Monday, July 25, 2016

Italian "S" Cookies

I'll be the first to admit that Italians aren't the world leaders in cookies. That's not to say there aren't some incredible Italian desserts like tiramisu, cannoli (oh hot dang cannoli!), gelato (hello!) and delicious nougat laden with hazelnuts called torrone. 

But if you are ever faced with an Italian cookie platter, it leaves much to be desired. Most of them look bland, pale and uninteresting. They are usually on the drier side - on purpose - that's just the way they are made. They lack the fudgey, ooey, gooey, crispy and melty textures of American favourites, or even the buttery melt-in-your-mouth character of some British or Eastern European cookies.

They're mostly just.... dry and crumbly. I'm sorry! I'm so sorry. There some exceptions, however, like the peach cookies that my Zia and my mom used to make which were the bomb mostly because they were so pretty and looked like actual peaches, and because they were soaked in booze. I do also love biscotti when made right (like my Mom's incredible recipe) and when dunked in chocolate. And then there were these infamous "S"-shaped cookies that we appropriately called "S" cookies. They are simple, but really delicious. 

In the neighbourhood where I grew up - an awesome one it was - we were all very close. No backyard really belonged to anyone and we shared our space like a giant amusement park. For me to run down 4 houses past my own and swing on their bench, play with their dog or pick their blackberries was totally normal. This one Nonna at this one little brown house always called me in if she saw me and fed me "S" cookies. Eventually I just started hanging out there when I was hungry...

They weren't laden with chocolate chips or oozing with caramel. They were not dipped or glazed or filled. They were just crisp, tender, a bit buttery but not too buttery and a tad custardy with clean vanilla flavour. They were usually coated simply in granulated sugar and if you have a cup of coffee around, oh man do they ever love it! They soak it up instantly and just dissolve on your tongue.

Whether it's the nostalgia or the clean crisp flavours, I really do love these cookies.

This recipe has very little sugar compared to almost any other cookie I know and it is most similar to shortbread with added richness of 2 egg yolks. The original cookie is a puffier, somewhat less rich one based on a much wetter dough, but I've changed it up just a bit to create this ultra tender texture.

Ground almonds enhance the flavour by adding richness and help to create that tender crumb.

The dough comes together in just 5 minutes but it does need some resting time in the fridge so that you can roll it into "S" shapes.

Bake them just until they take on just a little bit of colour, but not much. They shouldn't be browned.

Enjoy these any time of day or night, or feed them to the kids trespassing on your lawn. They'll remember you for it.


Italian "S" Cookies
makes 15 cookies

6 tbsp (84g) unsalted butter
1/3 cup (40g) icing sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
1 cup (142g) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (25g) ground almonds/almond meal

In a medium bowl, beat the butter, icing sugar and lemon zest together with a spatula or a wooden spoon until smooth. Stir in egg yolks, vanilla extract and salt until well incorporated. Sift flour over the bowl and add ground almonds. Fold it in until evenly blended. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a large baking tray with parchment paper.

Take tablespoon portions of dough and roll it into a small log. Shape the log into an “S” shape and carefully transfer to prepared baking tray. Continue with remaining dough. Brush “S” dough logs with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake until just lightly golden around the edges and firm to the tough – they should not get too browned. Let cool completely and serve with coffee!

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Banana Caramel Cheesecake Squares

I heard recently on a movie a child explain the world like toast and our lives like butter. It is so big and there are so many things we need to do, so many places to go, so many things to see, that our time ends up being spread so thin. Everyone's saying "pick up the pace", "get a move on", "hurry up"... I could be totally cliché and say that we all need to slow down. But, I feel exactly like that kid - I'm getting old and running out of time! I still want to do so many things but who knows if I'll get to all of them. I got to these cheesecake squares though, that's for sure.
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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Dark Chocolate Truffle Tartlets

What's more worth it? The tart or the couch?

I choose tart.

Working out, then working, then cooking then sleeping. It's a lot of stuff to pack into one day. I wonder if eating those 2 chocolate tarts (one warm from the oven, then another chilled....) is worth waking up before dawn to cardio my butt off. But it's not just the tarts... sometimes there's cookie dough, cupcake batter and pie all in one day. But then when these tarts hit my lips... warm and cold... I'm like, mmmmmm hmmmmm. I want that. But sometimes I really just want to be sitting on that couch. Couch plus tarts + cookie dough + pie does not equal healthy. Treadmill + tarts + cookie dough + pie = kinda healthy? (PS - don't take health advice from a pastry chef)
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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Caramelized White Chocolate

There was this one time in South Korea. My husband and I were waiting for the train to the airport. I waited in line to exchange money at the bank in the train station while he kept watch of our bags. I was waiting for 1.5 hours. After all that time I get told they don't carry the currency I needed - so it was a totally unproductive wait on my part. However, in that time my husband had very precisely hand-sown a pocket into his cloth carry-bag to perfectly hold our tablet. This was the third sewing stint he performed in 3 weeks, including sewing a borrowed zipper onto that same bag and fabricating a protector for my tablet from a laptop cover that we no longer needed. I quickly realized his hidden talent and I looked at him in a whole new light. He is damn good with a needle and thread (and maybe a bit obsessed with organization/electronic protection?), and I no longer need to hem my own pants.

That's how I feel about white chocolate.
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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

3-ingredient PB Banana Ice Cream Dessert

Short and sweet - that's how this recipe goes.

There is one piece of equipment you don't need - an ice cream maker. But there is one you do need - a food processor or very powerful blender.

Short is the ingredients:
1. bananas
2. peanut butter
3. Greek yogurt

Sweet is the craving conquered with bananas and only bananas.

