cooking

*Slightly* less magical than Disney…

Last weekend was supposed to have been hot as all get-out and since turning on the oven to bake sounded less-than-appealing, we decided this was our opportunity to try one of those copycat Dole Whip recipes that proliferate on Pinterest. Who needs a passport and a plane ticket when one can recreate all the magic of a Disney park in one’s own kitchen?

If you search out “copycat Dole Whip” online, there are tons of recipes to choose from. I went for this one, which seemed the most true to the recipe released by Disney a couple of years ago and didn’t include any weird add-ins like sugar (the pineapple and ice cream are full of it already, thanks) or lime juice (just…what?).

I had no idea that frozen pineapple even existed until I sought it out for this recipe. We used about half the package (or 2 cups-ish), plus a “big scoop” (~3/4 cup) of vanilla ice cream, and 1/4 cup of pineapple juice.

This view of the blender holds promises of infinite riches, of creamy, tropical bliss. Now, the recipe says that the frozen pineapple chunks should be set out “a few minutes ahead of time”, without really specifying what “a few minutes” is. Diligently photographing my packaged ingredients and then measuring them all out and adding them to the blender surely took “a few minutes”; what the recipe did not tell us is that that was not nearly enough time, and that trying to blend everything now would result in a solid, seized-up frozen chunk that would need to be poked with a stick like some sort of dead body in the woods in order to start moving around the blender.

I feel like if the four kids in Stand by Me had been on a quest to look at frozen pineapple, the movie would never have been a success. Ahem.

After much poking and pulsing, everything more or less came together and looked like the pictures I was seeing online. The recipes almost unanimously agree that to get a classic soft-serve look, this should be spooned into a piping bag and swirled into your cup or bowl.

What they don’t tell you, however, is that any pineapple chunks that escaped the blender’s blades will block the piping tip, resulting in more poking with a stick (a chopstick this time, and not a wooden spoon).

Me: Do you want to just spoon this into the bowls and eat it?

Him: Yup.

It might not have been much to look at, but it was cool and refreshing. Shockingly, the stick-poking didn’t deter us from wanting to try it again – albeit with slightly thawed pineapple next time.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

baking

It’s two! Two! Two desserts in one!

Does anyone remember the old Certs commercials? (“Two! Two! Two mints in one!”) I just thought that my local stores had stopped carrying them, but apparently they’ve been discontinued altogether. Sigh. In other news, I’m still working on that time machine…

Speaking of a blast from my past: when I was a fresh-faced recent university graduate, I had a less-than-stellar job. I know, who would have imagined? Graduating and not waltzing into six figures and a corner office? I also had a terrifically inappropriate and un-PC nickname for it, but I’ll settle here for calling it “the Farm”, which is the version that won’t get me sent for sensitivity training. There’s not a lot of good that came from my time at the Farm, except for two recipes that the other farm girls shared with me.

One of those recipes was for chocolate brownie cookies. I hadn’t thought about that recipe in years, but when I stumbled across it again recently, I couldn’t not try it.

First, gather the following:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup real mayonnaise
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 6 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped *
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

* I used half a bag of semisweet “chips and chunks”, for interest and texture

Preheat oven to 375o F (190o C). Grease two cookie sheets. In a large bowl, stir together flour, cocoa, baking powder, and baking soda. In another bowl, with an electric mixer, beat together sugar, mayonnaise, eggs, and vanilla for 2-3 minutes until well mixed and creamy. Add the mayonnaise mixture to the flour mixture, stirring just until the flour is incorporated. Stir in the chocolate chunks and chopped walnuts.

Drop batter by heaping teaspoons onto prepared cookie sheets, at least 2″ (5 cm) apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes until cookies have puffed up and are dry on top but rich, moist, and gooey on the inside. Remove to a rack to cool. Makes 4 dozen cookies.

I recruited my baking buddy, and we were on our way!

It took a goodly bit of wrist action to get everything incorporated. When I first added the wet ingredients to the dry, the dry just kind of coated the wet, like a flour-y, cocoa-y blob. (Which sounds like the most delicious horror movie ever, if I’m being honest.)

Clearly my farm-girl friend had never heard of parchment paper. I assure you, the cookies turned out fine despite not using greasy cookie sheets.

Look! At! These! I think I squealed when I saw the dry, crackly brownie top these got. This might be a good spot to mention that we only set the oven to 350o F – as one typically will for cookies – and averaged 8-9 minutes per sheet instead of the 10-12 in the recipe. They came out perfectly moist and brownie-like, not undercooked at all. I can’t imagine what 10-12 at the elevated temperature would have done.

