baking

Fast-acting relief for those chocolate cravings

When I was growing up, we weren’t really a brownie household. Cookies, sure, but brownies? Maybe occasionally, but they weren’t one of those staples at every get-together. Evidently, I’m making up for lost time, because this is now the second brownie recipe I’ve tried this year. If I’m being honest (which I am, because I just said so), I had made this second recipe once and they disappeared almost immediately, so what you’re seeing here is the second-recipe redux.

I didn’t go out looking for a brownie recipe, but when I saw this one on Life, Love, and Sugar, I was intrigued. It’s got eight ingredients (nine if you count the fact that I used a blend of regular and dark cocoa powder in mine), it makes a small square pan’s worth, and it doesn’t require any advanced baking techniques. I was sold.

Not pictured: the flour or sugar, but otherwise, this is alllll it takes.

The process is really quick: mix your wet ingredients together in one bowl…

…your dry ingredients in another…

…and then add the dry to the wet and combine.

Some of my more eagle-eyed readers might have noticed that there was a bag of peanut butter chips on the counter in the picture up top (go on and scroll up; I’ll wait). The first time I made these, I made them plain, just to see how they were. Since they came out so well, we decided this time to change it up a bit and add a mix-in to keep things interesting.

Once everything was folded in to our satisfaction, we spread the batter in our parchment-lined 9″ square pan.

They took a wee bit longer to bake than the recommended time in the recipe, but were they ever worth the wait!

That amazing, crackly top will never cease to impress me. They sliced like a dream, too.

Interesting discovery: although warm-from-the-oven brownies are much ballyhooed, these ones actually taste a little bit better at room temperature – the flavours come through better.

Apart from the baking time (and the peanut butter chips), the only change I made from the original recipe was using 1/3 cup regular unsweetened cocoa powder and 2 1/2 tablespoons of black cocoa powder. I use a blend of cocoas whenever I make cupcakes, too, and it gives them a certain je ne sais quoi.

And there you have it: moist, chocolatey perfection.

Thanks for looking! πŸ™‚

baking

Pretty please, with a cherry on top…and inside

You know it’s summer around these parts when the cherry tree’s fruity offerings ripen practically overnight and all need to be picked immediately before they cause the branches permanent injury. I admit I’ve grown just a little disenchanted with the picking and the pitting, and was tempted to ignore this year’s harvest altogether and see how long it took the birds to clear it off, but…I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to do jam again (there’s still some of last year’s in the freezer because although I like making it, I never think to eat it), and so rescued a modest 6-cup bowl of fruit and thought about what to do with it.

I had first made these muffins a couple of years ago with blueberries, as the recipe calls for, but thought: why not cherries? Yeah! Why not cherries? The sour cherries, while larger than blueberries, are still pretty small compared with the jumbo Bing cherries all the local grocery stores trumpet, so I didn’t feel the need to chop them in any way before using them. But hey, do you know what happens to your hands when you pit a cup’s worth?

I texted that picture to a friend who wrote back, “Wait, did you burn yourself?” Luckily it all came off with soap and water, and yielded these beauties:

The trick to the recipe’s success is soaking your oats in milk for 20 minutes. It might not look like much… (Seriously, how can people eat overnight oats? Bleh.)

But it really does help the finished product – and gives you ample time to pull together your dry ingredients:

…and your wet ingredients.

This doesn’t look like much, either (are you noticing a trend?), but it smells heavenly once the melted butter, honey, and vanilla get whisked together.

Pour the wet into the dry, and add your milk ‘n oats and blueberries cherries.

After spending years baking cupcakes, which you never, ever overfill unless you want them to do things they shouldn’t, there’s something deliciously naughty about making muffins that let you fill the liners right to the very tippy-top.

Five minutes at 425 and 17 minutes at 350 later, they finally look like something!

These are so lovely that I’m almost (but only almost) starting to wish that I had pitted and frozen more cherries to be able to do these year-round. The muffin batter itself isn’t overly sweet, and the cherries are tart in a way that’s reminiscent of cranberries. I tripled the cinnamon called for – we like cinnamon – but even at that it’s an undertone rather than some in-your-face spice. They’ve been a hit so far with everyone who’s tried one (or more!).

