Saturday, 21 February 2015

Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread

 A perfect Saturday begins with coffee.  This is the essential first step. Without the coffee, it can be a wonderful Saturday, but not a perfect Saturday.  A ski in the woods on fresh snow, with light flurries floating down.  A milky coffee or latte for recovery.  A perfect Saturday also involves baking. Baking with cinnamon and sugar and yeasty dough...

Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread
slightly adapted from Joy the Baker

Makes: one 9x5 inch loaf

For the Dough:
3 cups all-purpose flour, separated
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 envelope active dry yeast**
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 ounces unsalted butter
1/3 cup whole milk
1/4 cup water
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the Filling:
1/3 cup granulated
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

Start with the dough:
In a large mixing bowl whisk together 2 cups flour, sugar, yeast**, and salt. Set aside.
Whisk together eggs and set aside.

In a small saucepan, melt together milk and butter until butter has just melted. Remove from the heat and add water and vanilla extract. Let mixture stand for a minute or two.

Pour the milk mixture into the dry ingredients and mix with a spatula. Add the eggs and stir the mixture until the eggs are incorporated into the batter.  Add the remaining 3/4 cup of flour and stir with the spatula for about 2 minutes.

Place the dough is a large, greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel. Place in a warm space and allow to rest until doubled in size, about 1 hour (mine didn't rise very much, see note above about yeast).  The dough can be refrigerated overnight for use in the morning.  Once you are ready to bake, let the dough rest on the counter for 30 minutes before rolling it out.

While the dough rises, make the filling.  Whisk together the brown and white sugars, cinnamon and nutmeg for the filling. Set aside. Melt the butter and set aside. Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan.

Knead about 2 tablespoons of flour into the dough. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rest for 5 minutes. On a lightly floured work surface, use a rolling pin to roll the dough out. The dough should be 12-inches tall and about 20-inches long (mine didn't make it that far - it's ok - just roll it as large as the dough will go). Use a pastry brush to spread melted butter across all of the dough. Sprinkle with the sugar and cinnamon mixture.

Slice the dough vertically, into six equal-sized strips (mine only made between 4 and 5 strips - it's ok, it will all turn out fine). Stack the strips on top of one another and slice the stack into six equal slices once again. You’ll have six stacks of six squares (again, don't worry about not having exactly the right number of squares). Layer the dough squares in the loaf pan like a flip-book. Place a kitchen towel over the loaf pan and allow in a warm place for 30 to 45 minutes or until almost doubled in size.

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Place loaf in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes (or longer, depending on the thickness of your dough squares. I had to bake mine for about 45 minutes, honestly), until the top is nice and golden brown.

**A note from Joy: Some bakers have found that the dough doesn’t rise, because the yeast is not first activated in warm water. As a fail-safe, feel free to activate your yeast first. To activate yeast, whisk yeast into 3 tablespoons of warm water. The water should be between 105 and 115 degrees F. Add a pinch of granulated sugar and allow the mixture to sit for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is foamy and frothy. Your yeast is ready to go! If the mixture does not foam and froth, toss the yeast and try again with another package of yeast. Add the activated yeast when you combine the wet and dry ingredients.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Intense Chocolate Brownies

I have written before about how brownies are not the place to cut corners, but it bears repeating.  In quite a few recipes I try to cut the sugar or the fat a little - or at least the salt.  Brownies, however, are not that kind of recipe, Especially not rich, decadent brownies with the word intense in the title. Admittedly, it is a lot of chocolate, a lot of sugar, and a lot of eggs - but these are worth every dime.  If you are looking for a cheap and cheerful, 5-minutes-to-the-oven brownie, go buy yourself a Betty Crocker mix from the store.

This recipe is from a cookbook I picked up recently: Joanne Chang's Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe Joanne mentions that the ideal brownie is somewhere in between chocolate cake and fudge and I absolutely agree.  Have you ever salivated over a tray of brownies in a bakery but just been so damn disappointed?  Dry and cake-like, tastes only remotely like chocolate, and a covered with a thick smudge of meh frosting so you won't notice.  In fact, 4 out of 5 times, a brownie with frosting is just not worth it.  A perfect bakery brownie is a rare and beautiful thing, and in case you don't have the time or money to visit Flour Bakery and Cafe in Boston, just make them at home with this recipe!

