Tag Archives: Holiday Baking

Blondies

lined-up-in-trayAs the aroma of butter and sugar filled the kitchen, my husband magically appeared to find out what was going on. When I revealed that I was baking blondies he looked puzzled. He had no idea what a blondie was. I explained that a blondie is essentially a brownie without the chocolate. His response was “what’s the point of that?”

His response was understandable. There are times when only a deep dark fudgy brownie will satisfy you. But have you considered the fact that without the distraction of chocolate, butter and brown sugar get to be the star? Once the blondies hit the oven, the brown sugar takes on an undertone of butterscotch, with rich caramel notes. The flavours of a blondie are subtle and complex.cut-up-blondiesThe golden top, slightly crispy, gives way to a chewy interior. Studded with white chocolate, macadamia nuts, toffee bits and coconut, these blondies are chock-full of goodness.what-youll-needThese blondies are adapted from Daphna Rabinovitch’s blondie recipe in her comprehensive new cookbook, “The Baker in Me.” It is from Daphna that I first learned about the freakishly delicious combination of white chocolate and macadamia nuts. She was the pastry chef at the take-out food shop I worked in many years ago. I would have happily accepted her white chocolate macadamia nut cookies or skor bar cookies in lieu of a paycheque.spreading-out-batter-in-pancutting-blondies

Click here to print recipe for Blondies.

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On the fourth night of Chanukah: Perfect Chocolate Chunk Cookies

On the fourth night of Chanukah, I baked Perfect Chocolate Chunk Cookies for my true love. Crispy at the edges, chewy in the center, filled with abundant pockets of gooey chocolate and topped with a light sprinkling of coarse sea salt to balance the sweetness. stacked on white cake stand 2I can’t take credit for creating these fabulous cookies. That place of honour goes to Ashley of the wonderful blog “Not Without Salt.” I blogged about these cookies before, when I first made them in 2011. I don’t usually blog about the same recipe twice, but I wanted to share them again, in case you missed them the first time around. (Plus, my original photos did them no justice!) They’re that good! If you’re not a baker, but still want to try them, Ashley sells them in a cookie mix.

Since that time I have tried many other chocolate chunk cookies, but I have yet to find another recipe that is as outstanding as this one. What makes this recipe unique is the use of 3 kinds of sugar. White sugar makes the cookies crisp, brown sugar contributes to their chewy center, and  coarse Turbinado sugar gives them a delicate crunch. Are you still sitting there reading? Let’s bake!what you'll needI have tried making these cookies with regular supermarket chocolate chips, and they are quite good, but if you are making them for someone you really want to impress, thank, or just say, “I love you”, make them with Valrhona Guanaja Feves. (those big chocolate oval discs in the photo above). They are pricey and you need to buy them online, but they are worth it. Slightly bitter, with hints of fruit, coffee and molasses, this is a complex, big flavoured chocolate. mixing doughThe larger chocolate chunks create majestic pockets of gooey chocolate, so if you’re into that sort of pleasure, go for the good chocolate! Personally, I don’t care for warm from the oven cookies. I much prefer them frozen. I have trained my family and friends to love them that way as well, so when they come to visit, everyone heads straight for the freezer to see what’s freshly baked (and frozen!). cooling on parchment paper 2 625 sq

Click here to print recipe for The Perfect Chocolate Chunk Cookie.

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On the second night of Chanukah: Oat Pistachio Cookies

stacked cookies 625 sqOn the second night of Chanukah I made my true love Oat Pistachio cookies. I have been wanting to make them ever since I saw these cookies on Natasha’s beautiful blog, Butter Baking. Based on the traditional English cookie, The Hobnob, they are an oat based digestive cookie, coated in chocolate.

Buttery, crumbly and a bit chewy in the center, they are the perfect cookie to have with tea at bedtime. Some people even like to dunk them in their tea. I have never understood the appeal of this. Why would you take a perfectly good crunchy cookie and make it soggy?cookies and milkI decided to amp up the crispy factor by adding some finely chopped pistachios to the dough. Their delicate nutty flavour is a great partner for oats and whole wheat flour. mise en placeThese cookies call for Golden Syrup, which helps with keeping the texture a bit chewy. Golden Syrup is quite common in the U.K. It is not exactly the same as corn syrup, but if you can’t find it, corn syrup is ok as a substitute. I actually found it at Walmart!scooping tablespoons of doughflatten doughready for blanket of chocolateA coating of bittersweet chocolate takes these buttery, crumbly cookies to the next level.spooning on chocolate

Click here to print recipe for Oat and Pistachio Cookies.

spreading chocolate

 

Holiday Baking Day 4: Chocolate Covered Pretzel Brittle

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They do exist. Those people who claim, “I’m not really a dessert eater. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth.” I just don’t happen to be a member of their tribe. I do have a sweet tooth! However, I also happen to have a salty tooth. Wait; is there such a thing? I do know that I love the combination of salt and sweet. I think I first discovered this as a young child, when my mom would put out snacks when we were having company.

There would be bowls of jube jubes, chocolate covered almonds, salted cashews and potato chips. I would eat a few jube jubes and then follow them with a few salted cashews. Of course that was the gateway to the huge glass cookie jar filled with red licorice and then some salty potato chips to chase the sugar with. When I got older, I discovered Milk Duds at the movie theatre. A few handfuls of popcorn, followed by the sweet chocolate caramel flavour of Milk Duds is an incredible flavour combo. Then my daughter introduced me to McDonald’s French fries dipped into a chocolate milkshake. Hey, don’t judge until you’ve tried it!

