Monthly Archives: December 2010

Almond Berry Shortbread Torte

 

This post is wrong, so wrong, for many reasons.  I apologize.  In the first place, hot on the heels of 8 days of cookies, I should be coming to you with healthy and good for you recipes like cauliflower salad, in order to attone for the gluttony that preceeded. In the second place, this is not berry season, for goodness sake.  The berries in the supermarket now are pale and insipid and have had to travel many miles to get to me.  I am certainly creating a huge carbon footprint with this one, and for that, I apologize again.

However, in my defense, I had to make this cake or there would be hurt feelings in my house.  This is the cake my first born requests every year for his birthday.  It’s his favourite cake and it’s not his fault he was born in December.  Blame the mother. (we get blamed for everything else!!)  This year he is turning 21.  A very big birthday which deserves a very special cake.  And this cake, while perhaps off-season now, is nothing short of spectacular.

I found this recipe many years ago in Chatelaine magazine.  I make it twice a year now, once in September, for my husband’s birthday and once in December for my son.  Some traditions you just don’t mess with.

This is a simple cake to make, essentially you make 4 giant shortbread cookies and then layer them with whipped cream and berries.  Start with creaming the butter and sugar, add the egg yolks, then add cake and pastry flour and ground almonds.

The dough gets chilled for about 30 minutes, then divided into 4 and pressed into large discs.  The wonderful thing about this cake is that the layers can be pressed into shape by with your fingers and palms, just using a rolling pin at the end to smooth out the round.  Here is a video showing how to form the layers.

While the layers are baking, get the berries ready.  I found golden raspberries, red raspberries and strawberries in the supermarket that day.  Feel free to use whatever is in season, or looks good.  This is awesome with little wild blueberries in August.

While cake layers are cooling, whip the cream.  The original recipe called for adding a few tablespoons of icing sugar to the cream but I prefer the cream unsweetened.  You get enough sweetness from the cake layers and berries.

After slicing strawberries, assemble the cake.  To keep things tidy, cut 4 layers of waxed paper and lay around the edges of the cake plate.  Put a blob of whipped cream in the center to hold the cake in place so it does not slide across the plate when carrying it into the dining room (not that this ever happened to me!).  Spread 1/4 of the cream on the first layer.  I made an orderly boarder of strawberries and then dumped more berries, haphazardly in the middle.     Continue with 2 more layers and then finish the top layer, taking care to place the berries in a decorative fashion.

 

The cake should be made several hours in advance.  Leave it in the fridge for the layers to soften a bit, so cutting it will be easier.  It is not the prettiest cake when sliced, but it is the most delicious.

To print the recipe, click here.

Day 8: Packaging

On the eighth day of holiday baking, my true love threatened to leave me if I didn’t stop tempting him with cookies everyday.  Good thing my baking was all done.  Now for the fun part, packaging and labelling.  I am always on the lookout for interesting containers to pack up the treats in.  I found these containers at IKEA in June.  I got a lot of strange looks as I wheeled my cart to the checkout, overflowing with 40 sets of these cookie tins.  Several people wanted to know what I was going to do with them.  When I told them I was using them for holiday gifts, to be filled with home-made cookies, I was besieged with “Friend” requests. 

I like to package each type of cookie in a separate bag and label them so people know what they are eating.  I use clear heavy-duty flat bottom candy bags.  They are quite durable and the cookies look tidy packaged in them. The cookies can also be frozen in these bags for a few weeks and they do a good job keeping them fresh until you are ready to give them away.   I invested in a professional bag sealer a few years ago.  I used to tie each bag with ribbon but that took too much time.  I figure the bag sealer has paid for itself already in the money I  am saving on ribbon.  Plus, it looks so professional. And, when the bags are tied with ribbon, it’s way too easy to break into a bag and sneak a cookie or two. 

