C is for Cookie. Malted Chocolate Chip Monster cookies

So despite the backlog of baking posts I’ve neglected to write, for some reason the chocolate-dipped potato chip and this one seem to have a sense of urgency to them that the other baked goods – although delicious – just don’t seem to possess. Perhaps it’s just been that kind of week, very much a chocolate and comfort food week. As if to punctuate the emotional rollercoaster ride I’ve been on lately, today it’s been just pissing down with rain. A good thing, because the grass certainly is in need of it, but perhaps not the most effective of mood elevators.

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You can’t see it very well here, but the rain is pouring off the back veranda. And when I stepped outside to take this picture, the air has that damp chill to it that tells you Fall is in the air. Thank heavens for that. However, it also makes you want to curl up in a blankie with some hot cocoa. And some cookies. But not just any cookie.

Malted chocolate chip cookies. A classic, with an elegant old school flavour twist. What could be more comforting?

I stumbled upon this recipe at Portuguese Girl Cooks while looking for the proper ratios when adding malt powder or extract with the intention of using a recipe I had here. But this one just looked so good, I decided to just go with it.

Of course, I just wouldn’t be me if I didn’t try to tweak it in some way to put my own spin on things. But how could you improve upon something so perfect?

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You Super Size it – that’s how. Now, just to give you a little perspective as to the size of this cookie, do you see that plate there? That’s an 8 inch dinner side plate. And on a cookie sheet that can accommodate roughly two dozen normal size cookies, of these I could only fit five. FIVE.

Monster malted chocolate chip cookies, that’s good enough for me!

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Summer Flavour of Choice: Lemon-Blueberry Cake

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Well, I did start out well with some semi-consistent blogging. But for the month of August? Not so much. I suppose I could apologize again, but it’s probably sounding a bit like a broken record. And I’ve been busy doing other things, most important and surprising of which is working on The Novel. Lots of changes on the horizon, both in fiction and in my real life. Hopefully.

But as much as I’ve been neglecting my blogging, I’m happy to report that I haven’t been so lax when it comes to baking. Take this luscious lemon blueberry concoction, for example, which started out as two loaves of quick bread. I decided to make more use of my Bundt pan. The result? Lovely and light, with a nice moist crumb. I covered it in a quick glaze of lemon juice and confectioners sugar, which I admit may have been overkill. I just got a little excited about the flavour of the moment, is all. I ended up being able to chip it off – that doesn’t sound good, does it? – without destroying the cake entirely.

The best part of all is that I was able to extend its life thanks to a recipe I found in 1940s cookbook I picked up at an antique market. It featured a great little section on how to use various leftovers to create completely new dishes – something that would be of particular interest for the budding Post-war housewife. I had half the cake left, so sliced it up and layered the pieces in a foul-lined loaf pan alternating with some French vanilla ice cream thinned with almond milk. After an hour in the freezer, I ended up with my first ever icebox cake!

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You can find the original recipe for the lemon blueberry loaf here.

Companion to Monthworth Medley: Women’s Institute Recipes

As mentioned in my previous post, I wasn’t able to provide links to some recipes as they were taken from my small treasury of cookbooks. Some of those are more current published works so therefore subject to current copyright laws, so to reproduce them here even with credits attached could be considered infringement.

However, what of the Women’s Institute cookbooks with their wellworn pages that are getting to the point where they are falling loose of their binding? When the paper finally fades and crumbles, what then? Therefore, with no copyright infringement intended, I’ve decided to preserve these pieces of rural baking history by posting them here wherever possible.

The recipe for the rhubarb pie, originally named Sour Cream Rhubarb Pie, comes from a compilation of favourite recipes of the Bruce County Women’s Institute. The pastry recipe I used came from my beloved Dublin’s Women’s Institute cookbook, and was contributed by my grandmother.

Any debate between lard vs butter when it comes to pie pastry has now been put to rest: although its not a terribly popular ingredient these days, lard wins hands-down if you’re looking to make the fluffiest, melt-in-your-mouthiest pie crust ever. Butter is good, but lard is infinitely better.

