Sunday, 4 August 2013

Moving and Sugar Cookies

Moving.

So, the big move is finally over. The moving part anyways - does unpacking ever end?

The movers arrived eight hours late, we finished unloading boxes at 3am, we ate an inordinate amount of donuts and tortilla chips to sustain ourselves.

It still feels totally weird. I'm still convinced this is some sort of strange, hectic vacation and that I'll be returning home any day now. Coming from the country, it's a huge change living so close to everything. All I can say is weird.

Amidst the frantic last days of packing ("Just shove it in a box!", "How fragile are china plates?", "Um, did we just pack up every utensil?") I decided to bake. Hah, hah. Use up ingredients, right? Right.

Our neighbors were awesome and I wanted to say good-bye. Everyone likes cookies, so cookies it was. Also because I somehow managed to scavenge a cookie sheet amongst the towers of cardboard.




(I found these paper plates at Target. Great for treat deliveries!)

Sugar cookies: flour, sugar, butter, salt. Four ingredients somehow magically transform into one of the most delicious of baked goods. Turn on the mixer and it's like a little Hogwarts inside the KitchenAid.



Google sugar cookie recipes and it's totally overwhelming! There are sooo many variations. I settled on a recipe from Annie's Eats, and oh man, were they good.

These cookies are the soft, thick, grocery-store style sugar cookies that you find with the neon frosting around the holidays. Totally addicting. Here's the recipe at Annie's Eats.




They didn't last long.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Easy French Bread Recipe

Previous bread making experiences have usually resulted in some sort of dense, brick-like "bread" that even a slathering of garlic butter and a good toast in the oven couldn't fix. My family was probably hesitant when I told them I was attempting bread again. They can only cough out a "yeah...delicious" while choking on my bread-bricks so many times.

Whatever inspired me to try another bread recipe, I'm sure glad it did. After success with this easy french loaf, I've been hooked on bread making. The ingredients are so simple, and yet there are thousands of different styles of bread to be made. Nothing beats the taste of a preservative-free, homemade bread loaf warm from the oven. And you get to feel like some kind of old-world artesian baker.








Ready in an afternoon, this easy whole wheat bread recipe requires no bread machine. I don't own one and I've been able to make so many different bread recipes with good old-fashioned kneading.

With just one bowl and a few simple ingredients, you can have a french loaf ready in time for dinner.

Easy French Bread
 Adapted from allrecipes.com

Ingredients:
-1 package active dry yeast (or 2 and 1/4 teaspoons) 
-1/4 cup warm water
-1 cup water
-2 teaspoons sugar
-2 tablespoons + 1 and 1/2 teaspoons oil

-3 cups flour (I used 1 cup whole wheat, 2 cups all-purpose)
-1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt

 -1 egg white
-Sesame or flax seeds (optional)

Directions:

In a large bowl, combine 1/4 cup warm water and sugar. Stir to dissolve sugar, then sprinkle in the yeast. Allow to sit for 10 minutes, until the mixture is foamy.

Stir the oil and remaining cup of water into the yeast mixture. Next, add about half of the flour and stir to create a sticky paste.

Sprinkle in the salt, then slowly add more flour a little at a time. Continue mixing until all flour is combined (this is certainly easier with a stand mixture, but good old-fashioned kneading works too!). Continue mixing or kneading for five minutes, until a soft, slightly sticky dough forms. If dough is too wet, add flour a tablespoon at a time.

Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place for one hour.

After dough has risen, sprinkle your countertop with flour and squish the dough into a large rectangle. Roll the rectangle into a large log, starting at the long edge. Pinch the edges to seal, and place seam-side down on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Allow to rise, loosely covered, for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400F. After dough has finished rising, brush the loaf with the egg white and sprinkle on seeds if desired. Using a sharp knife, make three slashes across the loaf.

Bake in the oven for approximately 35 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and sounds hollow when you knock on it. I had to cover my loaf with foil after 15 minutes to prevent the crust from over-browning.


Have you made bread before? If you have a favourite recipe, please share!

Friday, 28 June 2013

Strawberry Streusel Cake

Streusel or strudel? Yes, I had to google this.








Streusel: The deliciously sugary, buttery crumb topping often used on coffee cakes and muffins.
Strudel: My childhood...