I make my own labels with a program called Print Shop.  I have been using it for years and it is very easy to use and quite versatile.  This year I decided to do square labelsOnlinelabels.com has a huge selection of all sorts of shapes.  My daughter had the brilliant idea of photographing the cookies for the label.  I decided to shoot them on a wooden tray I painted with chalkboard paint several years ago.  I arranged the cookies on the tray and then wrote the name in chalk.   I was not thrilled with how it looked.  I decided to import the photo into my Print Shop program and add text.  I found the perfect font called “Chalk Dust.”  I have a bit of an obsession with fonts. 

Here are the rest of the labels for this year.

Ribbons and boxes all ready to go.

Bottom box held white chocolate macadamia, caramel corn and peanut butter bark.  Middle box held lemon coconut, chocolate peppermint and toblerone.  And the gingerbread snowflakes fit snugly into the top box.

And now, I rest!! 

Day Seven: Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

 

On the seventh day of  holiday baking , my true love brought to me: a heating pad and thermometer. No, I’m not sick with fever and chills.  Those are just some essential tools to temper chocolate.  The recipe for these cookies comes from the December 2008 issue of Martha Stewart Living.  I dreamed about these cookies for over a year, not quite trusting myself to make them without having a clear plan of where to deliver them.  I finally made them for my holiday gifts last December and they were so amazing, I had to bake them again this year.

I have adapted this recipe somewhat.  Martha asks you to roll the chocolate dough, chill it, cut out circles, with a 2 inch cookie cutter, chill the cut-out cookies and then bake them.  I simplified things by rolling the dough into a cylinder, freezing it and then slicing and baking.  Faster and easier.  Although Martha does not suggest tempering the chocolate before dipping, I highly recommend it.  It gives the chocolate a beautiful shiny coat and the white chocolate will not melt in your hand when you eat them.  I am warning you, it is a time consuming and highly exacting process, but I think it’s worth it.  Should you decide to forgo the tempering, they will still taste just as delicious but the appearance will not be as spectacular.

Begin with creaming the butter and sugar.  Sift the dry ingredients.  Usually when a recipe calls for sifting, I just ignore those instructions, but when cocoa powder is involved, it’s a good idea as it always has lumps.  Divide dough into two, roll it into a cylinder, wrap in waxed paper, and freeze.  Then slice and bake.  The bottom of each slice becomes a bit flat when you slice them.  You can reshape them quickly back into a perfect circle with your fingers if you want, and then you will have perfectly round cookies.

 

After the cookies have cooled,  get ready to temper the white chocolate.  DO NOT USE CHOCOLATE CHIPS FOR DIPPING!  I can not emphasize this enough.  Chocolate chips are made with certain stabilizers in them to help them hold their shape and not melt completely.  That is not what you want here.  Also, do not buy the pure white stuff at the bulk food store that is labelled white chocolate.  It is not real white chocolate, but rather a coating compound.  It will melt beautiufully, but it will taste like crap.  Real white chocolate is ivory coloured.  Buy good quality white chocolate.  I like Callebaut or Lindt.

Many chocolate companies are now manufacturing their chocolate in the form of “Callets“.  While they may look like chocolate chips, they are not.  It is the same as buying a block or bar of good chocolate but saving yourself the time and mess of chopping.  A great source for them is www.qzina.com.  For tempering, it is also a good idea to have some solid blocks or bars of chocolate as well.  Those work well to help cool down the chopcolate in the second step of tempering.  A good quality instant read thermometer is helpful for this project.   I have the Thermapen and I love it and use it for everything.  It was recommended by Alton Brown and Cook’s Illustrated.  Can’t get a better recomendation than those two!  I also just heard about a chocolate thermometer , which looks really cool.  haven’t bought it yet, but I am tempted.

Step 1:  Melt white chocolate over a double boiler of simmering water, to 115º F.

Step 2: Remove from heat and add a block of white chocolate.  Stir to cool chocolate down to 81º (for white and milk chocolate) (86° F for dark chocolate).  This will take about 10-15 minutes.  Be patient.  Remove block of unmelted chocolate.  This unmelted piece can be wrapped up and reused another time once it has cooled.

