It all started when my friend had a birthday recently.

Wait, scratch that.  It started a few weeks before that, when one of the ladies at work (who knows I’m a baker and has previously been my sprinkle patron) asked me if I baked bars very often.

I wrinkled my nose.  “Not really,” I replied, and economically at that, for those two words were meant to convey the following:

I.  Don’t.  Get.  Bars.  They never seem to bake properly and become inedibly overbaked around the edges before the rest of it is done, and although they’re supposed to be easier than cookies, say, they seem like a lot more work, somehow.  Why do cookbook authors coyly list them with the cookies (e.g. “Bar Cookies”) when they are clearly not cookies?  They’re usually sticky or filled, and you sure as heck can’t eat them with your fingers like a cookie.  But they’re not cake, either.  And how are you supposed to portion/eat them?  With a (sliced) cake or a cupcake, the portioning is self-evident.  With cookies, you can go back and keep grabbing until you’re satisfied.  But bars?  Unless you’re at an outpost of a ubiquitous Seattle-based coffee chain, they’re generally cut into these teeny-tiny squares that look like something from a tea party, and which are not at all satisfying.  Yet because of their often-rich nature, too big a piece is just going to make your teeth and stomach hurt.  Just…why, bars, whyyyy?

I clearly need to work on my non-verbal communication skills, because she pressed on and explained that she had been tasked with baking for a church fundraiser, and thought I might have some ideas.  At that moment, I had a sudden flash of remembered inspiration, and told her all about the Cranberry Lemon Oat Zing Bars from The 100 Best Vegan Baking Recipes by Kris Holechek: they’re delicious, beloved by pretty much anyone who tries one; they’re quick and easy to make (and can be made not-vegan, if that’s how you roll); and they give you something besides just chocolate.  Sometimes there’s just too much chocolate, and these are a welcome antidote.

When I related this exchange to the Birthday Boy, he perked up and said that if I wanted to make a batch to show her what they were like, he would gladly help with the leftovers.  He wasn’t just being nice – I have honestly seen him lick out a container after being brought a sample.  When he mentioned them again, unprompted, a week or so later, I knew I had his birthday cake figured out.

And you know what?  I forgot just how easy these are to make!

Dry ingredients in one bowl:

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I always triple the cinnamon called for in the recipe because we like cinnamon around these parts. 😉

Wet ingredients in another:

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All together, with cranberries stirred in:

The batter was quite thick, and I had to use my fingers to spread/press it into place in the foil-lined, greased pan to get an even layer.  Always line those pans with foil, kids!

And now, we get to the fun part…

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My initial misgivings weren’t entirely incorrect – they did get a little darker around the edges, although not to the point of burning or otherwise ruining them.

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A lemon-cream cheese frosting seals the deal and hides the toasty edges.

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We managed to not set off the smoke detector or get wax on the cake bars, so I’d call that a win-win.

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Look at that: they cut beautifully, have just that little extra browning at the bottom edge, but stayed moist inside.  We played by ubiquitous coffee chain rules and made the pieces cake-sized, but because these aren’t overly sweet (the lemon zest and cranberries provide the right amount of tartness and tang), no one batted an eye.

The Birthday Boy was delighted by his “cake”, and even more so when I sent half of what was left home with him.

I’m still not sold on bars-as-a-culinary-subgenre, but these definitely have a place in my repertoire.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

I know that red velvet cake is generally considered to be a southern dessert.  That’s “southern” as in “below the Mason-Dixon line”, and not “Windsor” – being within spitting distance of the Ambassador Bridge doesn’t count, but I really, really wanted some sort of red velvet cupcake for Canada Day.  It’s red cake!  With white icing!

Silly me: if I wanted a patriotic dessert, I should have stuck with something simple like Nanaimo bars or butter tarts (again).

See, I’ve got issues with red velvet cake.  The Crimson Velveteen cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World are moist and delicious, but, well, darkish.  (The authors fully own this colour issue, arguing that their dessert is much classier than some of the day-glo red versions you see.  Very well, but what if I want bright red?)

Last year I tried the recipe on the Brown Eyed Baker.  Those puppies were nothing short of fire-engine in the picture on her site, but were just as dark as my original recipe and much less flavourful once baked.  Talk about your bait-and-switch!

When I happened upon the red velvet recipe on Sally’s Baking Addiction, I thought I had died and gone to baker’s heaven.  Sally is a full-on baking geek who understands the chemistry and technique involved in making a truly spectacular dessert.  I followed her recipe to the letter, and was rewarded with lovely, brighter-red cupcakes.  (The secret is using about half the cocoa called for in other recipes I’ve seen.)

