train to Bath, but a lot of the time was spent hanging out in Bristol with her boyfriend and his friend, with whom I struck up a short summer romance.

It was not to last, but part of our brief courtship included an invitation to dinner at his family’s house. Details have likely been repressed due to all that teenage awkwardness, but one thing is clear in my mind: his mom made pecan pie.

It was delicious.

Since then I’ve been drawn to variations on the pecan pie. (Not, to be clear, in any way related to yearning for the boy who ended things in a long-distance call just a few weeks after I returned to Canada, but because I like the idea of this pie, the rich pecans and sweet goo filling.)

(And, as an aside, you can read a bit more about my short-lived summer romance in another pecan pie-related post here.)

But I can rarely get excited about making pastry.

And then I came across a recipe for Bourbon Pecan Pie Brownies.

Stacked and side view

Where a crust would be, instead a fudgy, chewy brownie and a pecan pie topping kicked up with some bourbon.

Seemed to me like two very fine things coming together to make an even finer thing.

I found it on a blog, but the recipe originated (and had been adapted from) an NBC Sunday Night Football Cookbook, the idea of which totally charms me.

I used to use the same brownie recipe every time I felt like a chocolate fix, until I found a recipe for Rocky Road Brownies, which used no leavening. The resulting brownies were dense and fudgy and a revelation.

They are, unsurprisingly, rich — two sweet desserts combined into one. And the bourbon retains some of heady kick, so be warned.

The original recipe says it makes 16 bars; I’d suggest cutting smaller.

After all, you can always eat two.

Cocoa, butter and sugar

Scraped Clean

Chopped pecans

Top layer batter

Top layer on

Solo brownie

Stack of brownies

Bourbon Pecan Pie Brownies

The original recipe calls for the two layers to bake in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes to set the pecan pie layer. Don’t be afraid to go longer; mine were in for 45 minutes before the centre had set.

For the brownies:

  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) flour
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
  • 3/4 cup (175 mL) cocoa powder
  • 1 ¼ cup (300 mL) sugar
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) butter
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs

Preheat oven to 325F (160C). In a small bowl, beat together eggs and vanilla, then set aside. In a double boiler set over boiling water, combine butter, cocoa, sugar and salt. Mix as the butter melts until everything is combined. Remove from heat and whisk in egg and vanilla mixture.

Add flour and stir until combined. Pour into 8 by 8-inch (20 by 20 cm) baking dish. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely.

For the pecan pie layer:

  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) corn syrup
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) bourbon
  • 2 cups (500 mL) chopped pecans

Beat together corn syrup and sugar until smooth. Add eggs, vanilla and cinnamon, and beat. Add butter and bourbon and beat again until thoroughly combined. Stir in pecans and pour the mixture over the brownie layer. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes.

Let cool completely, then refrigerate for at least two hours before serving.

This article first appeared in the Calgary Herald. For more food-related articles and recipes, check out the Herald’s food page.

Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies

What’s the sign of a good recipe?

When you make it twice in one week. (And kind of wish you had the ingredients to make it again as you’re blogging about it.)

My friends, this is that kind of recipe.

And it’s for chocolate chunk cookies.

Milk and dark chocolate chunk cookies

I didn’t think there was anything revolutionary about chocolate chip cookie recipes. (Barring, of course, the New York Times one that pretty much everyone has tried, except me. One day, I will try this. It’s the same day I have a fridge large enough to store a bowl of cookie dough for a minimum of 24 hours. One day.) I was mistaken.

These are chewy delights of soft cookie with melty bits of dark chocolate. They are cookie perfection.

Dark chocolate chunk cookies I

I just really wanted to make some cookies one night last week, but had not put any thought into what kind. I innocently tweeted out I had a hankering to bake and my friend Robyn suggested I make these cookies from Anna Olson. I was intrigued by the addition corn starch, which Olson says gives the cookies a chewy centre.

And, perhaps more importantly, I knew I had all the required ingredients, including an assortment of dark chocolate bars that I wasn’t quite sure what to do with. One of the ones I ended up using was a more traditional thin, flattish bar, while the other was about a 1/2-inch thick.