A.K.A. A dessert made with layers of thin pastry dough surrounding a fruit center.

(Honestly, I didn't even eat the strudel. It was all about that plastic pack of icing.)




Okay. Back to the strawberries.

I've decided it's officially summer when stands selling those little green baskets of berries begin to pop up roadside. Those imported monster-berries scavenged from the grocery store in the winter (how do they get so big?) don't compare to the tiny red gems of summer.

So, in honor of strawberry season, I present to you strawberry streusel cake! (NOT strudel cake. Which would be good, now that I think about it.) This recipe uses the muffin method to produce a fluffy, tender cake. Plus, the muffin method means no creaming step! I'll spend thirty minutes making icing, but I never want to take two minutes to cream butter and sugar. Maybe it has something to do with my 500-pound stand mixer. Or cleaning the beaters. Pesky things.

Strawberry Streusel Cake
Adapted from: allrecipes.com

Ingredients:

For the cake:
-1 and 1/2 cups flour
-3/4 cup granulated sugar
-1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
-1/2 teaspoon salt

-1/3 cup vegetable oil
-1 egg
-1/3 cup milk
-1/3 cup plain yogurt
-2 teaspoons vanilla extract

-1/2 cup finely chopped strawberries

For the crumb topping:
-1/4 cup granulated sugar
-3 tablespoons flour
-2 tablespoons butter, softened slightly
-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions:
Preheat oven to 360F. Grease and flour an 8x8 inch square pan.

First prepare the crumb topping. In a small bowl, mix together sugar, flour and cinnamon. Using a fork or your hands, mix in the butter until the mixture has a "sandy" consistency and forms little clumps.

Next prepare the cake. In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. In another bowl, mix together the wet ingredients.

Add the strawberries to the dry ingredients and mix gently until strawberries are coated with flour. Pour the wet ingredients to the dry mixture, and using a big spatula, fold the batter until just combined. Lumps are okay!

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the crumb mixture on top. Lightly press the crumbs into the cake.

Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 25 minutes, or until the cake is golden at the edge and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs.

Strawberry cream cheese icing:

In a small microwave-safe bowl, melt 3 tablespoons of cream cheese. Keep a close eye on it to avoid delicious cheese curdles.
Stir in 1 tablespoon strawberry jam. Add powdered sugar, a tablespoon at a time, to desired consistency and sweetness.
















Question: what was your childhood breakfast like?

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Almond Butter Cookies

Soft and chewy. Sweet and salty. Yum.





A little dark chocolate, a pinch of cinnamon. Some whole-wheat flour.


Almond butter ensures the deliciously chewy texture characteristic of peanut butter cookies, with a much more delicate flavour. I feel so sophisticated.



The secret to chewy, puffy cookies: refrigerating the dough. I've always had cookie baking issues; after five minutes in the oven, my cookies were always flat, dark brown around the edges and raw in the center. Was the oven too hot, too cold? Did I add too little flour?

It all changed the day I started refrigerating my dough before baking. It was a cookie transformation.

Almond Butter Cookies
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

Ingredients:
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1/2 cup almond butter *
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla 

- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
- 1/2 teaspoon corn starch
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 cup dark chocolate, finely chopped

*I recommend unsweetened, unsalted almond butter. If using salted almond butter, reduce or omit salt in recipe.

Directions:
In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter, sugar and molasses until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat well, then add the almond butter and vanilla. Continue mixing on medium speed until well combined.

In a smaller mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, corn starch and cinnamon. Begin mixing the dry ingredients into the wet, a little at a time. Once all of the dry ingredients are well incorporated, stir in the chocolate.

Cover the dough and refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight.  Do not skip this step! Once the dough has cooled, preheat the oven to 350F. Shape dough into balls and bake for 7-10 minutes, until edges are just beginning to brown. Remove from oven and let cool on sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a metal rack.

These cookies keep exceptionally well. Four days later and they're still soft.

My almond butter contained almond chunks and dried blueberries, and I bet other types of nut butters would taste delicious in this recipe. Leave a comment if you try another type of butter!

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Whole wheat summer berry muffins and baking tips

A tender whole-wheat muffin, filled with sweet summer berries.



