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Swedish Cardamom Bread

18 Dec

During the summer after my first year at university, I spent four weeks working on a project run out of the University of Oulu, in Finland. I braved the northern wilds with four other McGill students, and we quickly became fast friends. Together we were exposed to the horrors of Finnish coffee (unspeakable), the mediocrity of Finnish beer (tolerable), and the surprisingly tasty, and ubiquitous Finnish breakfast pastry, a cardamom spiced sweet bread called pulla. Despite the inadequacy of the local beverages,  the experience was incredible and since then the scent of cardamom has been enough of an olfactory trigger to bring me back to that time.

Unsurprisingly, I was elated when I found this sweet bread recipe. Like the Finnish pulla, it’s a lightly sweetened breakfast offering, spiced with a touch of cardamom. This ‘coffee bread’ is basically a Scandinavian take on cinnamon rolls. You make a yeasted sweet bread dough, allow it to rise for an hour, roll it out, add your fillings and roll it back up. Then you do some moderately fancy scissor-work, which I found to be the most trying part of the ordeal – a closely guarded secret from my misspent youth is that I was forced to repeat Kindergarten because of scissor issues, and since then I have been particularly sensitive to my failings in this department.

Anyone who has made cinnamon rolls from scratch will attest to the fact that it’s not a simple process, what with the first rise and roll out and second rise, a baking saga that leaves your kitchen covered in a dusting of sugar, flour, cinnamon and melted butter. However, the results are always well worth the messy effort. Unless, of course, you screw up and burn the cinnamon rolls, which is understandably tragic.

Happily, the fillings for this cardamom bread are also quite versatile – I used a combination of brown sugar, cinnamon, slivered almonds and almond paste, but you could likely use jam or cream cheese in a pinch – pretty much anything you’d want to put in a breakfast pastry! While not as sweet as cinnamon rolls, the ‘christmas bread’ doesn’t suffer for it, and on the whole is lighter and less guilt inducing than most other glazed breakfast pastries. The lightly sweetened dough allows the flavor of the cardamom to take centre stage, while complementing the richest and most flavorful  elements of the filling – particularly the almond paste and toasted almonds. The recipe itself is filched entirely from Simply Recipes, but I’ve added a few tips that will make working with the dough a bit easier, and I’ve discovered that you can flash freeze the whole shebang after the second rise, which makes it a cinch to prepare in advance. Given that this recipe yields two ‘wreaths’ of cardamon bread, I would strongly recommend making one and freezing the second one.   So – on to the recipe!

Ingredients for Dough
  •  2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast, dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water
  •  1 cup whole milk
  •  1/2 cup white sugar
  •  1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg
  •  1/2 tsp salt
  •  1 & 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 4 cups AP flour, + additional for flouring surface

To make the Dough

1. Heat the milk over medium-high heat until it steams, then remove from heat and stir in butter and sugar until the mixture is smooth.

2. In a large bowl, add the dissolved yeast/water mixture to the milk mixture. Stir in the egg, mixing until smooth.

3. Add the salt and cardamom.

4. Add three cups of the flour until the mixture has pulled together, adding up to one more cup as needed. The finished dough should be soft, but not overly sticky. I wound up using all four cups of dough, plus additional dough when flouring the counter. Knead the dough for 7 – 10 minutes, or until it has come together.

5. Place dough in an oiled, covered bowl and allow to rise for an hour or until it has doubled in size. While the dough is rising, assemble your fillings!

 

Filling Ingredients

  • Two tbsp melted butter
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar, 1 tbsp white sugar + 2 tsp cinnamon, mixed together
  • 1/4 cup almond paste, chopped into small chunks
  • Half cup slivered almonds, toasted

After the dough has risen, I would recommend putting it in the freezer for ten minutes or so to make it easier to  handle and roll out!

To Make the Filling & Finish the Wreath

1. If you are baking the wreaths right away, preheat the oven to 350 F.

Lightly flour a broad surface (I used my kitchen table, for extra space). Dust a large rolling pin with flour. Take half of the dough and rolling into an 8″ x 16″ rectangle, trying to maintain a relatively even thickness across the entire dough.