This is the first brownie recipe I have deviated from using cocoa - with outstanding results.  These are the best brownies I have ever made or tasted.  I added in the cayenne pepper because I wanted more intensity (trivia time for Bill Murray fans - what movie?).

Intense Chocolate Brownies
adapted from Flour Bakery's Intense Chocolate Brownies

5.5 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
5 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Bring water in a small saucepan to simmer.   Place chocolate in a heat-proof bowl and set over top, just above but not touching the water.  Allow to melt slowly.

While you are waiting on the chocolate, melt the butter in a small saucepan.

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, and cayenne pepper together in a medium sized bowl.  Set aside.

Once the chocolate has completely melted, remove from heat and whisk in the melted butter.

Crack the eggs into a large bowl. Using a stand mixer or hand-mixer, slowly mix the sugar into the eggs, for at least one minute or until thick and frothy.  Fold in the chocolate mixture.

Using a spatula, fold in the flour mixture, stirring gently but being cautious not to over-mix.  I threw in a handful of chocolate chips here.

Grease or line a 9x13 inch pan with parchment.  Using a firm spatula (batter will be thick and sticky), move batter from bowl into pan and bake at 325 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Joanne recommends checking starting at 20 minutes - I say safely start checking between 25 and 30 minutes.  You want a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the middle to come out with a few moist crumbs attached, but not liquid batter.  Keep checking every few minutes.  My batch took 35 minutes.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Maple Toffee Scones

Toffee. Butterscotch. Caramel. All equally beautiful words to a sugar hound, but what is the difference?  Can I use them interchangeably, or will the dictionary police write me a ticket?

Caramel is a process of heating sugar to a particular temperature, at which point the sugar will begin to change colour from light golden to deep amber.

You get Butterscotch when brown sugar and butter are slowly melted together and brought to a boil.  The mixture is cooked to the 'soft crack' stage on a candy thermometer.

Toffee is created when butterscotch is cooked to the 'hard crack' stage on your candy thermometer.

And dulce de leche? Heat sugar with milk, or 'leche', until the milk has mostly evaporated and the sugar is thick and caramel in colour.

Why am I pondering this?  I recently treated myself to the delightful cookbook from Butter Baked Goods. Beautiful photos accompany each recipe (a must for any cookbook, in my opinion) and the recipes are simple and unpretentious.  I chose the maple pecan butterscotch scone recipe to try first, but had to modify it (a lack of pecans) and replaced the butterscotch chips with toffee bits. I also scaled down the yield as I still want to fit into my new jeans, and as you know, scones are best eaten the same day they are made.

These scones have a delightfully light and fluffy interior with a crispy sweet exterior, and just the right amount of maple flavour without being overpowering.  The toffee bits dissolve into little pockets of sugar. Although I am sure that pecans add a nice crunch factor, to be honest, when I make these again (and I will be making these again soon in the very near future - like maybe tomorrow), I am going to skip the pecans and stick with my toffee bits.

Maple Toffee Scones
adapted from Butter Baked Goods

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour, sifted
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 1/2 tbsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
3/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2/3 cup toffee bits
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/8 cup maple syrup
1 egg (for egg wash)

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Add in butter and blend with a pastry cutter or by hand, until butter pieces are the size of peas and large flakes. Add in toffee bits.

Mix maple syrup into buttermilk, pour into flour and butter mixture, and stir with a wooden spoon until almost combined. Gather the dough into a large but messy ball.  Set in fridge to keep cold until ready to roll out.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and prepare your rolling surface.  Lightly flour the kitchen counter or lay out a large sheet of parchment paper and sprinkle flour on top.  Roll out dough to 1 inch thick and use a circular biscuit cutter to to cut out circles.  Place scones on a parchment lined baking sheet.   Spread a little egg wash on each scone with a pastry brush and sprinkle with a little sugar.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown,

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Chocolate Cherry Chip Blondie Bars

It's never too early to think about Valentine's fact, it is one of my very favourite times of year...I know, I know....haters gonna hate....but I am a die-hard romantic.  So when I received a bag of cherry M&M candies over the holidays, I immediately ferreted them away for some lovey-dovey baking.  Oh, the possibilities!  I decided to combine these little fellas with my long overdue intention to make blondies (ahem, I am after all, Blondie Bakes, but I have never actually made any blondies...). For you non-bakers, a blondie is kinda like a brownie, but without chocolate or cocoa.