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Monthworth of Baking – A Photographic Medley

Okay, maybe it’s not an entire month, but it certainly feels that way. All I know for sure is that it’s been a damn long time since I posted anything about the baking I’ve been doing, so much so that I’m not sure I’ll be able to catch up if devote a post to each one. So I’m going to have to cheat a little and post ’em all in one shot.

At least you’ll get pictures and the links to the recipes that inspired them. Hopefully I will be able to go back to my regular bake-then-post model soon, but it just seems like life has had a habit of getting away from me. For example, can you believe it’s already the middle of August?? That just seems so crazy to me!

Anyway, enough stalling – here we go.

The Quest for that perfect French Vanilla Ice Cream, inspired by David Lebovitz’s recipe. Of course. Although, sadly, I’m still in search of that deceptively simple yet elusive flavour. This was a great ice cream, don’t get me wrong, but it just felt a bit too close to frozen custard.

The Quest continues. Anyone have any tried-and-true recipes they care to point me in the direction of, feel free!

Pink Popcorn Candy Balls, made as party favours for a three year old’s birthday party.

Recipe inspired in part by Making Great Candy and also from popcorn machine manual that included a couple of suggested recipes.

Here’s a tip: don’t overlook these  manuals. What you may think is just some instructions for use and warranty limitations could be a goldmine of classic recipe inspiration.

 

Rhubarb Custard Pie with Strawberry-Sour Cream Ice Cream

I’ve begun a whole new love affair with rhubarb. I don’t put any extra sugar on it which allows for that natural tartness to come through.

My mouth is kind of starting to water just thinking about it. The recipe for the pie came from a Women’s Institute cookbook (home of all great pie recipes) while the ice cream – which might just be the very best strawberry ice cream I’ve ever tasted – came from here. I feel it’s important to note that the blogger was inspired by Lebovitz’s book,The Perfect Scoop.

Pate de Choux. My first attempt at making choux pastry. 

I have never in my life turned an oven up so high, plus I have the horrible habit of not being able to keep the door closed because I want to see what’s going on (and the inside light doesn’t work right now on my antique Eaton Viking), so not being able to do that for the first ten minutes was agony. But, I suppose, we have to suffer for our art. Sigh… 

This recipe comes from a book that has become my kitchen sidekick, The Baking Answer Book.

I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to…well, a lot of things, but I was constantly Googling random things like why the butter and water has to be so cold when using it for pastry (so that it will create pockets of steam that lead to a flakier crust), so this book has saved me from hours of wasted time that would have been better used baking as well as excess data usage on my iPhone!

 

Blueberry Quinoa Muffins came out of two things: a general curiosity and the lack of oatmeal for Sunday morning breakfast. I have been wanting to experiment with sweeter dishes using quinoa, so I swapped out the water you would normally boil the quinoa in for soy milk and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. The result was somewhere between an oatmeal and a rice pudding consistency – it was quite tasty, but thick enough to grout your tile if you let it stand too long.

I noticed that there was quite a bit left over, so not wanting to waste any of it I set about finding something to use the remaining quinoa. Although I look all over the Web for alternatives,  I should really know by now that there are generally two sites I can count on for most things: David Lebovitz and Martha Stewart. But I don’t mind – most of the thrill is in the chase, isn’t it?

I used Martha’s  recipe for the muffins, swapping out the vegetable oil for butter and the raisins for frozen blueberries. I did have to Google whether it was better to use frozen or fresh blueberries in baking – as it turns out frozen is the better choice as they hold their shape during the baking process and lend a nice extra bit of moisture to the overall texture of the finished product. This is probably common knowledge for most of you, but keep in mind – I’m new to this. Forgive me?

Macarons, since I’ve discovered how to do them, are my new obsession. It seemed only natural to pair it with another one of my latest obsessions: lemon.

The result? A macaron that tastes  almost exactly like lemon meringue pie. The ones pictured here deviate somewhat from the typical rounds, but take note: they do indeed have pied and therefore qualifies them as actual macarons. Siames twins and heart-shaped, but macarons nonetheless.