I've been on a muffin baking kick lately. Muffins are so quick to make (instant gratification!) and I throw in just about anything I can scavenge out of the back of the fridge or freezer. This recipe produces a hearty muffin, and with whole wheat, yogurt and berries, it makes a great breakfast on the go.  I used a frozen berry mixture, but you can experiment with any fruit combination you like. Chopped strawberries would be delicious as well! Below the recipe are my tips for baking beautifully domed, tender muffins.

Whole Wheat Mixed Berry Muffins
Adapted from allrecipes

Ingredients:
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup bran (the ingredient, not the cereal!)
3/4 cup sugar
2 and 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup plain yogurt (I used 2%)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup mixed berries, fresh or frozen

Directions:
  • Preheat the oven to 375F and grease a 12-cup muffin tin.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients.
  • Add the berries to the flour mixture and gently mix so that the berries are coated with flour.
  • In a small bowl, mix together the egg, milk, yogurt and oil until well combined.
  • Pour the wet ingredients into the dry mixture and gently fold the batter until just combined - there should be lots of little lumps!
  • Pour the batter into the muffin tin and reduce temperature to 350F.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the tops are golden and a toothpick inserted into the muffin comes out with a few dry crumbs.

Muffin baking troubleshooting:
For a long time I watched as trays and trays of  my muffins emerged from the oven either totally flat or resembling miniature replicas of exploding volcanoes. I so craved those beautiful, domed muffin tops. Finally, after much googling and too many muffin recipes to count, I'd like to share my muffin baking tips. Simple tips, but nevertheless helpful!

1. DO NOT OVERMIX MUFFIN BATTER
-In fact, do not "mix" muffin batter at all! Master the technique of folding (how to fold ingredients). Use a big rubber spatula. If your muffins have little weirdly-shaped bubble "tunnels" , or are rubbery, you are guilty of over-mixing. Remember: flour lumps are friends.

2. Start with a hotter oven temperature
-I just could not get domed muffin tops... until I started with a hotter oven temperature. This is the number-one tip that changed my world of muffin baking. Play around until you find the perfect "start" temperature for your muffins (too hot, and your muffins will have volcano peaks instead of domes).

3. Do not overbake muffins
-There's a fine line between raw, gooey muffins and overcooked muffins. It's easy to tell when you have gooey muffin centers, but I hadn't realized just how important it is to watch out for over-baking your muffins as well. With the toothpick test, you do not want it to come out completely clean - there should be a few crumbs clinging to the toothpick.

If you have any more muffin tips, please share them in the comments below!

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Pumpkin Bagels

Grasshopper, when you can snatch the bagel from my hand, you are ready.


Ready to bake bread.


Today we venture into the intimidating and misunderstood world of bread baking. I can't be the only one who's a little intimidated by bread recipes, jammed with phrases like "proof" and "active dry yeast" and "let-rise-for-EXACTLY-2-hours-and-twenty-seven-seconds". Often I find myself just staring at a bread recipe, completely overwhelmed by the intensely intricate proofing and kneading and punching steps (apparently punching is a big part of this bread making process). It leaves me shaking and clutching a box of cake mix for comfort.

And yet. Today you shall make bread. Your friends skeptically raise their eyebrows, suggesting you 'start small'. Dinner rolls, perhaps? You scoff at the idea. In fact, you plunge right in and make gourmet pumpkin bagels. (And then your friends eat them all and beg you for more).

Why you should make your own bagels:

 a) The grocery store has been tricking you! The flavour and texture of prepackaged bagels is no competition for homemade bagels. Seriously. Imagine the chewy crust of a homemade bagel as it gives way to a tender, soft interior… you’ll be a convert.

b) Because you can. Bread making is an intensely satisfying, rewarding experience. To know you actually created a staple food product with your own hands and few simple ingredients – it’s liberating!

Perhaps the best part, however, is that you control exactly what goes into them. No preservatives or artificial anything.

I started with an "easier" bagel recipe; many bagel recipes you'll come across involve an overnight proofing stage and produce large batches. Although that method may be more economical, I like the simplicity of this recipe, which also makes a smaller batch and is still absolutely delicious. And so far, it’s worked every time - even in a twenty-year-old oven with instant yeast (oops) and questionable mixing techniques.

This recipe is from thetartart.com. (If you’ve never visited the Tart Tart blog before, check it out. Amazing photography!)