If you can't find Cherry M&M's - you could always substitute with milk chocolate, peanut, or the peanut butter variety - just pick out the red ones (which means you can snack on all the other colours!). I have heard rumours of cinnamon M&M's - definitely worth a try.

The red coating on the M&M's melts away into pretty pinkish-red smudges, and the cherry flavour is just right - not too intense.  Make a batch of these, wrap up with a pretty bow and give them to your co-workers or neighbours on Valentines Day.  Share the love!

This version has quite a bit less sugar than some other similar recipes you will find out there, and with the additional 1.5 cups of chocolate, you won't notice a thing.  My chief taste-tester (read: husband) noted that the chocolate chips were almost unnecessary, and that the cherry taste was just enough to keep it interesting but not overwhelming.

 Chocolate Cherry Chip Blondie Bars

1 cup cherry M&M's
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla

Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium sized bowl.  In a large bowl, cream butter with sugars until light and fluffy.  Using a hand-mixer, beat in eggs and vanilla.   Fold in flour and mix to combine.  Batter will be quite thick.  Using a wooden or other sturdy large spoon, stir in cherry M&M's and chocolate chips.

Press batter into a greased 8x8 inch square pan. Grease a spatula to help press the batter down, as it will be quite sticky.  Press a handful or so of M&M's across the top (if you didn't eat the rest of the bag already : ).  Bake for 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees or until cake tester inserted in centre comes out clean.

Best enjoyed within 2-3 days.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Classic Banana Bread

January is challenging.  It's time to give up that daily chocolate and puff pastry habit you picked up over the holiday season, yet it is peak season for comfort food.  A typical day starts with frigid dark mornings, 8 hours spent hunched over a desk under florescent light, with a daily high of minus 17 degrees (don't even mention the words 'wind chill factor' - it's just rude).  As if that isn't enough, cue the white knuckle drive home through snow and ice packed roads in the dark.  Ugh.  The thought of going outside again is unbearable.

Some people escape by booking a one-week stay at a resort somewhere south of 34 degrees north - but the inescapable reality (for most of us) is that it isn't a one-way ticket (or not even a return ticket dated post March 31).  So we endure.  I bake. A lot.

This weekend banana bread just felt right.  No whole wheat flour, pumpkin puree, coconut milk or chocolate chips this time. Just pure and simple. The classic.   

Classic Banana Bread

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour*
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
3 bananas, mashed
1/3 cup melted butter
1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional)

*substitute 1 cup whole wheat flour and 1/2 cup all purpose, if you like

Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat.
Mash bananas in a medium sized bowl.  Beat egg into bananas.  Stir in sugar. 

In a separate medium sized bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. 

Once butter is melted, stir into banana mixture.  Add flour mixture. 

Pour into a well greased loaf pan and bake for 45-55 minutes at 350 degrees or until cake tester inserted in the thickest part comes out clean.  Serve warm with butter or margarine spread on top. 

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Lemon Almond Tilapia with Coconut Rice

A recipe without sugar? Your eyes are not deceiving you.  I do occasionally try to cook, and this recipe is so good it must be shared.  Bonus - it's gluten and dairy free, too!

Lemon Almond Tilapia with Coconut Rice
recipe slightly adapted from Seriously Delish
serves 2-4

4 tilapia fillets
2 egg whites
1 cup ground almonds
1 tbsp lemon zest
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1 1/3 cups coconut milk (an average can will be enough)
1 1/3 cups jasmine rice
1 1/3 cups water

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Lightly beat the egg whites in a bowl.  Combine the almonds, salt, pepper, and lemon zest in another bowl.