2. Brush the rectangle with butter, leaving a 1/2 inch gap around the edges of the dough, to make it easier to work with.

3. Sprinkle buttered area evenly with sugar/cinnamon mixture.

4. Sprinkle on any additional toppings, including the almond paste and slivered almonds.

5. Carefully roll up the dough tightly, and join the ends together so that it forms a circle, making sure to seal the seams by pinching them together. If you find the two ends of the ‘log’ are pretty much just dough, lacking any filling, you can trim them (which I did).

6. After you have joined the ends of the dough together to form a circular log, take a pair of kitchen scissors and cut the wreath into even sections, cutting about 3/4 of the way through the dough,working from the outside of the circle to the inside. Use scissors to partition the entire circular log into such sections, pushing alternating sections to the right or the left as you go, to create the desired wreath shape. See below for desired outcome, or check the Simply Recipes post for more detailed guidance in the form of step-by-step photos.

7.  After shaping the dough into a wreath, cover lightly with plastic wrap and allow to rise for another forty minutes.

8. For each wreath, whisk together one egg yolk with one tbsp of cream and brush over the surface of the dough with a pastry brush. At this point, you can flash freeze the dough if you so desire (place it on a parchment-paper lined baking sheet in the freezer until frozen, and then store in a tupper ware or large ziploc bag until you are ready to bake it). If you flash freeze it, you may need to allow more time in the oven on baking day, but you won’t have to let the bread rise again, as it underwent both rises before being frozen.

9. If you want to bake it right away, do so at 350 for 20-25 minutes, or until the top of the wreath is golden brown. Careful not to over-bake, as I found that the bottoms of the wreaths began to brown rather aggressively towards the end – and mine had come out of the freezer.

10. Finally, a glaze nicely complements this bread once it has been removed from the oven and cooled. I whisked together 2 cups of powdered sugar, 1 & 1/2 tbsp milk, and 1/2 tsp vanilla to create a glaze of a consistency that was pourable, but not so liquid that it would slide right off the baked bread.

Battle Royale: Salted Caramel Sauce

22 Sep

I haven’t made any salted caramel sauce for at least two or three weeks now. Typing that makes my soul twinge with a frisson of  sorrow akin to the “standing chill” in Larkin’s Aubade.

Actually, the Larkin reference is particularly appropriate here given that the standing chill felt by his speaker symbolizes man’s response to acknowleding his own mortality. Much like Larkin’s dolorous speaker, I too was forced to acknowledge my own mortality, in that I could not carry on producing such excessive amounts of salted caramel without succumbing to an early death.  A death that likely would have resulted from some dreadful combination of obesity and malnutrition. Thoughts like that can drive one to drink…or eat spoonfuls of salted caramel directly out of the container.

What is more important than my current suite of unhealthy addictions is their catholic nature. I have not one, but two favourite salted caramel recipes, drawn from two equally esteemed sources. The first, which I tend to think of as more of a golden salted caramel filling, comes from Form V Artisan‘s acclaimed brownie recipe. One of its most compelling characteristics is its amenability to admixture with other fattening treats; you can easily melt it together with equal amounts of peanut butter to create human kryptonite: peanut butter salted caramel sauce.

a worthy opponent I do not recommend this tack if you value your life. Or your current clothing size.

The second contender is a darker, more viscous salted butter caramel of European descent, brought to you by the Smitten Kitchen after her love affair with a Parisian varietal. Because it doesn’t contain corn syrup, I suppose that you could argue it is less heavily processed than its opponent. However, given the basic unholy equation of [caramel = ( heat x sugar )+ (butter + cream + salt)],it’s tough to argue that a lack of corn syrup lends the Smitten Kitchen contender any purportedly ‘health-related’ clout in this contest.

However, dear readers, you will have to decide that for yourselves. Without further ado, prepare to confront your own mortality:

Golden Salted Caramel Sauce

boiling the sugar

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp corn syrup
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt or fleur de sel

Instructions

1. Pour sugar evenly into a small saucepan and add the corn syrup and water. Bring the mixture to boil over medium-high heat.

the perfect hue

2. After the mixture begins to boil,  reduce heat to medium-low and cook until the sauce turns a deep amber in colour. Swirl the pan so that the caramel cooks evenly, but resist the temptation to stir! [Consult my baking tips and David Lebovitz’s sage advice for assistance in figuring out when you have achieved the perfect amber hue].