I used my awesome cookie scoop to portion out the dough, which made these nice rounded, perfectly portioned balls of dough. What surprised me when they baked, though, is that there really wasn’t very much spread. They remain nicely thick and I’m sure that contributes to the chew.

I ate a couple that night, then took some in for work where people devoured them.

So, when it came to attending my first tailgate on Saturday (I know, I know, but I’m from Vancouver; we’re not really tailgate people), I knew exactly what I wanted to bring. And not just because I really wanted to eat some myself. But, yeah, that was part of it.

This time, I used two flat, thin bars of 70 per cent dark chocolate. I broke them into smaller pieces with my meat tenderizer. Let me tell you, that was oddly satisfying. And the end result was really nice. The pieces melted into strata of cookie and oozing chocolate. It was heavenly.

And for that, this is my new go-to cookie recipe.

Smashed chocolate

Dark chocolate chunk cookie dough

Scooped dough

Dark chocolate chunk cookies I

Milk and dark chocolate chunk cookies

Dark chocolate chunk cookies

Milk and dark chocolate chunk cookies

Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies

This is, essentially, exactly as Anna Olson dictates, but I’ve made a few changes to the instructions and called for dark chocolate instead of bittersweet.

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces dark chocolate, cut or broken into chunks

Preheat oven to 350F.

Cream butter and both sugars until smooth. Add egg and vanilla and blend in.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt. Add to butter mixture and mix until just blended. Fold in chunks of chocolate.

Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Drop cookie dough by spoonful onto the lined sheet and bake until just golden brown around the edges, between 8 and 10 minutes.

Vanilla Cupcakes with Bourbon Buttercream

It was my friend Dan Clapson’s birthday the other day.

As part of what turned out to be a long weekend’s worth of celebrating (for him, not me), on the Monday evening we had Monday Night Supper Club (head here for some play-by-plays of these weekly events) at Stanley Park. Dan laid out some ground rules for the potluck. OK, one rule: everything had to be shaped like a cake.

Since Dan seemed to be a very lucky birthday boy who got everything he hoped for over the weekend, who was I to deny this particular wish? So, leading up to the big day I was pondering ideas. And I was drawing blanks. I really just wanted to make cupcakes. What? I know my strengths.

Vanilla Cupcake with Bourbon Buttercream

And for some reason, I kept thinking about creating with some sort of bourbon-flavoured icing.

I thought it was pretty original, but a quick Google search showed recipes are out there. And that is a good thing because it gave me a great jumping off point.

It’s tasty stuff, I can’t lie. But it’s also incredibly boozy despite the fact there is very little booze in it. Three tablespoons, about 1 1/2 shots. And only half of that made it onto the cupcakes (it’s enough icing for 24 cupcakes, not 12; the remainder is sitting in my fridge and I’m still trying to figure out what to do with it. Make more cupcakes seems the most logical answer.), so, really, it was 3/4 of a shot for the entire batch. You’re certainly not going to get drunk on them, that’s for sure.

People got pretty creative with the picnic potluck, including Chelsea who brought a sushi cake, complete with sweet potato “candles.”

Sushi "Cake"

Adria Britton with the very popular pizza pull-apart bread bundt.

Pull-Apart Pizza Bundt

Jamie Penno brought a savoury bacon-and-cheese cake.
Savoury Bacon and Cheese Cake

And Dan brought a potato salad “cake,” which was an intriguing take if not completely successful. Points for creativity!
Potato Salad "Cake"

I felt a bit non-creative for bringing straight up cupcakes, but I’m pretty sure the bourbon icing made up for that.

Vanilla Cupcakes with Bourbon Buttercream I

Vanilla Cupcakes with Bourbon Buttercream II

Dan and his Birthday Cupcake

And it was a lovely night to be in the park. Perfect way to end a lazy long weekend.

Stanley Park

Vanilla Cupcakes
This is straight from Martha Stewart’s recipe for yellow cupcakes (though I rewrote the instructions a bit). They are yellow, but I prefer to focus on their flavour.

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350F.

Line a muffin tin with liners.