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They’re red and gorgeous and perfect!  They look exactly like the ones on the blog (piping techniques notwithstanding).  They rose, and formed these perfectly rounded tops upon which to pipe scads of icing

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And they’re just as beautiful under the wrappers, too.

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This is as striptease-y as it gets.

I so appreciated the methodology of the recipe: there’s butter for flavour; oil for moisture; buttermilk to make them tender; and two eggs, the whites of which were whipped and folded into the batter separately to keep things light and fluffy.

There was just one problem…they were kind of dry.  Okay, really dry.

My test audience was split about 50/50 as to whether or not this was a dry cake.  One conceded that “they were fine at first” and only got dry after a few days.  On the other hand, whenever I ate one, I felt like I was playing that old party game wherein one tries to whistle while eating crackers.  And I’ve made hundreds of moist cupcakes, so believe me, I know a dry cupcake when I taste one.  So disappointing!  The only thing I can figure is that the cornstarch in the batter dries them out – there’s cornstarch in the vanilla cupcakes from VCTOtW, and they’re nowhere near as moist as the other varieties.

It’s back to the drawing board for a red velvet recipe that’s at once moist and red; in the meantime, I think I’ll have to order a piece from Sals when the craving hits:

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(Now that’s a red velvet cake!)

Update: After this fiasco, I tried the Betty Crocker red velvet cupcake mix-in-a-box, and once I got past the shame of using a mix, was forced to admit that they’re pretty darned good.  Darker in colour than my scratch-baked cupcakes, above, they’re moist and light.  And I still made my own icing from scratch, so that makes them practically homemade.

Happy Canada Day! 🙂

 

Quick confession time: I tackled cherry jam again this year.  After last year’s attempt, I tried making proper freezer jam using the basic instructions from the Certo box, and wow.  Wowee wow.  This stuff is good.  Not nearly as sweet as last year’s, and actually (ta-daaa!) a proper, jam-like consistency.  No more holding my toast perfectly level!  I did not, however, document the process in photographs, since the hour and a half leading up to jam-making found the two of us with red, juicy hands and increasingly cranky temperaments as pits kept shooting onto the floor.  (There must be a market somewhere for pre-cleaned fruit.)  Ah, well.  Suffice it to say it was worth the struggle.  And now on to today’s adventure.

I had fully expected the cherry jam to be my swan song for the summer.  How much jam does one need in one’s freezer, anyway?  But then this happened:

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A big ol’ box of blueberries for $8.99 seemed too good to pass up.  And with the holiday weekend, well – that could have meant blueberry waffles, blueberry-oatmeal bar…did I mention waffles?  Unfortunately, the bathroom was being redone that weekend, and the neighbour’s cats were being baby-sat, and so it wasn’t quite the lazy weekend I had in mind.  By the time I rescued them from the basement fridge the following Saturday, they were still holding up really well, but I wanted to get them dealt with while that was still true.  Did you know they make pectin especially for freezer jam?

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Well, they do!  And look at how simple it is:

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So, I got to a-washin’, a-crushin’, and a-measurin’.  Note my extremely sophisticated berry-crushing station.  I bet Smuckers hasn’t got a set-up like I have.

After adding my crushed fruit to the sugar-and-pectin mix, and stirring for three minutes, I got this:

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I left the fruit fairly chunky on purpose, figuring that if the pectin didn’t gel up the way it was supposed to, the fruit would give it some body.  I just noticed now that there’s a lot of vintage Tupperware gracing my pictures here – this is what happens when you have two former dealers in the family.  (Dealers?  Representatives?  Oh, holy spirit of Brownie Wise, what do you call those ladies?!)

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My jars are Dollarama specials – at $3 for a pack of three-250 ml jars, they’re slightly more expensive than the flats you can find in all the grocery stores at this time of year – but darn it, check out those adorable gingham lids!

I wasn’t sure how non-Certo pectin would work, but this turned out really well!  Because the recipe uses less sugar, it tastes pretty much exactly like fresh blueberries – like summer (or Violet Beauregarde) in a jar.

As always, thanks for looking! 🙂

Note: This post was originally written and meant to be posted on Sunday; however, because of some technical issues with WordPress first obscuring my photos and then abruptly deleting my entire text, there has been a slight delay.