3. Once the mixture has achieved the desired colour, remove the saucepan from the burner and immediately stir in the cream until it has achieved a smooth consistency.  Pour caramel into a heat-proof bowl and stir in vanilla extract and sea salt.

Dark Salted Butter Caramel Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 tbsp salted butter (the more fanciful & expensive the better)
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp room temperature heavy cream.
Instructions

1. Melt the sugar over medium to medium-high heat in a 2-3 quart sauce pan. This time you may stir the sugar so that it melts evenly. How generous of me.

2. One your sugar reaches that dark copper/amber/golden hue,add the butter in one fell swoop, stirring it into the melted sugar.

3. Turn off the stove-top and add the heavy cream. During the first ten seconds or so the addition of the cream will cause the caramel to foam up like an irate and cantankerous rabid dog, but do not fret! Hold your ground and whisk until  the mixture is smooth.

4. Do not sample the caramel until it is cool enough that it won’t burn your mouth. I am well aware that this is a Herculean feat, but strive to conquer your baser instincts.

Both caramel sauces can purportedly be stored in the fridge for up to two weeks.

I wouldn’t know.

For the sake of your health, please share this with someone.

Cocoa Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Buttercream

19 Sep


I’m just the slightest bit interested in caramel right now. I’m sure this minor obsession of mine will pass quickly. Like my infatuation with bacon. And oatmeal. And yogurt-covered pretzels. The ephemerality of those addictions is precisely why I weigh approximately two metric tons right now. So I’m sure this caramel fetish will be similarly short-lived.

Basically, I’m screwed.

done for

That said, you should make these cupcakes. ASAP. I brought them to a barbecue, and they were gone in under three minutes. Despite my lack of even the slightest hint of humility when it comes to my baking, I’m not exaggerating for effect. These were a little like heroin. Or bacon. Or oatmeal. Or yogurt-covered pretzels. Just in cupcake form. Which reminds me – I need to create a cupcake that combines bacon and oatmeal and yogurt-covered pretzels. The future is alive with promise.

I used a pastiche of two different recipes in order to create these monsters. The cupcakes are yet another spectacular Form V Artisan creation, while the frosting comes from a source I stumbled upon after searching for the perfect salted caramel accompaniement to the ‘black tie’ cupcakes. The frosting was delicious, and the cupcakes were moist and fluffy – they combined the most compelling characteristics of a boxed-mix with none of the residual baker’s guilt of ‘cheating’. Finally, they gave me an excuse to break out a long-coveted new purchase:

kitchen detritus

 
Ingredients – For the cupcakes
 
  • 1 & 1/2 cups AP flour
  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch 
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp corn syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water

 

dry ingredients

Instructions – For the cupcakes

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line 18* muffin cups with paper liners.

2. Sift dry ingredients (flour, cocoa powder, corn starch, baking powder, baking soda & salt) into a large bowl. Whisk in sugar after sifting other ingredients.

wet ingredients, waving at you

3. Beat in wet ingredients (eggs, vegetable oil, corn syrup and vanilla extract) with an electric beater on medium low speed, ~ 30 seconds. Batter will be ‘crumbly’ in appearance.

4. Pour in boiling water and beat on medium-high for around 1 minute, until the batter achieves a smooth consistency.

5. Fill the muffin cups about 1/2 full with batter, and bake for around 15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

* I was overzealous when filling some of my muffin cups, and so I only got 17 cupcakes out of this recipe. However, if you only fill the tins halfway full the finished cupcakes are much easier to frost – I recommend the original & vastly superior instructions…

Ingredients – For the frosting (makes enough for 18 cupcakes)

  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp white sugar
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 1/4 + 2 tbsp cup heavy cream
  • 1 & 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 sticks + 2 tbsp salted butter, softened
  • 3 cups powdered sugar

 

Instructions – For the frosting

buttercream draped in caramel

1. Bring sugar and water to boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, swirling the pan every so often to ensure even distribution,  but DO NOT stir! Continue to cook for 6-7 minutes until sugar begins to caramelize and turns a dark copper colour.