In a bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In measuring cup or bowl, mix milk and vanilla.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well each time. Turn mixer down to low, then add half of the dry ingredients, followed by the milk and vanilla and then the rest of the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined.

Divide evenly among muffin cups.

Place tin on rimmed cookie sheet and bake until a toothpick comes out clean. (Martha suggests 20 to 25 minutes; mine were done by 18, so don’t be afraid to check early.) Cool cupcakes in the tin for 5 minutes and then remove to a rack and cool completely before frosting.

Top with bourbon buttercream.

Bourbon Buttercream
And I adapted this one from My Recipes.

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 pound icing sugar
  • 3 tablespoons bourbon
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat butter until creamy. Add half of the icing sugar and beat, followed by the milk and bourbon and vanilla. Mix until blended. Add the remaining sugar and beat until thick and smooth.

Chocolate Lime Cheesecake

The problem with getting behind in blogging is you start to forget why you made something in the first place.

OK, that might not be a problem others have. This may be particular to me.

Chocolate Lime Cheesecake Slice I

I think I came up with the idea of making a Chocolate Lime Cheesecake while flipping through cookbooks one night and remembering this had been on my to-do list for eons. I’m almost sure I had pulled Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Bites from my (overstuffed) shelf looking for one of her salad recipes when I re-stumbled across this one. And it occurred to me, since it was a long weekend and I was going to be working on the stat holiday, that I should bake this up and bring it in to the rest of the Calgary Herald crew working on the holiday Monday just like I used to when I was over in the city section. (Back then, I worked Sundays every week and I often baked and brought in goodies for what became known as Civilized Sundays, which would see us sitting around at 10 a.m. eating cake and listening to the police scanner. And reading our horoscopes.)

Then, and I do remember this correctly, I told the people who I knew would be also working that I was going to bake a cheesecake, which actually made me do it.

And, man, am I glad I did.

Nigella, my friends, she knows her stuff.

You know I love lime. It’s no surprise I also like chocolate. These two together are a very nice, very unexpected treat.

It may seem a bit fussy, but I followed all the instructions, including baking it in a water bath, which is a relatively common suggestion for baking cheesecake (a gentler way that theoretically keeps the top from cracking but always seemed like an unnecessary additional step). And I think it is indeed worth it. And the trick of snapping the aluminum foil into the springform pan (which sounds more confusing than it actually is) really does protect the crust and cake from any water.

Aluminum foil-wrapped pan

However, I must also add that I bought extra-wide aluminum foil thanks to the suggestion of my friend, Colette, who knew such a thing existed. Thanks Col! That way there was no panic about making sure the various pieces were secure enough. I would recommend this as a great way of alleviating any concern over seepage.

Seepage. What an odd thing to be mentioning on a food blog.

And, goodness, this is a very scattered post, isn’t it?

To summarize: this cheesecake is tasty. I enjoyed it. So did my friends. Make it. Don’t wait as long as I did to do so.

End.

Chocolate Lime Cheesecake I

Chocolate Lime Cheesecake II

Chocolate Lime Cheesecake Slice I

Chocolate Lime Cheesecake Slice I

Chocolate Lime Cheesecake

Straight from Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Bites.

  • 7 ounces chocolate wafer cookies
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 pound cream cheese (recommended: Philadelphia)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 whole eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 4 limes, juiced or 3/4 cup

Special equipment: springform pan

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Place a large overlapping piece of aluminum foil over the bottom of the springform pan, and then insert pan ring over it. Fold the foil extra foil up and around the pan and place the whole thing on a second piece of foil, also folding it and pressing it securely around the pan, having a water tight covering.

In a food processor, process cookies until they are crumb-like, add melted butter and continue to process. Pour crumb mixture into springform pan and press with your fingers to line the pan. Place the pan in the refrigerator to set while you prepare the cheesecake.

Place a kettle of water on for water bath. In a food processor beat the cream cheese until smooth, add the sugar, eggs, egg yolks, and lime juice.

Take crumbed pan from the refrigerator and place it in a roasting pan. Pour the cheesecake mixture into the crumb pan, and then carefully pour the hot kettle of water into the roasting pan so the water reaches 1/2 way up the pan so the water does not splash into cheese cake.