Thanks for looking! πŸ™‚

baking

What’s more portable than a peanut butter and jam sandwich?

When I asked my dad what kind of dessert he wanted for Father’s Day, he replied, “Cookies.”

Of course.

He didn’t care what kind, as long as they were cookies. That kind of carte blanche is a little overwhelming – the least he could have done is given me some ideas for flavour profiles, key ingredients, that kind of thing.

After leafing through my extensive cookbook collection, I happened upon the Peanut Butter and Jelly Cookies from The Vegan Table by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. I had made them once, years ago, and remembered them being good. I also really liked that they weren’t just peanut-butter, but also didn’t involve chocolate. It’s been done.

The dough came together wonderfully! The one thing I did differently from the recipe was to use plain all-purpose flour rather than the pastry flour called for, and frankly, I don’t know how much of a difference it makes. These weren’t heavy or tough in any way.

One other elevation these got from the last time I made them was that I used my homemade strawberry jam to fill them. Perfect, local strawberries with no preservatives? Yum!

These ones bake at 375 degrees (and not 350 like, oh, every other cookie out there), which freaked me out a bit, but…10 minutes per batch at 375, and these looked absolutely perfect. The bottoms were browned but not overdone, and the moisture was baked out of the jam and left a dense, fruity gem in its wake.

Fun fact time! If, when you’re attempting to transfer freshly-baked jam-filled cookies from the cookie sheet to cool, you drop one of them face-down (of course) on the table, the second-worst thing you can do is try to pick up the jammy blob with your bare fingers. The worst thing you can do is then try to lick your fingers to get the hot jam off them.

Despite this hot, sticky contretemps, these turned out beautifully! They’re tiny and tender, and wouldn’t be out-of-place at a tea party. The man of the hour was suitably impressed, so this was a win for everybody.

Thanks for looking! πŸ™‚

baking

Trust me, I’m a doctor!

Overheard in class the other day:

Q. What type of doctor is Dr Pepper?

A. A fizz-ician. *rim shot*

Matt couldn’t have known it when he told the joke, but Dr Pepper is my One True Love and has been since I was a kid. Dr Pepper will never not call, or text obsessively asking where I am, or stare at its phone and tune out everything I say. I don’t drink it as regularly as I used to (because sugary drinks…), but my opinion of restaurants is still very much influenced by whether they serve it. (Points to Mongo’s, Boston Pizza, and Taco Time!)

When I found this recipe for Dr Pepper Brownies, I was sufficiently intrigued to pin it. (Question: If this action is taking place on Pinterest, did I pin it or did I Pin it? In any case, I saved it for future reference.) Through some weird bit of kismet, I had a brownie mix in the pantry so this required no extra acquisition of ingredients on my part. Those are the best recipes!

As it turned out, my mix was already of the chocolate-chunk variety, so I didn’t need to add chocolate chips as called for in the recipe.

Full disclosure: one of the things that really appealed to me about this recipe was that it only called for 1/4 cup of Dr Pepper, which meant – oh, darn – I’d have to drink the rest of the can myself. This is the same “one for you, one for me” methodology I use when Christmas shopping, but oh, did it ever work well this time!

The baking instructions in the recipe differed slightly from the box instructions…I went with the box, only because I figured if anyone would know how to make their mix, they would.

The addition of the soda created a really interesting texture on top. I was a little concerned they wouldn’t have that flaky-chewy brownie thing going on…

But I was wrong! These were really moist and lovely. Even my dad, who usually ignores anything that isn’t a cookie, waxed poetic about the chocolatey chewiness. No one who tried one could taste much Dr Pepper, unfortunately, but I swear I got a little bit of…fizz?…if I ate mindfully.

And because I can’t resist co-ordinating whenever possible:

Yes, I can match my wardrobe to my kitchen projects.

Thanks for looking! πŸ™‚

baking

Like the Teddy Bears’ Picnic, only slightly gorier

I’m not going to bore everyone with a bunch of backstory and details, except to say that I made these for a recent birthday (the last small-bubble get-together before the latest lockdown). The birthday boy loves gummi bears (really loves them), and when I saw something like this on Pinterest, I knew I had to make them. The best part is, they’re so simple that you don’t really need to have a webpage open to follow along.