2. Remove from heat and stir in cream and vanilla, until mixture is smooth. Set aside for 20 minutes or so, until mixture has cooled.  [This recipe makes around 1/2 cup of salted caramel sauce, and I believe you could easily sub in that amount of your favourite salted or unsalted caramel – just make sure to adjust the salt content in the butter accordingly!]

sacrificial teddy graham

3. Beat the softened butter with an electric mixer  until light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar and continue to mix on low speed, until mixture is completely incorporated.

4. Add caramel, and beat on low until incorporated, when frosting achieves a uniform consistency. If you are frosting the cupcakes immediately I would suggest chilling it in the fridge for 10-15 minutes, as it will make it easier to manipulate when frosting.

5. Test frosting, even at the expense of your most favoured supply of snacks (see above).
not just because it's the neighbourly thing to do - you'll get fat if you don't.

make sure to share them

Apple, Blackberry & Almond Cake

7 Sep

A few days ago my boyfriend and I had another set of friends over to the apartment for dinner. This recent spate of hospitality stems from a combination of the novelty of cohabitation, getting back into town after a summer away, and having great friends who are willing to do things like watch my ridiculous cat for two months while I was away.

a slice

Given my current obsession with (read: addiction to) caramel, I had salted caramel ice cream and some dark salted caramel sauce on hand. Frankly, I was hoping to be rid of both of them given that my obsession with salted caramel is paired with an equally enormous lack of willpower around what I am beginning to believe should be a controlled substance….

Accordingly, I wanted to use up the ice cream and sauce without creating a dessert so overwhelmingly saccharine that we all developed an aversion to sugar, so I looked over some of my more trustworthy websites and found this apple blackberry cake recipe on Lottie & Doof. He had adapted it from a Martha Stewart recipe (also a trusted source). The idea of a “lighter” fruit desert appealed to me given the decadent nature of its proposed toppings. I had some blackberries on hand in the freezer, and we’re just coming into peak apple season here in Michigan, so it seemed as if the stars had aligned.

healthy. full of fiber and vitamins. unlikely virtuous enough to make up for the caramel, though.

I couldn’t resist tweaking it a bit, however. Memories of the orange cornmeal cake were still fresh in my mind, so I added some almond extract and orange zest to the batter and topped the whole concoction with toasted almond slivers. I can’t say I regret any of the decisions I’ve made – aside from the one to eat three pieces in one sitting. With the ice cream. And the salted caramel sauce. And several vats of beer. And the dinner itself, which we will discuss another time. I DIGRESS.

Ingredients

For Cake 

  • 2 large gala apples, peeled and chopped into chunks
  • 1 cup blackberries, fresh or frozen
  • 1 & 1/2 cups AP Flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Zest from 1/2 large orange
  • 6 tbsp melted butter
  • 3/4 cup  packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp pure almond extract
For Topping
  • 1/4 cup toasted almond slivers
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • Two tbsp butter, cut into small pieces
Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 375F and spray a 9″ springform with non-stick baking spray.
2. Whisk together dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt + orange zest) in a small bowl.
3. Whisk together wet ingredients (melted butter, sugar, almond extract, milk and eggs) in a medium-large bowl.
4. Whisk flour mixture into wet ingredients, and spread batter evenly in prepared springform pan.
5. Arrange apple chunks and blackberries atop batter, pressing them gently into the mixture when necessary.
6. Top with toasted almond slivers, and press these gently into the batter as well when possible. Mix the 2 tbsp brown sugar and cinnamon together, and sprinkle over the top of the batter before dotting the entire ensemble with the remaining 2 tbsps butter.
7. Bake for about 55 minutes, until the top of the cake is golden, the apples are tender, and a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Mmmm....