Step 3:  Then briefly place bowl back over the double boiler for just 10-15 seconds, until it warms up to 86º F (for milk and white chocolate) (89° F for dark chocolate). Congratulations!  You have tempered your chocolate.  Now transfer tempered chocolate to a smaller bowl and place on a foil covered heating pad, set on low.

A fork is the best tool for dipping the cookies into the chocolate.  I was given a fancy set of chocolate dipping tools many years ago and they are fun to use, but a regular fork will suffice.  I saw a less extensive set of these tools on amazon, so if you plan to do a lot of chocolate work, they are a worthwhile investment.

 

Dip cookies in melted chocolate, and sprinkle with crushed peppermint candies. After you crush the peppermint candies (the Cuisinart does a great job of this), put them through a sieve.  This will separate the finer dust from the crumbs.  It’s nice to sprinkle some of the cookies with the dust and others with the coarser crumbs.  Chill and eat!

To print this recipe, click here.

 

 

Day Six: Lemon Coconut Cookies

On the sixth day of holiday baking, my true love brought to me a microplaner to zest lemons.  These lemon coconut cookies may look Plain Jane,  but once you bite into one you will realize they are anything but.  They have a complex depth of flavour.  So tender, they just melt in your mouth.  Betcha can’t eat just one!

This recipe comes from the May 1993 issue of Gourmet magazine.  Gosh every time I even have to type that name I feel bitter.  I am still mourning the loss of that wonderful publication.  I have moved from denial to anger on the grief hierarchy, so I guess that’s progress but I am still a long way off from acceptance.  I am still hoping for a rebirth!

I have adapted the recipe slightly.  The original called for sifting icing sugar on the finished cookies but I found that really took away from the delicate flavour of the lemon and coconut.  The recipe also calls for lemon zest and lemon extract.  I am not a lemon extract fan.  It’s scent reminds me of Lemon Pledge.  However, I have tried it with and without, and in this cookie it adds a zing of flavour that is not overpowering.

It’s a simple slice and bake cookie dough, which I love when I am really strapped for time (like Day 6 of my baking adventure).  They keep well in the freezer for several weeks.

Roll the dough into logs, slice and bake.

To print this recipe, click here.

Day 5: Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Bark

On the 5th day of holiday baking my true love ran to the store to get me another 2 kg jar of crunchy peanut butter for this creation.  I think I love this recipe so much because it really allows the artist in me to come out.  I was never very good at drawing, so baking has become my creative outlet.  With this peanut butter bark, you get to swirl the chocolates with the tip of a knife and create an unbelievably beautiful marble pattern.  It is so impressive.  I have made this recipe probably over 150 times over the past 18 years and it never ceases to thrill me.

I am not even sure where I found the original recipe anymore.  I think it was printed in our local newspaper (The Ottawa Citizen).  It is critical to use good quality chocolate when making this.  Do not use chocolate chips for melting as chocolate chips are made to hold their shape when baked. Chocolate chips have hardly any cocoa butter and that is why they keep their shape. Chocolate chips are not usually good for melting as they may be lumpy and some types may even have a gritty texture after melting.

My sister told me about an amazing source for top quality chocolate.  www.qzina.com.  They are the largest North American Importer and Distributor of Gourmet Professional Chocolates & Specialty dessert ingredients.  They sell to Whole Foods, Ritz Carleton, Four Seasons, Loblaws, Safeway and other retail giants.  But they will also ship to home consumers.  I paid $16.92 a kilo for Cacao Barry White Chocolate (callet form) and $15.04 a kilo for Cacao Barry 64% Bittersweet chocolate (callet form).  And is there anything sweeter than having a huge crate of chocolate delivered to your house?

Melt white chocolate and peanut butter together in a large bowl, set over a pot of simmering water.  Do not even think about using health-food store peanut butter.  Kraft or Skippy are best!  When they are smooth stir in salted roasted peanuts.  Pour this mixture onto a foil and parchment lined jelly roll pan.

Then comes the art.  I made a little video showing how to do the next few steps.  Watch!

Chill and slice!

To print recipe, click here.