Without further ado…

Step one: Bake cupcakes. Any kind will do, but I did chocolate just because. Make or buy some chocolate frosting, and frost each cupcake with a thin-ish schmear using an offset spatula. You want to have frosting left over.

Step two: Tint your remaining frosting with black gel colour. You don’t have to get it black-black, but something vaguely dark grey would be good. We want to make these cupcakes look like barbeques, and this darkened frosting is going to be used for your grill. If you don’t trust your freehand drawing skills, trace the lines using a toothpick first so that you’ve got something to use as a guide.

Step three: This is the fun part! Grab some bamboo skewers – the ones I used are longer than a standard toothpick but shorter than the kind you actually barbeque with – and force those gummi bears onto them. Don’t listen to their little squeals. I used two different sizes because when I was at Bulk Barn I couldn’t decide which size would look more to-scale on a cupcake, but you do you.

Step four: Lay your skewered bears across your “grills” and hope people don’t think you’re macabre.

I put my very first skewer in rainbow order because that’s how my mind works and I have problems with randomness…but I tried to live large and let go for the others.

These went over really well – the birthday boy loved them, which meant it was easier to send some home with him later on so I didn’t wind up eating them all.

I think these could be fun for a summer birthday as well, or a backyard cookout.

Thanks for looking! πŸ™‚

cooking

Each year, the Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch that he thinks is the most sincere…

Pop quiz: What’s this?

Is it:

a) a really slapdash Green Man Halloween costume?

b) a rejected prototype for the Angry Sun from the Super Mario franchise?

c) my very first piece of kindergarten artwork?

Actually, it’s d) the start of something really fun. Take a look!

Last year, the employees from the west side of our floor had a bit of a Halloween party and didn’t invite the east-siders. I discovered it by accident when I went to file something and walked into a table covered in sharable finger food. When I ran into one of the west side denizens later on in the shared kitchenette, she bade me come over and grab something to eat. That’s where I first encountered Rice Krispies treats in the shape of pumpkins, and I’ve had to wait a whole year for them to be seasonally appropriate again.

I used this recipe, and started by cutting two pieces of green Twizzlers (from the rainbow pack) into 1″ pieces, like you see above. I’m glad I cut the full 16, because that’s exactly how many pumpkins I got, not the 12 the recipe indicates. They’re watermelon-flavoured, which is normally not something I’d go for but which is less gross than it sounds, especially in small quantities like this.

I really dug the tie-dye aesthetic the marshmallow got when I added my red and yellow food colour – if I thought it would stay swirled and separate, I’d try making a batch in a different colour, but even if I hadn’t dutifully blended these to a solid orange beforehand, stirring in the cereal would have done the job.

Every recipe I’ve seen for these recommends greasing up your hands with butter or oil before rolling each pumpkin (or donning food-handling gloves, which boast Teflon-esque properties), and oh, that is one step you don’t want to mess around with. I think I managed to form my first two with one coating of oil, but after that stray pieces of cereal began to stick. A few seconds oiling your hands will save a ton of frustration later on.

Rather than wait until I had rolled all of my pumpkins before adding stems, I created a little indent on each one with my thumb as I went along, and found it much easier to get the licorice in while the mixture was still soft.

And there you have it! These were really quick and easy to make, and taste great. So far, they’re proving to be a hit with anyone who’s tried one.

Thanks for looking! πŸ™‚

baking

Like Bert and Ernie…Bogie and Bacall…

I’ve been trying to behave. While everyone and their grandmother is Instagramming homemade sourdough or who-knows-what, I’ve been squelching my urge to bake, because how many cookies do I need to eat, seriously? I’m not saying I miss going into the office, but I miss having an outlet for all that baking.

I had to give in, though, when I found the recipe for Chocolate Peanut Butter Frosting on Sally’s Baking Addiction. Cupcakes were required, and immediately. How could I say “No” to chocolate and peanut butter? Besides, I reasoned, I could share these with my parents – there was no way my dad was going to complain about that combination.