It made me a little sad, thinking of all the years I could have been eating these but wasn’t. Imagine the best brownie you’ve ever had, but in a cookie form – and with a way better edge-to-centre ratio. This will definitely be in regular rotation going forward.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

baking

Just like Grandma used to make…

I’m not kidding, guys. The bake I’m sharing today is my grandmother’s recipe. I can’t share the actual recipe here under penalty of haunting, but here’s one that’s relatively similar. Just, you know, not as good (of course). 😉

These were the sugar cookies I remember growing up, and they’re different than most. I was…pretty old…before I realized that when most people say “sugar cookie” they mean some weird, buttery cutouts decorated to the nines with icing that’s very pretty but makes my teeth hurt to look at it. The cookies I knew used Crisco, giving them a beautiful, neutral flavour; they were sprinkled with coloured sugar before baking, giving them a pleasing crunch. They’re never too sweet, but sparkle prettily on a plate. When I was a kid, my mom used to get out her shaped cookie cutters at Christmas and enlist her helpers to sprinkle sugar in artistic and realistic designs – but when I got older, I learned they taste just as good cut out in plain circles with a little red-white-green sugar on top for colour.

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I got the idea to cut them out into heart shapes and use a variety of coloured sugars to try and recreate a conversation heart aesthetic. If you’ve been with me for a while, you’ll know that I’ve got a bit of a thing for conversation hearts.

And look at them, sparkling prettily!

The big cookie cutter was bigger than I realized, so I soon switched to an antique one (with a wooden handle and all!) to churn out some smaller cookies.

“But wait!” I hear you say, “What’s conversational about these?”

I did prepare a batch of bright-pink royal icing, ready to pipe all sorts of sweet and snarky sentiments, but…it wasn’t to be. I used a recipe from a pretty well-known baking blogger, and although it came together perfectly – and stiffly – in the bowl, it was a mess on the cookies. It might be OK for flooding the entire surface with icing, but not for detailed work. Would I use that recipe again?

About the only positive thing I can say, besides the fact that it dried glossy and gorgeous just like the recipe said, is that it might be handy for people who are bashful about declaring their feelings and don’t want to put themselves out there too much:

“‘Be mine’? No, that says, uh, ‘Mr. Mint’.”

So while I did not wind up with my bevy of conversation hearts, I did wind up with a really delicious batch of sugar cookies to show for it, which is a victory in my books.

Thanks for looking – Happy Valentine’s Day!

baking

Twice as good as uno cotto…

When I was a young ‘un, I understood that “biscotti” meant “a rather hard, crisp cookie found in hipster coffee shops”. While that definition wasn’t necessarily wrong, it didn’t tell the whole story, and it wasn’t until many years later that my language-loving self learned that it came from the Italian for “twice cooked”. “Bi” = “two”; “cotti” = “baked”.

The twice-baked nature of biscotti makes them a little fussier than just making a drop cookie, but when I found myself craving a very specific flavour combination a couple of weeks ago, I knew it was going to demand those crispy edges, that texture. I managed to find the recipe I used the last time I made them (about, oh, four jobs ago) and altered it to suit my needs: about 2 Tbsp orange zest grated into the batter, and 1/2 cup chopped pistachios instead of the chopped cherries called for.

It’s hard to tell from the picture above, but that bowl smelled of orange zest and almond extract at that point and was making the whole kitchen smell good.

Once the chocolate chips and pistachios were mixed in, I shaped the dough into two loaves for the first bake (prima cottura?) After the loaves were slightly golden and set, they cooled off for ten minutes before slicing diagonally into 1/2″ slices.

I had…issues…with the slicing part. While I admit that I did not have a ruler handy to ensure perfect 1/2″ intervals, the recipe didn’t exactly tell me what kind of angle I was supposed to use. If I tried to cut them thin-ish (i.e. 1/2″-ish), they’d be so thin that they’d break and crumble; if I cut them thicker, they’d…break and crumble, but also be really thick. No way was I getting the projected 18 slices out of the first loaf. On the second loaf, I thought I was smart when I started by cutting it in half, thinking it would be easier to sub-divide each half into 9 slices. Oh, how wrong I was.

Once the loaves were hacked into as many viable slices as possible, in they went for their second bake. The recipe specifies “cut edge down”, as though there are a bunch of home bakers out there who try to balance them on edge. After 8-10 minutes on one side, and then flipped for 5 more minutes, they were a delightful golden brown colour.

They weren’t going to be winning any beauty contests, but don’t judge a book by its cover: my test audience loved these. They had a much more sophisticated flavour combination than your garden-variety chocolate chip cookie and provided a nice palate reset after weeks of rich holiday baking. I have no idea how to get around my slicing issues (but am open to suggestions!) but haven’t counted this recipe out yet.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

baking

Schlemiel, schlimazel…schmoo?

I admit that I had to look this up – as a kid, I thought they were just nonsense words – but the schlemiel and schlimazel that Laverne and Shirley sang about at the start of the opening credits may be explained thusly: a schlemiel is a bit of an awkward and clumsy individual, the type who’s always spilling his hot soup; a schlimazel is the poor guy upon whom that spilled soup lands.

But a schmoo (or shmoo)? What you’ve got there is a delicious cake!

