Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Gingerbread Stained Glass Ornaments

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy Festivus  everyone! How has your holiday baking been? Mine’s been pretty non-stop (fun of course!). For my last post before the big day, I thought I’d share these stained glass gingerbread ornaments. I made these as party favours for the cookie exchange I hosted at work.

You’ll need:
Clear hard candies (like Jolly Ranchers)
Ribbon or twine

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line cookie sheet with parchment (this is crucial, trust me!)
2.  Separate candies by colour, unwrap, place in a re-sealable plastic bag, and pound with a meat pounder or rolling pin.
3.  Roll out dough and cut with cookie cutters.
4.  Place on baking sheet and cut out middle. Punch out a hole for the string with a straw.
5.  Place crushed candies in the hole.
6.  Bake for 6-8 minutes. Leave to cool on tray for 2 minutes before carefully transferring to a wire rack. Thread with ribbon or twine.

The smell is divine! Get creative with the stained glass – don’t be afraid to mix colours!

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Cookie exchange 2013 Part 2

In my previous post, I wrote about how I hosted a cookie exchange at work. I thought I’d share what I made and the recipe of another one of the treats baked by my colleagues. I wanted to make something quick with no fuss, so I thought cookie bars (which I think are kind of like blondies. Anyone else with me on this?). Mix, spread, bake, cut. No portioning and baking off in multiple batches. I added some cookie butter and toffee chips for good measure.

The great thing about these is that you can add any add-ins you want. In fact, the first batch I made had coffee chips in them. Incidentally, it turns out that I don’t like coffee chips (I think they taste like molasses) so I made the boyfriend take them to work, and made a batch with toffee chips instead for the cookie exchange. If you’ll notice, the photographs are of the ones from the first batch.

But first, the recipe for buckeyes!
Buckeye are the bottom - round with chocolate caps.

3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1.  With an electric mixer, beat the peanut butter and butter at medium speed until creamy. Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and salt (the mixture will be crumbly).
2.  Roll tablespoonfuls of the dough into balls and place on a wax paper-lined baking sheet. Freeze until firm, about 15 minutes.
3.  Meanwhile, in a double boiler or a medium heatproof bowl set over (not in) a saucepan of barely simmering water, melt the chocolate, stirring often, until smooth. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
4.  Resting each ball on the tines of a fork, lower it into the chocolate until it’s two-thirds covered. Refrigerate on the baking sheet until the chocolate is firm, about 30 minutes.
5.  Keep the buckeyes refrigerated, between sheets of wax paper in an airtight container, for up to 3 weeks.

Cookie Bars
Adapted from here.

2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup salted butter
1 ¼ cup brown sugar
½ cup sugar
¼ cup cookie butter
2 eggs, room temperature
1 Tablespoon vanilla
½ cup toffee chips (or 2 cups of your favorite add-ins: chocolate chips, nuts, cinnamon chips, etc)
Sprinkles (optional)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9x13 inch baking pan with parchment.
2.  In a bowl, mix flour and baking powder. Set aside.
3.  In the bowl of a stand mixer with the beater attachment, beat butter and both sugars on medium until fluffy (2 minutes).     
4.  Add cookie butter and beat until mixed.
5.  Add eggs and beat until thoroughly combined. Add vanilla and mix.
6.  Add the flour mixture, and mix on low until almost combined (you still see some flour).
7.  Add toffee chips, or other add-ins and mix for a few seconds until combined.
8.  Spread onto baking pan and top with sprinkles (if using). Bake for 25 minutes (check at 22 minutes with a toothpick test. If it comes out clean, you’re done).
9.  Cool in pan before taking it out and cutting.

Verdict: The cookie bars (second time around – minus the coffee chips) were just what I wanted. Chewy with lots of caramel flavour. I think my colleagues liked them too. It was such a quick and easy recipe with things that I had on hand – good to remember for emergency baking situations!

I can’t give a verdict on the buckeyes because I’m allergic to peanuts, but everyone at the cookie exchange was raving about them!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Cookie Exchange 2013 Part 1

What better way to bring in the holiday spirit than to host a cookie exchange at work? And that’s exactly what I did again this year. It’s kind of turned into an annual thing. We had 13 people participate, and I got a bunch of emails leading up to the day saying how excited they were about it!

For me, the best part of a cookie exchange is getting people who don’t normally bake to give it a try and share with everyone. It’s such a rewarding feeling I think. And this year we had another impressive spread of goodies! My colleagues are pretty creative!

Here are some recipes from the exchange. I tried them all and they were awesome!