8. Drizzle with this:

dark salted caramel sauce

Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream

1 Sep

      Occasionally, I will become obsessed with a recipe, able to think of nothing else until I finally attempt it. This has resulted in the spontaneous purchase of Oreos at a gas station, the relentless exploitation of the Farmers’ Market for roma tomatoes last fall, the (perhaps unwise) incorporation of a phenomenal set of brownies into my repertoire, and a brief, surprisingly underwhelming flirtation with the use of faux-cookie dough in a variety of culinary incarnations. However, rarely have I been so smitten with a concept as when I stumbled upon this, David Lebovitz’s famed salted butter caramel ice cream. With those five words, Lebovitz had me mesmerized.

I spent the two weeks between the end of my summer travels and the return home (to my ice cream maker, and, you know, loved ones and such) fantasizing about how soon I could make this recipe and whether it would work.

And oh, did it work!

I had only attempted caramel a few times before, but the addition of fleur de sel and the idea that your caramel could immediately be employed as a custard base in homemade ice cream had me hooked. As a caveat, this did not go entirely as planned. I can count the number of times I have made ice cream on one hand, and I was still unclear about the desired thickness of the  custard base. I aimed for an exceedingly thick custard when making this (INcorrect, it turns out), and the ice cream did not freeze properly, which has left me with something the consistency of a thick, frozen custard. I’d be more upset if it wasn’t so delicious, but unfortunately (ha!) it just means I’ll have to make another batch in the near future to remedy the error of my ways. The next day, when I made some coffee ice cream for a friend, I only allowed the custard base to thicken slightly (basically allowing for ten minutes on medium/medium-high heat after adding the warmed egg yolks back into the custard mixture, as recommended by Elise at Simply Recipes here), I was worried that the resulting concoction was too viscous, but it froze beautifully, and achieved perfect ice cream consistency that actually requires some thawing after removal from the freezer. Lesson learned – don’t overcook the custard! Without further ado:

Ingredients

  • 2 cups whole milk (one will be used in the custard base, the other will be mixed in later, so separate them)
  • 1 & 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 4 tbsp salted butter (Lebovitz advises that the best butter produces the best flavour in the ice cream – as soon as I can get my hands on some Lurpak I plan to test this theory)
  • 1/2 tsp fleur de sel
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 5 egg yolks, very lightly beaten
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp espresso powder

the usual suspects: egg yolks, cream & milk

Instructions *

1. Fill a large bowl partway with ice and around one cup of water. Place a medium bowl atop this ‘chilling bath’ and pour in one cup of the milk. Set a fine mesh strainer atop the stacked cooling bowls. I like to keep this whole apparatus in the fridge, as it further cools the milk and allows me  to maintain valuable open counter space.

2. Spread the cup and a half of sugar evenly in a heavy bottomed sauce pan and heat over medium/medium-high heat (use your discretion) until the edges begin to melt, and then stir it with a heat proof spatula until the sugar dissolves evenly. Equipment made by Oxo or Le Creuset will likely be heat proof, but otherwise I would verify so as to not unwittingly incorporate melted rubber into your caramel. My caramel contained a large number of  lumps of hardened sugar for the first three steps of the recipe, and while I was initially perturbed, these clumps dissolved fully after the addition of the dairy products while making the custard. As Douglas Adams would advise, DON’T PANIC if this happens to you.

2. Once the sugars have fully dissolved and achieved the colour of dark copper, remove from heat and stir in the butter and salt until melted, then whisk in the cream. While I stirred furiously at this point, my caramel still seized and hardened (as Lebovitz indicated it might). This led to an abominable mess on my stovetop, but it turned out fine in the end, and as promised  the caramel melted into its former viscous state once it was returned to the burner and stirred over medium heat.

Note the mess that I have made of my saucepan. Strive to avoid this.

3. Add 1 cup of the whole milk to the mixture and stir to incorporate.

4. Slowly pour a small amount of the warm caramel over the egg yolks, whisking constantly so that they do not scramble. Once you have ensured that the eggs are not actually cooking, but have simply been tempered by the addition of the warm sauce, pour this mixture back into the rest of the warmed caramel in the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a spatula or wooden spoon.

Your custard base should be somewhat less gloppy than this. As always, let my failings be a lesson to you!