My neighbours, who are DINKs (to clarify: very nice people, who happen to be Dual Income, No Kids), made the rookie mistake of going out for breakfast this morning.  The restaurant, they reported later, was absolutely packed.  You people have no children!  That’s a free pass from having to do the Mother’s Day brunch mob!  That’s one big advantage to not having kids!  Of course, the advantage to having children who are old enough to use the stove without summoning the local fire department is that you also get to avoid the crowds, and enjoy a home-cooked breakfast, possibly still in your pajamas.

I had mulled over a few ideas for what to make for breakfast, but decided to go with an old standby: giant(ish) baked apple pancakes, which I’ve posted on here before.  They come together really quickly, and yet look so impressive – because whoa, that thing’s the size of my plate!

Just after coming out of the oven, all puffed-up and golden at the edges.

The butter and brown sugar create a built-in syrup of sorts as it bakes, no maple required.  Fun fact: I once forgot to add the brown sugar to the pie pans before baking, and although they released super-easily, they were a little dry and not…quite…right.

I also wanted to make something for dessert, but not the same-old.  Cupcakes are nice, and all, but it’s been done.  While flipping through my collection of cookbooks, I found a recipe for flapper pie in the Kitchen Magpie’s book.  (Hardly surprising, since said book is titled Flapper Pie and a Blue Prairie Sky.)  The recipe took me a little bit out of my comfort zone, but seemed fairly simple, so I thought I’d give it a go.

Did I say “a little bit out of my comfort zone”?  This thing had me tense.  It was only the second time I’ve had to make a thick, pudding-like filling using cornstarch and heat as my catalysts (the first time was the pudding for my Brooklyn Blackout Cake), and I thought it was never going to thicken.  When it did, though, did it ever.  One minute, I was stirring what was in essence a pot of liquid, and the next it was producing a diabolical plopping sound as it came to a boil, and I’m pretty sure I could have gotten my spoon to stand up in the middle of it.  Also, I had never had occasion to make meringue before, and was convinced I would never get stiff peaks out of what seemed like fairly benign ingredients.  But lo (and behold!), the Kitchen Magpie did not fail me, and before long I was topping my pie and popping it into the oven to brown up.

It didn’t come out of the pan quite as neatly as I would have liked, but it did stay more-or-less intact, and tastes like it’s supposed to.  Certainly the Woman of the Hour was impressed – and that’s what matters, right?

Thanks for reading – Happy Mother’s Day! 🙂

“Glass…glass, hmm…I’ve got it: ‘alas’!” – Linus Larrabee, Sabrina

With Easter approaching (or, ahem, upon us), I wanted to make something light and springy – in taste and appearance, not texture.  No one likes rubbery cake.  Years ago, my grandmother used to make a dessert we called “Broken Glass”.  A quick Google search reveals that yes, this is still something that people know about, and recipes abound.  I used this one, but I think I’ll re-write it for myself to better order the steps.

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If you decide to make this, you really ought to consider making your gelatin first.  The recipe calls for strawberry, lime, and orange, but I opted for a cherry-lemon-berry blue combination.  You’re limited only by your imagination, your personal preferences, and what’s readily available in your local grocery stores.  (There, that’s not very limiting, is it?!)

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Although the crust is the first step in the recipe – and the second, if you count “chill” as a step – I held off on making it until my gelatin was nice and firm.  The crust really doesn’t need to chill for that long, and you want to make sure you’ll have sufficient fridge space for everything.  If you’ve got a gloriously large and/or empty fridge, good for you; feel free to shove everything in there at once to chill and/or firm up.

A word about the dreadfully ambiguous eighth step “Set aside until slightly thickened”: I have no idea what “slightly thickened” means, especially since at no time are we told to put it in the fridge to start the thickening/setting process.  At last, something that doesn’t go in the fridge!  When I made this, I let it cool to room temperature so that it wouldn’t completely dissolve my formerly-frozen, now-thawed whipped topping.

And a quick word about pineapple juice: make sure it’s pure pineapple juice, unsweetened, and untainted by other “filler” juices.  My friend made this recipe using a pineapple/apple/pear blend, and it left a funny taste to the filling.

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You should wind up with something that looks like this.

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Isn’t it pretty when it’s cut?

This makes a light, fruity dessert that goes down easily.  It’s also a great recipe for summer because there’s no oven involved – and no stovetop, either, if you boil your water and pineapple juice in the microwave.

Thanks for looking – and Happy Easter! 🙂