I started out with my usual chocolate cupcake recipe, which I can almost make in my sleep. How good are they? The cat thought she needed to try them.

Why, kitty, why???

The frosting recipe was simple enough to follow, but made a way bigger batch than I’d usually use. Naturally this meant I had to go nuts piling it on, right? I mean, if I’m going to bake something utterly unnecessary, I might as well go whole-hog.

It was also really stiff, and I realized after piping the first couple that I should have added a touch more milk to it in order to soften it up. Normally, I hold a cupcake in one hand and rotate it as I pipe with the other; this stuff was a two-hand job. My hands were shaking so badly trying to get enough pressure on the piping bag that a casual observer might have thought I have some sort of neurological problem.

Despite the stiffness, the frosting wasn’t at all dry or hard, even after a couple of days. And its firmness may have been beneficial when one of them toppled off its plate onto the floor; it flattened a little bit but didn’t make a huge mess the way a softer frosting would have. In any case, they went over really well and were the perfect excuse to bake something.

Thanks for looking! πŸ™‚

baking

Happee Birthdae Harry

When the Harry Potter books were initially released in the late 1990s, I more or less ignored them. They were clearly for kids (I mean, clearly), which I was not (I mean, clearly), and I found all the hubbub tiresome. Then the movies came out, and…I still didn’t care. Nope, not at all.

More than 20 years later, I decided it might be time to see what all the fuss was about, and picked up a paperback copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone last summer. I didn’t have high hopes, because the last two series I poked at to see what all the fuss was about were Twilight and Fifty Shades of Gray, both of which were utterly terrible. And actually, pretty much the same books, give or take a little kink.

Maybe it was because my expectations were so low, but I devoured Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets, and then got the complete boxed set of all seven books for Christmas. Talk about your revelations: “Oh, so this is what everyone was going on about!” My biggest surprise came when I realized Harry was older than I am. Prior to reading the books, my only knowledge of him came from seeing newsy bits about the movies, whose main trio were all decidedly younger than me. But no! According to the books, Harry was born July 31, 1980, meaning that the Boy Who Lived rings in the big 4-0 this year.

Naturally, I had to bake something to celebrate. I’ve seen a lot of recipes for Butterbeer cupcakes floating around the internet, most of which make my teeth hurt to look at them. Harry may be older than I am, but I get the feeling that my lack of a sweet tooth renders me pretty old, too.

Instead, of completely sugar-bombing my test audience, I made some really simple Cheater Butterbeer cupcakes instead. How simple, you ask?

Start with these:

I promise I’m not sponsored by either General Mills or Kraft Foods, but I wanted something foolproof. When you empty the dry cake mix into your bowl, add the pudding mix, and then proceed as directed on the cake mix box (oil, egg, water, mixing times). Be sure to only fill the cupcake liners half-full as indicated – the pudding mix does not add the volume to the batter one might expect, and you’ll be short if you try to fill them 2/3 full as you would for any other recipe.

I baked mine in Gryffindor red, naturally:

I opted for an ΓΌber-casual build-your-own-cupcake type of topping. Rather than make a stiff, pipeable frosting, I made homemade whipped cream. This was spooned on to the eater’s desired thickness – I thought that it would look more like the foam on top of a mug of beer that way. (And saved me dirtying a piping bag and tip – woo hoo!) A drizzle of caramel sauce sealed the deal.

Want to make this even simpler than it already is? Grab a tub of Cool Whip, or a can of it if you’re craving perfect peaks. Usually whenever I whip cream it’s got cream cheese in it to act as a stabilizer, and without that, it separates after about a day in the fridge and looks a little gross. I’m so glad I got perfect first-night shots here.

Also: although I chose to do mine up like this, some of my testers discovered that with leaving the cupcakes naked and adding the toppings later, they preferred cutting the cupcake in half and laying it flat-side down on the plate, to prevent tipping over later. This also allows more surface area for whipped cream and caramel, so win-win.

The addition of the pudding mix to the cake mix made the cupcakes slightly chewy, but wonderfully moist. The whipped cream was a marvelous balance against the sweetness of the cupcake and the sauce – although my testers also discovered that the cupcakes were good enough to be eaten with nothing on them, so you do you.