Dip each tilapia fillet in the egg white and then into the almond mixture, pressing gently so the almond mixture adheres to the fish.

Place on a baking sheet and spoon any remaining almond mixture over top.  Bake for 15 minutes,   gently flip each fillet and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes.  (My fillets were so delicate that when I tried to flip them, the first one fell apart - so if flipping is risky - you can just bake for 30 mins without flipping).

As soon as you put the fish in the oven, start the rice.

Combine the rice, water, coconut milk and a pinch of salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and cover, cooking until the liquid is absorbed, about 30-40 minutes.  At this point you can add in 2 tbsp of toasted unsweetened flaked coconut, if you so desire.

Serve the tilapia and coconut rice with fresh herbs (I used parsley) and lemon slices.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Tower Cake

I just may have overdone it a little bit...possibly.

I can't help myself.  I love creating special birthday cakes.  Besides, when a loved one's birthday is during or just after the holiday season, some extra extra special effort is required.  I am fortunate that my birthday is in May, which is a wonderful time of year to celebrate, but my dad's is on December 31, and my sweetheart's is on January 6.  Move over, Christmas.  Thanks, it was lovely, but your 15 minutes are up.  Hello cake season!!  

A substantial chocolate layer cake with rich peanut butter icing and crushed pretzel and chopped chocolate between the layers - this is absolutely decadent.

This cake was inspired by Joy the Baker's latest cookbook Homemade Decadence.  I used Joy's recipe as the base, and then modified it by changing up the ingredients slightly and choosing 3 6 inch cake pans instead of 9 inch ones.

I called this a tower cake because it is so tall it is downright silly and impractical.   But it is so much fun to light a candle, bring into a room and see the look of delight on the birthday face!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Tower Cake
slightly adapted from Joy the Baker

Chocolate Cake
3 cups cake and pastry flour
3/4 cup cocoa
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/3 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
4 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla
2 cups buttermilk

Peanut Butter Icing
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup natural creamy peanut butter
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp vanilla
3-4 cups icing sugar
4 tbsp half and half cream

crushed pretzels, about 1 cup
1 tbsp roasted, salted peanuts
2 oz dark chocolate, chopped
Pretzel twists

To make the cake:

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt. and cocoa in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, cream the butter with the sugars until light and fluffy.  Using a hand mixer, add in eggs, one at a time, beating in between.  Add vanilla.
Add half of flour mixture and half of the buttermilk, mixing well. Add in remainder of flour and the rest of the buttermilk, Mix until just combined, and finish with a spatula or wooden spoon.

Grease 3 deep 6 inch round cake pans.  Divide between pans until each pan is about 2/3 full (there will be some batter left-over, perfect for 3-4 cupcakes).  Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes, or until cake tester inserted in middle comes out clean.  The middles will take a bit longer to bake, as each cake layer is quite thick.

Let cool in pan on wire rack for about 10 minutes, then turn out to cool completely.

To make the icing:
Combine butter, peanut butter, vanilla and salt in a large bowl with a hand mixer or stand mixer.  Add in 1 cup of icing sugar and 2 tbsp of cream, continuing to mix.  Add in second cup of sugar and 1 tbsp of cream, and final cup of sugar and final tbsp of cream.  Add in more cream or sugar as needed to obtain the right consistency.

To assemble and decorate the cake:
Place bottom layer of cake (once fully cooled) on a cake plate or stand.  Frost generously.
Sprinkle crushed pretzels and chopped chocolate as desired.  Place middle cake layer on top, and frost generously.  Repeat with pretzels and chocolate.  Place top cake layer on top, and frost generously.
Start to frost the sides of the cake, careful not to mix crumbs into frosting.
Start lining the sides of the cake with whole pretzel twists at the bottom and work your way around, pressing gently into icing to stick.  You may need to adjust the pretzels a teeny bit, or turn the last one in the row on its side to fit.  Repeat two more rows, or the whole cake, if desired,
Sprinkle top with peanuts and chopped chocolate.  Ta-da!