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
1 egg
3 bananas, mashed
1/3 cup melted butter

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 375 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!

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Extra Rich and Buttery Toffee Biscotti

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

One last cookie recipe - just in time for Christmas. 

Question: What happens when you accidentally double the amount of butter in a biscotti recipe?
Answer:  Delicious, rich, buttery biscotti

It was an honest mistake.  A happy accident.  The recipe said 3/4 of a stick of butter and I saw 3/4 of a cup.  It only dawned on me halfway through baking, which is when I started writing this.  I took a look at last year's recipe and thought - only a 1/3 cup butter in this one, that's funny. Whoops.

Similar to last year, I divided the dough in half and made two varieties:  Toffee and Dark Chocolate & Cranberry.

Toffee Biscotti

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup toffee bits

To make half Dark Chocolate & Cranberry
Divide dough in half, then add 1/3 cup toffee bits to one half of the dough, and 1/3 cup each dark chocolate chips and cranberries to the other half.  Follow rest of recipe as below.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Combine flour with baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.
Cream butter with sugar in a large bowl until pale and fluffy.  Beat in eggs, 1 at a time.
Stir in flour mixture until combined. Stir in dark chocolate chips and cranberries.

Gather dough together in a large ball and divide in half. Shape each half into a 2-in.-wide and 3/4-in.-high log. Place logs 3 in. apart on parchment paper lined cookie sheet as they will spread.

Bake in centre of oven for 20 minutes, then flip pans (bottom rack moves to top rack and vice versa). Bake for an additional 15 minutes until tops are nearly firm but golden.  Remove from oven and let stand until loaves are cool enough to touch, about 10 min. Cut each diagonally into 1/2-in. slices and lay each cookie on its side. Continue baking until very firm and golden brown, about 20 more minutes.  Store in an airtight container up to 1 week or freeze up to 1 month.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Brown Sugar Cookie Cut-outs

If there is one cookie recipe that I make every year, without exception, it is these brown sugar cookies.  Our family calls them 'brown sugar cookie cut-outs' - not as inspiring as 'Spectacular Sugar Crusted Christmas Stars', but honest and straightforward.  These treats don't need a fancy name - they are simple and fun and easy to make and decorate.  A kid pleaser (inner child, too).  You can get as crazy as you want with the decorating - I usually stick to sprinkling colourful sugar on top before baking.

Normally, there is a variety of shapes - from trees and sleighs, to snowflakes and bells.  This year I chose stars, as I received a nice set of different shaped stars as a gift.   Look how pretty they are!  Too pretty to eat.  These stacked stars would make a nice centrepiece for a cookie tray.

Brown Sugar Cookie Cut-outs
a family recipe, origin unknown

1 cup all purpose flour, sifted, plus another 1 cup set aside
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp vanilla

Blend 1 cup of the flour with baking powder and salt.

Beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add egg and vanilla and continue to beat until well blended.

Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture, then add enough of the remaining one cup flour to make dough stiff enough to roll,

Work together with your hands and form a large ball of dough, or two smaller balls of dough.  Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

Roll dough out to about 1/8 inch on a well floured surface.  Use cookie cutters or (biscuit cutters) to cut into shapes and transport to a cookie sheet.  Sprinkle liberally with coloured sugar and bake at 375 for 7-8 minutes.  Let cool on cookie sheet for 3-4 minutes before setting on wire rack to cool completely.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Dark Chocolate & Pistachio Cookies

It's that time of year 
When the world falls in love 
Every song you hear seems to say
"Merry Christmas - May your new year dreams come true"

My new year dreams have dark chocolate, pistachio and sea salt in them - how about yours?

Dark Chocolate & Pistachio Cookies
slightly adapted from Joy the Baker

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups dark chocolate chips
1 cup shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped
coarse sea salt for topping (optional)

Cream butter and both sugars until pale and fluffy.  Add egg and vanilla and mix thoroughly.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt.  Add flour mixture to butter mixture and mix well. Mix in pistachios and chocolate chips.

Spoon dough (1 to 2 tbsp depending on how big you like your cookies) onto greased or parchment lined baking sheet and sprinkle with sea salt.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 16-18 minutes or until golden brown.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Mulled Wine Crumble Squares

If you are looking for something a little different to add to the traditional shortbread, sugar cookie, and brownie tray this holiday, try these little squares out.  I was intrigued as soon as I saw the title, and added it to my baking list immediately.

The cranberries add a nice little tang - and the sugar in the crumble and crust balance the tartness nicely.  In all honesty, if you are not a fan of cranberries, these may not be your first choice. However, if you are like me, and enjoy the fresh tang of grapefruit, cranberries or lime - I guarantee these won't disappoint.

Mulled Wine Crumble Squares
adapted from Butter me up, Brooklyn!

For the crumble:
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup butter, softened and cut into pieces

For the filling:
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp orange juice
1/2 cup red wine
1 1/2 cups whole cranberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
pinch of salt
1 tbsp sugar, as needed

Start making the filling first.  In a medium sized saucepan, bring cranberries, orange juice, red wine, sugar and spices to a simmer.  Leave the lid on for 8 minutes, stirring every once in a while, and then remove lid and continue to simmer for another 8-10 minutes.  Cranberries are tart - so take a little taste - stir in an additional 1 tbsp of white sugar as needed.   Let cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes.

While you are waiting for the filling to cool, make the crumble.  Combine flour, oats, sugars, cinnamon, and baking powder in a medium-large bowl.  Work the butter in until crumbs the size of flakes and peas form.

Press 2/3 of the oat mixture firmly into a 8x8 pan lined with parchment paper.   Once the filling has cooled, spoon over top and distribute evenly.  Scatter the remaining oat mixture over top, and bake for 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees.  Let cool completely before removing from pan.