Monday, 23 March 2015

Cocoa Almond Brownies (gluten-free!)

Looking for something different to bake for a gluten and dairy-free friend? Look no further. These brownies have only, like, 4 ingredients.  Okay, 5: almonds, icing sugar, cocoa, eggs, and vanilla. 
At first, I was suspicious. And doubtful.  Then, I had a few bites and thought, maybe.  Let's put them in front of a group of people (of which the vast majority are gluten-gobblers and lactose-lovers) and see what happens. Success.  Unless they are really good liars... 

Cocoa Almond Brownies (gluten-free)
slightly adapted from Chatelaine

2 1/2 cups icing sugar
2 cups ground almonds
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1/8 tsp salt
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line the bottom and sides of an 8 × 8-in. pan with parchment, letting it hang over the edges of pan.

Combine icing sugar, almonds, cocoa and salt in a large bowl. Stir in eggs and vanilla.

The batter will be very thick. Soldier on.  Scrape into prepared pan with a spatula.

Bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes until cake tester inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Cool completely on a wire rack before cutting into squares.

I recommend waiting until they are fully cooled before trying a bite - and although the appearance is a little different (you can clearly see the almond bits), these are really fudgy and tasty.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Happy St. Paddy's - Chocolate Stout Cupcakes and Blarney Chips

Happy St. Pat's!  I did you a solid. I perfected this recipe for you - this is my fourth year running baking chocolate stout cake or cupcakes and St. Patrick's Day just wouldn't be right without them.

Our surname is about as Irish as it gets - my husband's family is from Co. Cork by way of Boston - and if we moved to Boston today we would fit right in (although the O' was dropped over a hundred years ago, like so many other Irish families).  I have been fortunate to visit Ireland twice and it is truly a lovely place and lovely people - make sure you stop in Cork City for some Murphy's.  We celebrate St. Patrick's Day every year - starting the evening off with Black Velvet's (half a pint of Guinness topped with half a pint of Irish Cider) and our homemade version of Blarney Chips (waffle fries topped with cheese, green onion, diced tomatoes, diced green pepper, and more cheese) and served with salsa and sour cream.


Chocolate Stout Cupcakes

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup stout beer (preferably Irish - Guinness or Murphy's)
2 eggs

Sift flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium sized bowl.  Set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at at time, beating in between with a hand mixer.  Add vanilla.  Continue to beat.

Add half the flour mixture and mix in gently, scraping down the sides of the bowl every so often.  Add about 1/3 of the stout and half of the remaining flour.  Repeat, alternating stout and flour until well combined.  Be careful not to overmix.

The batter will be thick.  Spoon into 15 greased or lined muffin cups and bake at 350 for 18-20 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Chocolate Stout Buttercream Frosting
1/4 unsalted butter, softened
1 - 2 cups icing sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1/3 cup stout
1/2 tsp vanilla

Cream butter with cocoa.   Add one cup of icing sugar and the stout.  Add vanilla and begin to add more icing sugar until you reach the right consistency.  If too thick, just add a little more stout!

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Carrot Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

It's three weeks until Easter! Last year on Good Friday we jetted off to Iceland for our 5th wedding anniversary (if you are even considering going to Iceland, do it!).  Our anniversary fell on Easter Sunday and we did a tour of the South Coast - it was captivating.

This year it's all about a more traditional celebration and the Easter dessert is, of course, the first thing I think about.  I did some research (umm...Google) and apparently you simply can't get any more traditional than Carrot Cake at Easter.

I have never actually made a carrot anything before....and since steamed carrots don't count, I suppose....I figured let's give it a shot.  I decided to make a 'trial' cake (why wait?) and found a lovely carrot cake recipe already scaled down for two.

Maple syrup is synonymous with spring - so I added my own twist with the addition of maple syrup to both the cake and the frosting.

Result?  Magically delicious....( only excuse for that is that St. Paddy's day is just around the corner). I think it's far too early to make a solid decision for Easter dessert, though, so the journey will continue....

Carrot Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted from Dessert for Two

yields 1 six inch cake

1/4 cup oil
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup packed grated carrot (from 1 small carrot)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

3 ounce block of cream cheese, softened
2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
5 tbsp icing sugar
1 tsp maple syrup

Grease a 6” round cake pan.

In a medium bowl, beat oil and sugar together with an electric mixer for about 1 minute.

Beat in the egg, cinnamon, vanilla and maple syrup.  Add the carrot and continue to beat - don't be too gentle, you want it to stain the batter orange, but not so tough that the carrot is obliterated!

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl.  Add the flour mixture to the carrot mixture beat until just combined.  Avoid over-mixing.

Pour the batter into one 6 inch cake pan and bake at 350 for 22-24 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached.

Let the cake to cool completely on a wire rack. While you are waiting for the cake to cool, make the frosting.

Start with room temperature cream cheese and butter.   This is important or your frosting will be lumpy.  Tasty, but not pretty.

Beat together the cream cheese, and butter.  Add in a few tbsp of icing sugar and the maple syrup. Beat a little more.  Add in the remaining icing sugar.  Add more icing sugar if needed until you obtain the right consistency for frosting.

Frost generously and keep in refrigerator until 30 minutes before serving.

Tell me....what are you making for Easter?

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.