Recipe for both macaron shells and lemon curd filling from another kitchen sidekick of mine, I Love Macarons

 

Phew… I think that should just about do it. I may have almost got caught up here. I’m sure there’s something missing here, but these are the highlights that have come out of my sweet little kitchen over the past few weeks. I used more of my cookbooks than usual, which is good since that means they aren’t sitting around collecting dust.

Enjoy!

Apologies for the Absence…here’s some Smoked Caramel Slice. Forgive Me?

Yes, you read that right. I said smoked caramel. Not salted, which is somewhat ubiquitous when it comes to caramel these days. You can’t swing a spatula without hitting a few dozen salted caramel recipes. And don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining. I enjoy all manner of caramel, salted or otherwise. It just got me to thinking that there must be something else that can be done with it, some other subtle flavour enhancer that could be added. But how does one improve upon perfection?

It was while enjoying a backyard BBQ with the fam that it came to me. Someone made the innocent comment ‘I wish everything was smoked’. I had already been ogling this recipe from I wish I was Martha (oh honey, don’t we all!) for Millionaire Squares and was trying to decide how to put my own twist on them. Caramel Slice is what they’re called in the UK and Australia, as I’d discovered when I’d found another recipe in one of my cookbooks, The Primrose Bakery Book. And in Caramel – I do love to do my research – I found another recipe for this delicious concoction. They all shared the same basic formula: a shortcrust-style bottom pressed into the bottom of the pan and baked which, once cooled, was layered with caramel and finally topped with a layer of chocolate. Regardless of what you called it, Millionaire Squares or Caramel Slice, they are seriously habit-forming.

And once I’d added in a dash or two of liquid smoke, they became heart-stoppingly good. As in, your mouth begins to water and tastebuds start to tingle even before the caramel hits your lips. If you happen to be a fan of barbecue, of course. If not, then obviously these would not do anything for you. But that’s fine, to each their own. If you do love the smoked stuff then do yourself a favour: give it a shot in your next caramel recipe. Just start with a teaspoon, then go from there. The danger with liquid smoke is that it can overwhelm the food it’s meant to enhance rather quickly, so you have to go easy with it. The only way I can think of to make this better would be if I could figure out how to cold-smoke the actual caramel so to get an authentic smokey taste as opposed to relying on a smoke flavouring.

In regard to my absence, it’s not that I’ve not been baking and therefore had nothing to write about. I baked up some black bean brownies and a cornmeal peach cobbler last week that I fully intended to post on but when the results were just meh I decided not to. And then there’s the exciting macaron post which will likely be the subject of my next post. But in the time in between, I’ve been trying to decide what direction to take in my future.

Do I try the apprentice route, attempt to get into a local bakery to learn from the ground up? I love baking, but would I still feel the same if it were my actual job? My husband has a friend who used to be a pastry chef – his whole world revolved around baking and he loved it. Until a couple years later when he couldn’t stand the thought of it anymore. It took him five years to pick up a whisk again. That’s kind of how I feel about makeup, and I already know how much it sucks to despise something you formally loved with such passion. I would hate for that to happen to me again with the baking, especially since it’s such a source of comfort to me. So I’ve been thinking of other things that I may be able to do, things that relate to baking but not to the point where I could burn out on it myself.

I can’t go into too much detail at the moment, but believe me – you’ll be among the first to know when I can!

The Power of Flowers: Violet-Chocolate Cupcakes

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For someone who claims to be such a chocoholic, I haven’t really been using that much of it in my baking of late. But when I do, oh mama…I don’t hold back. But rather than get completely carried away with the chocolate usage – trust me, there’s plenty of time for that – I decided to hold true to my word in my last cupcake post and pair chocolate with the sweet flavour of violet.