5. Once the custard base has thickened to the point where it coats the back of a wooden spoon (see above for an example of a custard base that was allowed to thicken too much), pour the mixture through the strainer into the chilled milk. Stir as the mixture cools.

caramel custard, the next morning

6. After the mixture has cooled stir in the vanilla, then allow to chill for eight hours or overnight in the fridge.

7. If that’s what you’re into, a teaspoon of instant espresso powder can be stirred into the custard immediately before it is poured into the ice cream maker. I have the ever-popular small Cuisinart that so many seem to favour, and I churned mine for around 25 minutes. While the consistency was, as previously indicated, that of a thick custard rather than traditional ice cream, I attribute this to over-cooking the custard rather than a flaw in the recipe itself. If this turns out to be a specious assertion I will update after making the next batch!

last minute addition

* I realized after the fact that I had included an overwhelming amount of descriptive verbiage into the first few steps. Essential instructions are therefore bolded, so my nattering commentary can be ignored if need be.

Enjoy!

Orange Almond Cornmeal Cake

29 Aug

The base recipe for this cake comes from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food: Fresh Flavor Fast, the sequel to one of my favorite cookbooks. The first cookbook, Great Food Fast, was referred to as the ‘magic cookbook’ by my friends in undergrad,  which should give you some idea of its powers. My boyfriend bought me the ‘sister’ cookbook for my birthday last year, and because there is some balance to the universe requested a cake from it for our belated celebration of his birthday this year.

While I love the original version of this cake, it lacked a little bit of oomph, so I tweaked it by adding a hint of almond to the batter and swapping out some of the coarse sugar topping for toasted almond slivers. Whether you make the original version or my very slightly adapted one, it’s sure to be a hit: the orange zest, olive oil and white wine are a combination of ingredients that initially make you tilt your head to the side with suspicion, but they work in concert to create a lightly sweetened, intensely flavourful and moist cake. I like to serve this with Garret McCord’s cinnamon ice cream from Simply Recipes – which will likely be featured in an upcoming post (after I make it again – the latest batch is rapidly disappearing, for some reason). While the combination of orange, almond and cinnamon may seem somewhat “Christmas-ey”, the cake is light enough that it makes for a terrific end of summer dessert as well.

Cake

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 tsp pure almond extract
  • 1 & 1/4 cups AP flour
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Zest from one orange*

batter in prepared cake pan

Topping
  • 3 tbsp – 1/3 cup coarse sanding sugar
  • 1/4-1/2 cup toasted almond slivers

denuded orange...

*Use a microplane for this. If you don’t have one, buy one. Just do it. It will change your life. For years I slaved away over my cheese grater, scraping my knuckles every time, and as a result almost always omitted zest from recipes. This was a dark period in my life.

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Using a pastry or basting brush, brush the insides of a 9″ round cake pan with olive oil. Trace out a circle of parchment paper using the bottom of the pan, cut to fit, and insert into the inside of the cake pan. This should also be brushed with olive oil – this is a cake that desperately wants to stick to the pan;

2. Toast the almond slivers by spreading them evenly on a metal platter in the toaster oven or on a baking sheet at around 300F. Once their delicious scent begins to waft through the air it may be too late (the thin slicing means that almond slivers have a tendency to quickly transition from toasted to burnt), so watch them like a hawk once they start to brown;

3. Using a whisk, mix together the wet ingredients (eggs, sugar, olive oil, wine & almond extract) in a medium-large bowl;

4. Mix together the dry ingredients (flour, cornmeal, salt, baking powder and orange zest), taking care to make sure that the orange zest does not clump together too much. Whisk dry ingredients gently into wet ingredients;

5. Pour batter into prepared cake pan and top with almond slivers and sugar (the amounts of the topping ingredients are variable because they can be easily adjusted to taste – I found that 3 tbsp of coarse sugar and 1/4 cup of toasted almond slivers provided a good balance of sweet and savory crunch, but you can easily go big or go home and max out both – let me know how it works out if you do!).

6. Bake for 35-40 minutes on central rack of oven, until “cake begins to pull away from side of pan” or a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the cake pan on a wire rack for about 20 minutes, then gently run a (plastic, if you treat your bakeware kindly) knife around the edges of the cake to loosen it. Invert the cake onto a serving platter, and then ‘re-invert’ onto wire rack until it cools completely.