All this to say that when I serve those from the “Non Sweet Tooth” Tribe, one of my salty-sweet treats, I get an entirely different reaction. There is something about the addition of salt that makes sweet taste so much better. Suddenly, they’ve grown a sweet tooth.

But, have you ever wondered why salt and sweet taste so good together? Justine Sterling, contributor to the food blog delish.com, explained it so eloquently,

“We all know that taste buds allow us to taste (it’s in the name, after all). But what you may not know is that each taste bud contains 50 to 100 taste cells, which are actually what do the tasting. Each of these cells responds to a different flavor: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, or umami. We perceive taste (let’s use sweet as an example) when sugar and a sweet receptor protein interact, causing the sweet cell to become excited and send a signal to the brain, which then registers the flavor as sweet. This is a process that scientists have known for a long time.

 But recently the process has been further complicated by what researchers have found out about certain sweetness receptors. A study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that certain sugar receptors that were thought only to exist in the stomach, were spotted on sweet taste cells on the tongue. Researchers, led by Dr. Robert Margolskee, of the Monell Chemical Sense Center, found the SGLT1 receptor — which transports sugars into cells only when sodium is present — on sweet taste cells on the tongues of mice. This could explain why sweetness is accentuated by salt — the receptors are activated when salt accompanies sugar.”

 O.K. science lesson is over. On the fourth day of holiday baking I bring to you a yummy salty and sweet treat guaranteed to convert those from the “No sweet tooth” tribe over to the dark, oops,I mean, sweet side!

Chocolate Covered Pretzel Toffee, comes from Lucy Baker, contributor to www.seriouseats.com. Essentially you make a sort of peanut brittle, but with crushed pretzels instead of peanuts. Then the whole slab is covered in dark chocolate and finished off with a sprinkling of coarse sea salt.

I have altered her recipe slightly. She originally called for topping the hot toffee base with chocolate chips, letting them melt and then spreading them out. I find that chocolate chips don’t melt quite as nicely as bar chocolate. Chocolate chips are actually formulated to hold their shape and are a bit too sweet for this, so I would recommend buying bittersweet chocolate (at least 64%) and chopping it up quite fine.  I used Cocoa Barry  64%. I buy it in bulk (20 kilograms at a time, and I get a great price of $15.79 per kilo. (The chocolate will keep for 2 years in a cool dry place.)

This is quite quick and easy to put together, provided you have the right equipment. Invest in a candy thermometer if you plan to do any sugar or caramel work. This is a great one as it has a foot at the bottom of the thermometer which prevents the bulb from touching the bottom of the pot, and giving you a false reading.

Butter, sugar, corn syrup, salt and water are cooked to 300° F.

Baking soda, vanilla extract and crushed pretzels are mixed in.

Spread out on parchment lined baking sheet and top with good quality finely chopped chocolate (NOT CHOCOLATE CHIPS!). I used Cocoa Barry  64%. I buy it in bulk (20 kilograms at a time, and I get a great price of $15.79 per kilo. (The chocolate will keep for 2 years in a cool dry place.)  Wait 3 minutes, spread chocolate and top with a light sprinkling of sea salt. Chill and break into pieces.

Click here to print recipe for Chocolate Covered Pretzel Toffee.

Holiday Baking Day 3: Oatmeal Lace Sandwich Cookies

On Day 3 of my holiday baking I present to you “Oatmeal Lace Cookies. My day 2 cookies, Chocolate Chunk Caramel, would qualify for the heavyweight division. Loaded with shards of dark chocolate and melting pools of caramel, these are a hefty cookie, not for the faint of heart. Oatmeal Lace Cookies, on the other hand, fall into the lightweight division. Gossamer thin, crispy,  delicate, and dare I say, a little fragile, these are a beautiful cookie. They may look a little anorexic next to the chocolate chunk caramel, but rest assured, they are no lightweight in the taste department.

These cookies are the creation of Nick Malgieri. They come from his book, “Cookies Unlimited” (Harper Collins 2000). I have been known to have my celebrity chef crushes. A few years ago it was Jamie Oliver, lately I have been lusting after Chuck Hughes. But these are mere dalliances, compared to my feelings for Nick!

Oh dear, just read that last paragraph back to myself, and even to my ears it sounds a little creepy and stalkerish. Nick, if you’re reading this, please don’t be concerned. My admiration for you is purely professional. I have been a longtime student and admirer of Nick. His book, “How to Bake” was really my baking bible. His recipes are clear and methodical, leading to outstanding results every time. In 2008 he published The Modern Baker.  A Challenge to bake the entire book was set up by a blogging friend of mine. Modern Baker is filled with creative contemporary recipes that offer great time-saving techniques. However, I think that, of all of Nick’s books, Cookies Unlimited is my favourite.

The cookie batter is simple to put together. No mixmaster required. One bowl and a wooden spoon and you’re ready to go. Start with large flake or quick cooking (not instant) oats. They will need to be ground up a bit in the food processor or blender. They should be finely chopped but not ground to a powder. They should look like the second photo here.

Add some melted butter, sugar, eggs, orange juice and

Forming the cookies is not difficult, but it does take a little time. Here is a video showing you the best technique and tools for the job.

Leave lots of room between cookies on the baking sheet, as they will spread.

This year I sandwiched 2 cookies together with chocolate ganache to make a sandwich cookie. Plain melted chocolate will also be a perfect filling. They freeze beautifully, carefully layered between sheets of waxed paper, in an airtight container.

Click here to print the recipe for Oatmeal Lace Cookies.