Was it a success? Well, I’m not sure. I’m not convinced either way. Perhaps I used too strong of a cocoa powder – I used up the very last bits of my prized Valrhona to make up about a third of the cocoa in this recipe, the remainder was good old reliable Fry’s. But maybe, as I learned the hard way with my first Red Velvet experience, you have to use a slightly more neutral cocoa powder or else it won’t work? In both cases the chocolate flavour turned out beautifully but just as the red wasn’t quite red enough in the Velvet, the violet wasn’t as prevalent as I would have liked it to be. But then, it could be as simple as I just used too much cocoa powder and not enough violet? Hmmm

I used the same recipe as I did for the Bleeding Heart Rose cupcakes with a few amendments, mainly swapping in cocoa for the 1/4 cup in the 1-1/4 cup sugar called for in the original recipe, and then 1 tsp violet syrup in place of the vanilla extract. The overall taste in the end was nice, especially with the addition of the violet buttercream – although I will have to use less violet in the icing next time because it refused to hold its shape, hence the slightly psychedelic appearance of the adorning ‘violets’.

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Also for next time, I may do away with the chocolate portion altogether in order to let the violet really shine – although it has a sweet sharpness to it on its own, the chocolate just tames the violet right down. And to add more of the violet flavouring, you run the risk of making the cake too perfumey in a sickly sweet sort of way. Perhaps I should keep it simple, as a white cake. Or maybe tint it with just a hint of purple to give it some edge, to really let it become The Violet Femme. Otherwise, I can already tell that this particular cake recipe is quickly becoming my ‘go-to’ when it comes to experimenting with new flavours and ideas. It’s incredibly adaptable.

Has anyone else tried baking with violet syrup? Any tricks or tips you wish to pass on would be great 🙂

From Failure to (Almost) Fondant: Tea Time with Tiffany Mini-Cakes

A couple of days ago I thought I’d try my hand at marshmallow-making. Those soft white puffy clouds of sugary goodness sometimes haunt me, and I wanted to make them mine. Without gelatin.

This would be where the failure comes in. I discovered – the hard way, as I’m wont to do – that it is extremely difficult to make fondant without some sort of setting agent. Be it gelatin or actual marshmallow root, you need something to make it rise and retain its height as well as shape. One cannot rely on the magic of boiled corn syrup and sugar to do it for one, especially if one is not an experienced candymaker. Like myself. So there I was, stuck with a sticky white dough that wouldn’t quite harden but did maintain form when moulded. Like Playdoh. And it appeared to be awfully similar to that white dough-like substance used to cover most professionally decorated cakes you might see on such shows as Cake Walk on Slice TV or Planet Cake, a BBC series based on the Australian designer cake studio who creates stunningly beautiful cakes. It may have been watching that which made me decide that my marshmallow concoction was indeed fondant (it wasn’t) and that I was going to use it to cover some miniature cakes in honour of my other favourite colour and what I consider my own version of the Happiest Place on Earth, Tiffany & Co. Screw Disneyland – give me a little blue box with something shiny inside any day of the week.

I think that now may be a good time to mention that I have never, ever covered a cake with fondant before. I’ve worked with it, created little cupcake decorations and in the making of chocolate covered cherries, but not to any great extent. But I figured, how hard could it be? Ohhhh so naive. And arrogant. I blame the macaron success wave that I must have still been riding on. Yes, still. I am that sad. And while we’re on that subject, another thing that should be brought up is how completely obsessed with Tiffany’s I am. I have a small shrine in my living room bookshelf where I have lovingly created a vignette featuring bags and boxes from various Tiffany gifts I’ve received over the years. I also insisted on one of our bathrooms being painted Tiffany blue, and dragged the long-suffering husband and son through several different Lowes and Home Depots in search of the shade of blue-green that most closely matched the coveted, proprietary shade. Incidentally, I found it at RONA’s – Canadian readers will know what I’m talking about. I think it was shade #1246 if I remember correctly – it’s a miracle I don’t still have the shade card. Oh right… in case you haven’t picked up on this yet: mentally speaking, I’m a couple cupcakes short of a dozen. But that’s not the point I’m trying to make; my point is simply that matching the shade was the least of my worries since I have more than enough source material to work from. And match it I did, not just once but six times since working with the ‘fondant’ in one large mass was proving to be too difficult so I had to separate and tint it for each cake individually.

That should have been my first clue that something was amiss.

But no, since I’d managed to get so far as too have a near perfect match to that lovely shade I was determined to persevere. Even if it killed me. But it didn’t, it just took me the better part of two days to do all six. With bows. Did I not mention the bows? Oh…whoops!    I decided I wanted to make the cakes into little gift boxes, complete with white fondant bows. Not unlike these ones pictured here.  