Place roasting pan in oven for 1 hour, checking after 50 minutes. It should feel set, but still wobbly in the center. Take the roasting pan out of the oven, carefully remove the springform pan from the roasting pan and place it on a rack. Peel off the outer layer of foil, and tear away the side bits of the first layer of foil and leave the pan to cool. Once the cake comes to room temperature, place it in the refrigerator for 20 minutes before serving. Transfer to the plate you’re going to serve it on, a plate without a lip, or a cake stand. Unclip the springform pan and remove the outer part. Carefully lift the cheesecake removing the metal bottom. The aluminum foil can stay on the cake. Serve chilled.

Peach-blueberry muffins

Oh hey!

Just popping in with some bran muffins.

Peach-blueberry muffins

I know I’m a bit of a baking freak, but I think I reached new lows (highs?) when I baked these up yesterday in the 30-degree heat. But I had a flat of peaches and they’re all pretty much perfectly ripe at this exact moment and I need to come up with ways to use them before I have to toss them. The original plan was a streusel peach cake, or a rustic tart, but by the time I got back from brunch with a friend and did some other chores, it seemed a bit late to be putting together a cake. And pastry? Well, that’s probably not going to be great when your kitchen is that blazing hot. (Plus, you know, pastry. We’re not the best of friends. One day, I hope. One day.)

Anyway, I’ve been making these peach bran muffins of Julie’s for awhile now. They’re what I think muffins should be. Healthy, full of good-for-you ingredients like bran and not too much sugar. Not those cake-in-disguise muffins, which I know are tasty, but really are just cupcakes with a different name.

I grew up eating Sunny Boy Muffins. Warm from the oven, cracked open with a little pat of butter. I can still taste them. (And this serves as a good reminder that I really need to track down some Sunny Boy; there is nothing like the taste of nostalgia.) So, I like a good, solid muffin. And these deliver.

I’ve made them several ways: with buttermilk, with plain yogurt thinned with some milk, with white sugar, with brown and with a mixture of the two. And here’s what I’ve decided: pretty much any way you go, these are good, hearty muffins. But, since I rarely have buttermilk on hand, I usually go with the yogurt-milk mix and I think I like the dual-sugar combination. Julie’s recipe calls for one peach, but I usually double that (or 1.5 that, if the peaches are really big) because I like the extra fruit. And this time around I added in some blueberries, which I just happened to have around. I’m sure other fruit would also be fantastic.

I like making muffins and cupcakes but an ongoing issue I have is that I appear to have some sort of miniature muffin tin. I mean, it looks all normal sized but whenever a recipe says it will make 12 muffins, I end up with anywhere between 16 and 20. At first, I thought it was just me and I was maybe not filling the tins enough. And then I realized it happens so consistently that I’m now pretty confident that it’s this tin. I can’t quite justify getting a new one, though.

All this to say, the recipe says it makes 12 muffins. I got 18 out of it, after dropping the cooking time almost in half. If your muffin tin runs on the small side and you have leftover batter after all the cups are filled, lower the cooking time to around the 13- or 14-minute mark. You can always bake them longer, but you don’t want to overbake them.

OK, go forth, make muffins. Enjoy.

All-bran cereal

Peach

Blueberries

Muffin batter

Peach-blueberry muffin

Fresh Peach Bran Muffins

from Dinner With Julie.

  • 2 cups All Bran cereal
  • 1 3/4 cups buttermilk or plain yogurt, thinned with milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar (white or brown)
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • pinch salt
  • 1 or 2 peaches, chopped (or additional fruit, as desired)

In a large bowl, stir together the cereal and buttermilk; let stand for 10 minutes, until soft. (Sometimes I drizzle in a bit more milk if this mixture seems really, overly solid. Never had any problems with a little additional liquid.) Preheat the oven to 375F.

Stir the sugar, oil and egg into the bran mixture. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and stir until almost combined; add the peach and stir just until blended.

Divide the batter among 12 muffin cups that have been lined with paper liners or sprayed with nonstick spray. Bake for 25 minutes, until golden and springy to the touch. Makes a dozen muffins.