Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Best Ever Butter Cookie

I’ve been making these butter cookies every Christmas for over 10 years.  They are the best – simple, buttery, and very addictive.  My friends are huge fans – some would say these are their favorite out of all the cookies I make.  The secret ingredient is the vanilla syrup – instead of using vanilla extract, I use vanilla syrup that coffee shops use to flavor their coffee.  I used to decorate these cookies with icing, but now I prefer to sprinkle decorations before baking.

Butter Cookies
1 cup butter
1 ¼ cup sifted icing sugar
2 Tablespoon vanilla syrup
1 egg
2 ½ cups flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

1.       Cream butter and sugar until fluffy.
2.       Beat in vanilla syrup and eggs.
3.       Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.  Gradually add into butter mixture.
4.       Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 3 hours or overnight. You can also freeze the dough for up to 6 months.
5.       To bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
6.       Roll out dough to ¼ inch thickness or less, and cut shapes with cookie cutters.
7.       Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and add decorations (if desired).
8.       Bake for 4-6 minutes, or until the edges are slightly golden.
9.       If decorating with royal icing, ice after the cookies have cooled completely. 

Before baking.
I made sent some of these cookies to my friend in Toronto.  Here’s how I packaged them.
All ready for more newspaper to cushion the cookies.

Verdict: Delicious as always! Even better the next day as the flavours become more prominent.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Gingerbread House

I love the smell of gingerbread during the holiday season.  I make a gingerbread house every year just to fill the apartment with the smell.  I used to buy the pre-made houses, but started making them from scratch because I get to design my own house.  Here are a couple pictures of the one I did last year:

This year, I used the same recipe, but made a different house template.  I also used melted white chocolate melting wafers to pipe the designs instead of royal icing (mostly because I was lazy to make the icing, plus, there’s always a lot of leftover icing that I unhappily end up throwing out).

Check out the verdict at the end of the post!

Gingerbread with Fresh Ginger
Adapted from here.
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 ½ Tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons water

House template
Measure and cut out house piece paper templates.  You can find one here. If you are going to include a surprise inside the house (e.g., a Christmas tree), be sure to cut our some windows so that you can see it.

1.       In a large bowl, mix butter, sugar, molasses, ginger, cloves, and baking soda until well combined. 
2.       Mix in flour and water.
3.       Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.  You can freeze for up to 6 months.
4.       To bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
5.       Roll out dough in pieces big enough for each template piece. Transfer rolled out dough to baking sheet, place template on top, and trace around with a butter knife.  Remove the excess.
6.       Bake for 6 minutes (longer if dough is thicker), and leave on baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring to cooling rack.

1.       Since I used melted chocolate, I decorated the house pieces before assembly.  Use either melted white chocolate or royal icing to pipe designs.
2.       To make the glue that will hold the pieces together, cook 1/3 cup sugar in a saucepan on low heat until golden.  Use a spoon to spread the sugar “glue” on the edges of the house and press together.  Work quickly as the “glue” hardens almost immediately spreading onto the gingerbread.  Be very careful not to touch the cooked sugar –it will burn you!
3.       After the walls are secured to the base, glue the Christmas tree inside.

The sugar glue is ready when this colour.

The back.

The surprise inside!

Verdict: The smell of gingerbread fills the apartment for weeks! I made gingerbread cookies with the left over dough, which were very tasty!  I’ve never made gingerbread with dried ginger, but these cookies made with fresh ginger are flavourful!  As for the white chocolate, I think I’ll go back to royal icing next year, as the melted chocolate was a tad too liquid to do intricate piping work.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

2 Types of Rice Crispy Squares

When my colleague told me that her mom made rice crispy squares with Mars chocolate bars, I had to make them!  She melted the Mars bars before adding the cereal, but I decided to cut them into chunks and disperse them throughout the squares.  I have also wanted to try making browned butter rice crispy squares, so I thought I would make these too, and bring them for my colleagues at work.

Check out the verdict at the end of the post!

Browned Butter Rice Crispy Squares
Adapted from here.

¼ cup butter
5 cups mini marshmallows
1 ½  teaspoons vanilla syrup
6 cups puffed rice cereal
*For a chewier square, double the butter if browning

1.       In a large pot, melt and brown butter (i.e., cook until it browns and smells like toffee) over medium-low heat.
2.       Stir in marshmallows until melted.
3.       Stir in vanilla.
4.       Take off the heat and add puffed rice cereal. Stir until well coated.
5.       Press into a pan, and cool before cutting.

Mars Bar Rice Crispy Squares
Recipe is the same as above plus 4 Mars bars, cut into chunks.
Stir in the chopped Mars bars after adding the puffed rice cereal.

Chopped Mars Bars

Verdict: Both these squares were very tasty! My colleagues seemed very pleased!  I liked the way you get a chunk of the chocolate bar with some bites of the square.

I would recommend doubling the butter if you are going to brown it as a lot of it evaporates during the process.  This will make a chewier square.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Chestnut Banana Bread

What to do with super ripe bananas? Banana bread of course! As per usual, I wanted to kick it up a notch, so I added 2 things: browned butter and chestnuts.  Since this was going to be for me, I used whole grain flour and no sugar, but I’m sure they’ll be just as tasty with regular flour and sugar.  Another thought: all butter should be browned butter! Making the browned butter was incredible - it made my mouth water and kitchen smell like toffee happiness!

Check out the verdict at the end of the post!

Left: chestnuts in shell; Right: shelled chestnuts

Browned butter after cooling.

Chestnut Browned Butter Banana Bread
¼ cup butter
4 ripe bananas
1 egg
1 ½ cups flour (I used ½ cup each of whole wheat, spelt, and cake flour)
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ cup chopped chestnuts (I used shelled chestnuts, but you can roast and peel your own!)

1.       Make browned butter by heating up butter in a small saucepan over low heat.  Swirl pan frequently as it bubbles gently.  The butter is finished when it darkens in colour and smells like toffee.  Place in a bowl and cool.
2.       Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line loaf pan with parchment paper or grease and flour.
3.       In a small bowl, mix flour, salt and baking soda.  Set aside.
4.       In a large bowl, mash bananas.  Add egg and butter. Mix.
5.       Add the chopped chestnuts and mix.
6.       Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined.
7.       Pour into pan and bake for 65 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.
8.       Cool on rack before slicing.
* If you prefer a sweeter banana bread, add ½ cup of sugar at step 4.

Left: Chestnuts before chopping

Before baking.

After baking.

Verdict: This recipe created a moist bread that was flavourful and not too sweet.  The chestnuts gave it a soft chewy texture that I loved.  These are a great snack!