Pumpkin Bagels
From thetartart.com

Ingredients
2-1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1/3 cup brown sugar, lightly packed

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp allspice

1/2 cup pumpkin puree (NOT pie filling)

1 tbsp baking soda
1 egg
cornmeal for dusting baking pan
flax or your favourite seeds for topping

Directions
  • In a medium bowl, mix together the water, brown sugar and yeast. Leave to sit for about ten minutes, until the mixture has a thin layer of foam on top.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients; flour, salt, nutmeg, ginger, allspice and cinnamon.
  • Stir the pumpkin puree into the yeast mixture.
  • Add the wet ingredients to the dry and begin to mix; you’ll need to get your hands dirty for this (unless you have a mixer with a dough hook).
  • Once the dough has come together, turn out onto a floured surface and begin kneading until it is smooth and elastic, about 2-3 minutes. The dough should be just slightly sticky to the touch; if globs keep sticking to your hands, add flour a tablespoon at a time until it reaches the right consistency.
  • Lightly oil a large bowl and drop in your ball of dough. Cover, place in a warm area, and let it rise for 60-90 minutes until it has doubled in size. (I find just over an hour long enough for my dough to double).
  • Once doubled, place the dough on a floured work surface and “punch” it down – give it a good press with your knuckles a few times. You’ll hear weird bubbly-dough noises as air bubbles escape. Divide the dough into 8 balls.
  • Place the dough balls on a cookie sheet, cover, and allow them to rise for 20 minutes.
  • Shape the dough balls into bagels. Use your finger to poke a hole in the middle of the ball, then gently widen into a ring. Make the holes wider than you think as the bagels will continue to expand. Place the balls back on the cookie sheet and set aside.
  • Preheat the oven to 425F.
  • Fill a large pot halfway with water. Bring to a boil, then add the baking soda.
  • Grab a large slotted spoon or tongs and drop a few bagels into the boiling water. Don’t overcrowd the pot! Set a timer for 1-2 minutes (longer boiling = chewier bagel), then flip the bagel over and boil another 1-2 minutes.
  • Remove from water and place on a tea towel to drain.
  • Once all your bagels have been boiled, transfer to a cookie sheet sprinkled with cornmeal.
  • In a small bowl, whisk the egg to make the egg wash; brush the top of each bagel with the egg mixture and sprinkle on any seeds or toppings.
  • Bake bagels in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until crust is a deep gold. Rotate pans halfway through to ensure even baking.

Don't cram too many bagels in the pot, or else they stick to the side:

 Remove from water and let the bagels dry on a tea towel:


Bake in the oven, inhale the scent of warm cinnamon and browning crust, and serve toasted with a little cream cheese.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Simple granola

I’ve finally managed to make granola that does not a) taste like charcoal, b) feel like chewing a mouthful of pebbles or c) resemble a bowl of soggy newspaper pulp.


Granola is a tricky fiend; waiting in shadows to fool unassuming victims with images of golden oat clusters. However, after many attempts... sweet, sweet success! Granola that is both crispy and clumpy, not too sweet and with just the right amount of crunch (I know clumpy isn’t usually a word reserved for delicious foodstuffs, but those clusters are so satisfying).

Considering all my failed attempts, granola is really not as hard to make as it may seem. The key is finding a recipe with the right balance of oil to sugar, and keeping a very close eye on the granola while it’s baking.

Recipe adapted from chow.com.

Simple Granola

Ingredients:

  • 2 and 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup rice krispie cereal
  • 1/4 cup bran (the ingredient, not the cereal)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 1/3 cup honey or maple syrup (I used a combination of both)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 300°F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  • Mix together all dry ingredients in a large bowl.
  • In a small sauce pot, combine the honey or syrup, vegetable oil and brown sugar.
  • Stir over low heat until the sugar has mostly dissolved and the mixture is just beginning to bubble at the side of the pot. Do NOT boil!
  • Stir in the vanilla.
  • Pour the hot mixture over the dry ingredients and mix well.
  • Spread granola on the cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes.
  • Pull out the cookie sheet and give the granola a good mix with a spatula. Turn the oven off and return the granola to the oven for 10-15 minutes more – check often and remove once it begins turning golden brown.
  • Remove pan from the oven and let cool. Store in an airtight container – it will last for at least a week (I can’t say how much longer...mine was gone in a few days!)