And with that bout of kitchen magic, I sit patiently to await my invitation to Hogwarts.

Thanks for looking! πŸ™‚

baking

Love from the great white (and red) north

I actually made this last year for Canada Day, too, and it a) got inhaled so quickly that I never got any “completed” pictures, and b) was such a hit that my mom stole my recipe for a get-together at her sister’s house a few weeks later. So when I wanted something vaguely patriotic to make, this felt like the obvious choice: Strawberry Shortcake Icebox Cake.

Because I’m working from home and get to skip the commute, I used what would normally be my on-the-road time to clean and chop the strawberries as prescribed.

Once they were ready to go, the rest of it came together really quickly and beautifully after work.

Two things I did differently from the recipe: I used 3 full cups of heavy cream (horrors!) rather than the 2 3/4 cups called for in the recipe; also, it was too ding-danged hot to turn the oven on and do the topping, so I settled for a sprinkling of graham crumbs instead.

If, however, you are making this on a day when it’s not 38 degrees with the humidity, or you have a naturally higher tolerance for the oven in summer, I highly recommend making the topping. It’s crunchy and wonderful against the creaminess of the whipped cream-strawberry mixture.

The first piece was a mess to get out of the pan, but look at the beautiful layers it revealed! The ladyfingers do tend to get quite soft after a couple of days, so best to enjoy this within the first day or two after making it.

Happy Canada Day! πŸ™‚

baking

Good Vanilla Hunting

Although I am not by any stretch of the imagination a professional baker, I’m a relatively experienced one. I understand how to not overmix, how to check for doneness, and how to fold in the cheese. And while I accept that there are some things I will likely never have the inclination to attempt (croquembouche, anyone?), my Moby Dick white whale continues to be vanilla cupcakes.

It should be such a simple thing, right? But nearly every recipe I’ve tried has left me underwhelmed: they’re either dense, or dry, or some combination of the two. Maybe it’s because my chocolate cupcakes are fail-proof and so moist-moist-moist that vanilla pales (and fails) by comparison, but it still drives me nuts. My go-to cookbook, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, has a vanilla recipe that’s really similar to the chocolate, but with two tablespoons of cornstarch (and no cocoa, obviously). Was that what made it not-perfect? I’ve tried varieties that call for cake flour rather than all-purpose, to no avail. (I’ve also since read tips that recommend adding cornstarch to your A.P. if cake flour is unavailable, which really makes me think there’s a connection there somehow.)

Recently I came across this recipe, and was hopeful. Straight-up all-purpose flour, no separating of eggs (not that I inherently dislike separating eggs, but anything that calls for just the yolk or just the white invariably leads to wasting the unwanted part, unless you have an excellent recipe-stacking strategy to use up those leftover yolks or whites, which I do not), nothing funny.

And…they weren’t bad.

They came out a little browner around the edges than I would have liked, but all things considered…not bad. The batter was thicker than pretty much all of my other scratch recipes, and I think I overfilled them a bit because of this, which in turn necessitated baking them a minute or two longer than might otherwise be prudent. Whether because of bake time or simple batter composition, they were just a wee bit on the dry side, too. I could see making them again, but filling the cups less full – and mayyyybe adding an extra tablespoon of oil to the batter for moisture?

I topped them with a root beer buttercream icing, which paired so perfectly with the vanilla cake, like having a root beer float. Oh, and because you’ve probably noticed the liners by now…

Yep, those are absolutely Christmas liners. Everyone’s socially distancing – who was going to see these anyway? But look how pretty they are!

After my underwhelming success with vanilla, I went back to my old standby – chocolate – for a Father’s Day treat. There was pretty much no doubt in my mind that they had to be topped with peanut butter frosting.

To add a bit of texture and interest, I put a few Reese’s Pieces in a baggie and smashed them with a rolling pin before sprinkling the aftermath on top of the frosting.

This is the best combination…

They’re practically moist enough for themselves and the vanilla cupcakes, if cupcakes worked that way.

Light and moist and perfect, no crumbling at all.

Has anyone had tremendous success with light, moist vanilla cupcakes? Or am I better off box-mixing it?

Thanks for looking! πŸ™‚