Full disclosure: although I live in the land of the schmoo torte, I’ve never tried it. The local grocery store bakeries don’t make it, and schlepping to specialty bakeries isn’t normally my thing. I had a pretty good idea of what went into one, though, and when I had occasion to bake a birthday dessert recently, I wanted to try my own twist on this classic. According to Wikipedia, it’s commonly made with angel food cake or sponge cake as the base; any recipes I found online, however, called for chopped pecans to be folded into the batter or else ground pecans, and that sounded too rich for my taste. Also, I’m not a fan of angel food cake. I know it’s supposed to be a virtuous dessert choice with its reduced fat content and light texture, but whenever I have it I feel like I’m chewing on a kitchen sponge. So, I went with an old standby:

Yeah, yeah, laugh it up. If you’ve been following my culinary adventures for a while, you’ll know that although I make a mean chocolate cupcake from scratch, a vanilla cupcake that’s as light, moist, and flavourful as my chocolate ones has been an ongoing search. These ones bake up perfectly.

I might need lessons in filling my liners evenly…

I let those cool completely…OK, overnight…and then made this cream cheese whipped cream to fill and frost them. Yes, fill and frost. Hey, just because I wasn’t incorporating pecans into the batter, didn’t mean these wouldn’t be decadent as all get-out! (What, you thought I was going to use the frosting from the box?)

My cupcake corer is probably my favourite little kitchen gadget, and this is why. I made the full batch of the whipped cream, and I’m so glad I did. These golden babies were filled to the gills.

This whipped cream is seriously the best. It’s not overly sweet, but the cream cheese keeps it stable so that it holds its shape and doesn’t separate, and gives it a nice flavour while it’s at it.

Immediately before serving, I drizzled caramel sauce generously over those creamy white peaks and sprinkled chopped pecans over top.

The birthday boy (and everybody else) loved them, even those who aren’t normally fans of vanilla – always a bonus!

Thanks for looking! 🙂

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! 🙂

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! 🙂

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! 🙂

baking

The next best thing to the deli

About a month and a half ago, when I was finally, tentatively exploring the freedom granted by rolled-back restrictions, I found myself in Indigo looking for a gift card for Ricky’s birthday. I can’t go into a bookstore and not look around, and while I was wandering through the magazine nook I saw an issue of Pioneer Woman magazine. Because I’m a good daughter, I bought it for my mom. Because I’m not a great daughter, I wound up reading it before she got a chance. Most of her recipes feature too much meat for my liking, but there, nestled in the middle, was a triad of recipes for savoury buns including these beauties.

Be still my heart! Unlike everyone else on the planet, I didn’t drop into hardcore baking mode last spring, but these looked too good to pass up. I hadn’t worked with a yeasted dough in forever, and this seemed like as good a time as any to get back into it. And with time off work over Easter, it felt like a great time.

The first thing I did was toast my sesame seeds over low heat. It started out feeling a bit like a zen garden as I continually moved them around the pan to ensure even toasting, but became decidedly less zen as I became impatient and increased the heat approximately every 75 seconds to speed it along. Miraculously, they didn’t burn, but developed a beautiful golden slightly-less-pallid colour.

My everything-bagel seasoning, all mixed and ready to go. Those huge patches of black are poppy seed, and not pepper (just in case you thought I liked living on the edge).

Once I made my dough and spread it with cream cheese and sprinkled it with about half my mix, it was time to roll these up and slice them. The one way I deviated from the recipe was to use my trusty 9″ x 13″ Wilton cake pan and not a 9″ pie pan as recommended. The pictures accompanying the recipe showed squished, stunted buns. (No pictures of the process, sorry; my hands were covered in flour and dough and cream cheese and I wasn’t about to start smearing that on my phone.) The tops got brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with the remaining seasoning mixture. Because I wanted these for breakfast and not a late-afternoon snack, I stopped at this point to cover my pan with plastic wrap and stick the whole works in the fridge rather than let them have their rise.

The next morning, I pulled them out of the fridge, removed the plastic wrap, and set them in a low oven with a cake pan of water for steam, until they looked like this. It was quite the relief to see them rise and puff up like that, because when I started making the dough the day before I had panicked that I had killed my yeast due to a difference in opinion of what constitutes “lukewarm”. It looks like I dodged a bullet, because these filled out beautifully.

Baked juuuust until golden. You can see how they expanded even more!

These were so good! The dough was tender yet sturdy enough to hold the buns together, and the cream cheese and everything-bagel seasoning complimented each other perfectly. I probably could have scarfed the entire pan by myself, but instead I shared them and everyone who tried one had only good things to say. Although they’re marvy hot out of the oven, they’re just as good at room temperature – which isn’t something I can always say about cinnamon buns.

Now I think my next project will be the spinach and feta variation. It must be healthy if there’s spinach in it, right?

Thanks for looking! 🙂

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! 🙂