From My Little Cake Shop – Cake Central.com

So…not too ambitious for a first project, right?

Enough of my babbling – that’s not what you came here for. What you want to see is what I poured my heart and soul into for a couple of days. There were tears, there were tantrums, there was even a fit or two of rage. But in the end, for better or worse, here is the end result.

Now that I’m looking at them again, they really aren’t so bad for a first timer’s shot at it. I mean, I probably would have fared far better, and maybe saved myself some time and mental anguish, had I used real fondant instead of my homemade concoction. In the closeup top view shot you can clearly distinguish the first day from the second – I prefer to pay most of my attention to the bottom three cakes. They came out much prettier, much more uniform. But I am extremely pleased with the soft fluffiness and pristine whiteness of the cake itself and especially with how well the icing matches. Then again, I am trained as a makeup artist so colour-blending should be second nature to me. So it’s good to know that those fourteen or so years weren’t completely in vain, that there are a few transferable skills I can take with me should I decide to pursue this cake thing further than just a means of therapy.

But that would be another post for another time. And a lengthy one at that. I’m not sure I have it in me today. And besides, I’m still trying to play catch up with these baking posts; yesterday will account for three of them on its own! Yeah…not a good day mentally, but a great day gastronomically! Maybe I can get to that tomorrow. But for now, it’s time to rest and get re-energized so to contemplate my next moves – personally, professionally, and culinarily.

A Tale of Two Pies

I love pie.

More than any other treat, even chocolates, there’s nothing like a good piece of pie to make a bad day suddenly better. And put a good day completely over the top. Basically, there’s never a bad time for pie. But what often holds me back is the labour-intensiveness of the pie-making process. It was always so much easier to head into Kensington Market and grab a slice at Wanda’s Pie in the Sky. However, now that’s not really an option. Wanda’s is a bit too much of a trek.

Hot on the heels of my galette-baking success, and at the urging of my husband’s cravings, I decided to try my hand at hand at two favourites yesterday afternoon. First, my husband’s pie of choice: Pecan

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I used my grandmother’s recipe from the beloved Women’s Institute cookbook, but with a couple of tweaks to try to make my own mark on it.

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I replaced the white sugar with dark brown sugar, which I tend to do with most recipes because I’m not a huge fan of white sugar. Too gritty, and nowhere near the same depth of flavour you get with the darker varieties. Also, I used a regular corn syrup instead of the light syrup the recipe called for. I wanted that super-gooey, dark dense filling that – to me, anyways – is the mark of a proper pecan pie. It worked well, if I do say so myself.

The next pie was a bit of a challenge for myself. And therefore, much more terrifying. In every diner I eat at, I well order a piece of it if I see it on the menu. To me, it’s perfection on a plate. I give you my favourite pie: Coconut Cream

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It was nerve-racking, to be sure. But I got through it in the end, thanks mainly to this excellent recipe here. The pie crust recipe, which happily yields two disks of lovely dough, is remarkably easy to make. And for the most part I kept to the recipe. But it wouldn’t be me to not put my own spin on it. For the custard filling, I swapped out two cups of whole milk for coconut milk, which gave me the distinctive coconut flavour I was hoping for. Next time, I might even substitute coconut milk for all three cups of milk. As for the whipped cream topping, I opted for 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract because the custard was quite rich on its own and I didn’t want anything to compete with that coconut flavour. That’s the basis on which I judge a good coconut cream – by how much actual coconut flavour is involved. Some pies that I’ve had in the past are too eggy or may as well be vanilla pie, save for the sprinkling of toasted coconut on top. Which brings me to my last substitution: I went for untoasted, unsweetened coconut overtop the whipped topping in place of the more traditional toasted. Aesthetically, I find it more pleasing. Like fluffy white clouds against a clear blue sky, or freshly fallen snow.

And now that I’m waxing all poetic about pie, I think that it’s time to wrap this up. Besides, I’m feeling so good about yesterday’s victory in the kitchen that I just might use the leftover egg whites to take another crack at my arch sweet-making nemesis: the Macaron.