Almond Butter Cookies from 1001Cookie Recipes .
Yield. 4-6 dozen

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks
½ teaspoon lemon extract
¾ teaspoon almond extract
½ teaspoon vanilla
About 70 whole blanched almonds

1.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
2.  Combine the flour and baking powder.
3.  In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks and the extracts. Blend in the dry ingredients.
4.  Break off walnut-sized pieces of dough and roll into balls. Place 1.5 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets (I use parchment paper, also – I think I made them a bit bigger than intended).
5.  Press an almond into the centre of each cookie flattening them slightly. Bake for 15-20 minutes (I took them out at 15 minutes – definitely check them at 15), until the cookies are golden brown. Transfer to a wire racks to cool.

How to blanch almonds:
1.  Bring a small pot of water to a boil.
2.  Drop your almonds in the pot and let boil for exactly one minute.
3.  Drain and rinse the almonds off with cold water.
4.  Pat dry with paper towel or tea towel.
5.  The skins should look all wrinkly, and should pop off as easily as opening up edamame. Also it’s fun to shoot the almonds around the kitchen and at your baking companion. Extra points for landing a skinned almond in someone’s drink.

Almond Butter Cookies and Chocolate Chip Cookies beside each other, at "9 and 10 o'clock".
Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
From here
Yield: ~35 cookies
Prep time: ~30 minutes, Baking time: 12-14 minutes

150 g butter
150 g dark chocolate (50-70%)
150 g dark Muscovado
50 g granulated sugar
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk (L)
225 g bread flour (type 550)
1/2 tsp baking soda
a little less than 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
Maldon sea salt (or Fleur de sel) for sprinkling

1.   Melt the butter in a small pan over medium heat and let it brown slowly. I prefer to use an old enamel pan, simply because its inside is white – makes it easier to control the degree of browning. Stir regularly using a silicone spatula and make sure the butter solids don’t stick to the bottom and burn. At first the butter will foam, then simmer gently. Wait until it starts to smell nutty and reaches a golden brown color, but be careful to not let it get to dark or it will taste burnt. Immediately fill into another bowl (otherwise it will brown further) and let cool for at least 30 minutes. Coarsely chop the chocolate
2.   Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F) and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Put both sugars, egg and egg yolk into a big bowl and beat with a hand-held mixer (whisks) or the flat beater of a KitchenAid at least 3 minutes until light in color and creamy, most of the sugar crystals should have dissolved. Now add the cooled down brown butter and beat for 2 more minutes. Sieve flour and baking soda into the bowl, add the fine sea salt and mix only as long as it takes to reach an even dough (change to dough hooks for this step, if using a hand-held mixer). Lastly add the chopped chocolate (or other additions like nuts, dried fruits, etc.) and mix shortly until evenly distributed.
3.   Scoop little mounds of dough onto the sheets using either two tablespoons or an extra small ice cream scoop and leave generous space between. Sprinkle with a little Maldon sea salt and bake on middle level for 12 to 14 minutes or until the edges start to turn golden brown, yet the center still feels slightly soft to the touch. Take out, let rest for 3 minutes on the sheet, then transfer to a wire rack (minus the one you have to eat right away) and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

Dark Chocolate Citrus Almond Bark
Makes 36 pieces

1 ½ cups (375ml) unsalted whole almonds
 ½  cup pecans
½ walnuts
1 cup cut mixed peel
2 lbs dark chocolate &/or milk chocolate
2 tbsp Vanilla extract
100 g white chocolate

1.  Toss together nuts and mixed peel.  Measure out 1 cup of nut/peel mixture and set aside.
2.  Melt dark/milk chocolate (microwave: ~2 min, stirring every 20sec) or stove top.
3.  Add nut/peel mixture to melted chocolate and stir until evenly combined.
4.  Pour mixture onto parchment paper lined baking sheet and spread evenly with a spatula. Sprinkle evenly with reserved nut/peel mixture.
5.  Drizzle evenly with white chocolate.
6.  Chill to harden.  Break into snack-size pieces. Store in an air tight container for up to 1 month.

Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons

2 large eggs, well beaten
1/2 cup sugar
Generous pinch of salt
1 teaspoon almond or vanilla extract
3 cups sweetened shredded coconut
3.5 oz Lindt Excellence 70% Dark Chocolate (optional)

 1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Spread a sheet of parchment paper over a large cookie sheet, or butter the sheet.
 2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, salt, and almond or vanilla extract. Blend in the coconut until it is completely moistened. This is not supposed to be a batter, but rather well-moistened clumps of coconut.
 3. Drop generous teaspoonfuls onto the baking sheet, and bake them for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the macaroons are golden brown with crisp edges. Transfer them to a rack to cool.
 4. Melt the dark chocolate over low heat. Dip the macaroons in the melted chocolate and transfer to a sheet of parchment paper to cool.  
Citrus Almond Bark in the middle, Macaroons at the bottom.
What did I bake? That’s coming up…sit tight!