Enjoy!

Grown-Up Oatmeal Cookies

2 Sep

not just for kids anymore...

Immediately upon my return home, two pressing opportunities for baking presented themselves: (1) I have a month’s worth of treats to provide as a thank-you for a friend who has given me rides to and from the airport, and helped me retrieve my yowling and unhappy cat from the apartment she lived at over the summer, and (2) my boyfriends’ family is visiting town.

While my friend is pretty easy to please when it comes to baked goods, I have the feeling that my boyfriends’ parents have tastes that are a little bit more particular. Accordingly, I wanted to make something that managed to be both comforting and sophisticated, as well as something that could be stored in a hotel room for a few days and eaten on the go while running errands to Ikea or grocery shopping. I’ve been a little bit obsessed with oatmeal of late, so something oat-based seemed called for. While stumbling around online I came across both these and these, and I made my decision.

portable & delicious

I used the Smitten Kitchen recipe as a base, but I wasn’t thrilled about all of the ingredients. For one thing, I use semi-sweet chocolate chips in most of my cookies, so I felt like mixing it up a bit. The spices also seemed to lack the potency I was dreaming of – I wanted a melding of unexpected flavours – something akin to a poetic conceit, but in terms of recipe ingredients rather than metaphorical components. What I wanted was a cookie as delicious as those that I remember from my childhood, with a slightly more adult twist in terms of flavouring. My solution?

"who knows what spices"

he who controls the spice....

pecans & toasted almond slivers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While I was eager to incorporate the grated orange zest that gave the Smitten Kitchen variety its unexpected flavour, I amped up and added a number of different spices, tossed in a teaspoon of maple extract in addition to the vanilla extract, switched semi-sweet chips for coarsely chopped white chocolate, compensated for less chocolate by incorporating dried cranberries and finally adding toasted almond slivers as an afterthought.

it was really hard not to completely demolish the white chocolate prior to baking

"unexpected" ingredients

I must admit, I was a little bit uncertain about how well this would work out. The hubris of combining vanilla + maple + orange + cardamom + white chocolate seemed potentially disastrous. Then I got to this stage:

It was really, really difficult to not eat all of this in one fell swoop.

cookie batter cocaine

After sampling the batter quite liberally, I realized (with my customary blend of modesty and humility), that I am a genius. Because I didn’t go overboard on the most potent ingredients (only one tsp of maple extract and 1/4 tsp of cardamom), they produced a medley that managed to preserve all of the nuances of the individual flavours (citrus, syrup & spice in particular) without being overwhelming. Quite frankly I wish that I could bottle the scent of these cookies baking and sell it in candle form, because I think I would make a killing.

the oatmeal cookie, all grown up

the finished product

And without further ado, I present the recipe for these testimonies to my sheer, unfettered genius:

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp maple extract
  • 2 tsp grated orange zest
  • Two large eggs
  • 1 & 3/4 cups all purpose flour + 2 tbsp
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 1 & 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 6 oz white chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup toasted almond slivers (you can toss them in a toaster oven or real oven)
  • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans

First, preheat the oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Next, beat the butter for a few minutes until it is light and fluffy, then incorporate both sugars, salt, and both the maple and the vanilla extract. Once the wet ingredients are incorporated, beat in both eggs. In a separate bowl, mix together all of of the dry ingredients – flour, baking soda & spices. Slowly beat the mixed dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, and then begin to stir in all of the “extras” – the oats, chocolate, nuts and dried fruit – with a wooden spoon. Use about a tablespoon of dough per cookie and arrange on an ungreased baking sheet. I baked them for 10-11 minutes a batch, until the cookies had turned a light golden colour. The recipe produced about 46 cookies, and that was with me eating a lot of the batter during the baking process.

a pretty nifty present

Thankfully I had the foresight to purchase a tin to put them in.

Anyhow, the upshot of this all is that I have a new favourite cookie recipe, and you should go try it out, post-haste. You’ll be immediately converted, I swear!

i couldn't resist one more high-definition shot

You should go make a batch. Right now.