Slicing the bananas before freezing them accomplishes a few things. The smaller size means it will freeze faster. Faster freezing means less ice crystals, smoother texture and it gets this dessert to my mouth sooner. When thoroughly frozen, the banana will be rock hard and impossible to slice anyways. Also, peeling the banana immediately stops the ripening process so you can catch it when its at that sweet spot, which is speckled but not black.
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Sunday, June 5, 2016

Flourless Honey Walnut Brownies

With all the baking and sugar-inhaling that I do week-daily, you might think I couldn't stand the thought of eating any more sweet stuff on the weekend.

When baking becomes your job, maybe it gets redundant and mandatory and sugar becomes the enemy? No. Negative. That never happened. It's like that time my parents introduced my 9-year-old self to the all-you-can-eat ice cream sundae buffet at The Olive Garden. I swore I would "never eat ice cream again". That lasted one day.

I do, however, enjoy treats that are not soooooo sweet once in a while. I still get cravings on Saturday nights and I still love to bake in my free time, but I don't mind something a little softer and subtle.

Right now I'm really into frozen treats and I'll post some of that for you later...
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Monday, May 30, 2016

Buttery Pecan Press-in Shortbread

There are four things about this recipe that you should get really excited about:
1. Buttery - oh yes it is.
2. Pecan - a hell of a nut.
3. Press-in - this means easy!
4. Shortbread.

You need less than 10 minutes prep before this gets in the oven.

You need only one mixing bowl.

You need just 5 ingredients.

You need your hands, but a food processor will work too if you don't mind a bit more clean-up.
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Monday, May 23, 2016

Flourless Crustless Chocolate & Apricot Fudge Tart

Oh man. Long weekends just make me realize how much more fun life is when you're not working.

Long bike rides, a mild sun burn, wind in my hair, late nights, friends, fizzy drinks, lots of ice cubes, movie reviewing (do not EVER watch The Human Centipede - ew), foodie conversations, slow cooking and fast baking. Brunch! I love when there's time for brunch...

How. HOW are we all supposed to go back to work after a long weekend? Chocolate. That's how.

Totally flourless and totally fudgy - this dessert is one meant to be served at the table and on a board. Plates are optional.
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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Peanut Chocolate Mud Cake

Mud cakes are not something we're so familiar with over on this continent. Us North Americans love our layer cakes, mostly because it gives room for more frosting. Amen to that!

Something I learned about while living in Australia was the popularity of really simple, one-bowl, one-bake desserts.

Cookies aren't so popular because they need to be portioned, but slices that can be spread as a sheet or a slab and baked in one go are a hoot!

Layer cakes are considered too fussy, but big tall single layer cakes are what's in style there. They rarely frost the sides too. A missed opportunity? Maybe.

A lot has to do with the sort-of slack baking culture due to the hot climate. Who wants to run the oven for hours when it's smokin' hot outside, humid as whaaaaaat and air conditioning comes at a premium? Plus there's way better things to do than washing dishes, like going to the beach or having a picnic.
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Sunday, May 8, 2016

Stracciatella Cheesecake Brownie Cups

One of the first recipes I got stuck on when I discovered my passion for baking many years ago was a cheesecake brownie. I couldn't get enough. Two of the most delicious and decadent things mashed into one bite.

I still love this combo to this day and today I took it to the extreme in terms of fudginess. This is practically candy.

I'm sticking to my stracciatella theme from last week, putting chocolate chips through the cheesecake batter. It's chocolate everything in Christina's world right now (and always) since I'm wrapping up recipes for a second cookbook dedicated to everything chocolatey and sweet and salty.
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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Strawberry Apple Stracciatella Pie

 I refuse to wait for you, Spring. Fine. You can rain all you want and barely push 12 degrees C. Go ahead.

My strawberries are coming from USA and Mexico and I just don't care. I can't stand it any longer and I want my berries now! But I promise when June finally comes around and Spring weather finally sticks, then I'll be all up in those farmlands picking more berries than my soon-to-be stained fingers can handle. 

For now, my imported strawberries find their way into a beautiful seasonal (sort of) tart that satisfies my cravings for creamy and fruity and flaky.
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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Peanut Butter Cream Cranberry Oatmeal Sandwich Cookies

I sometimes have trouble sleeping and it's usually caused by one of three things:

1) I ate a giant bowl of Moosetracks ice cream at 10:38pm,
2) I'm planning my grocery list for what I want to bake tomorrow and can't decide if it should involve chocolate or fruit (probably chocolate), or 3) I'm completely restless because I've convinced myself that sleeping is a waste of time.

Most people love sleeping for reasons which I completely understand. It rests the mind, rests your joints, helps to prevent nasty eye bags and makes you look a little more put together throughout the day. Because of my habit of feeling guilty for sleeping and not working on the second cookbook, e-mailing my friends overseas or ironing the pile of wrinkled everything at the foot of my bed, I end up tired, sore and with what looks like I put purple eye shadow on the wrong side of my eye.
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Sunday, April 17, 2016

How to make Marzipan

Last week I showed you how to avoid paying a premium for someone to take skins off your almonds. That is, do it yourself easily at home! Blanched almonds are useful for many things in baking, especially for decorating cakes, cookies and candy around the holidays.

One of their most useful uses is making almond meal for macarons and almond paste (also called marzipan) for making chocolate-covered confections, pastry fillings and even cakes.
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Sunday, April 10, 2016

How to make Blanched Almonds

Thank you for being patient. 

I know I haven't been posting as punctually or as interestingly as usual. There's been a lot going on around here and I'm just trying to get used to it all. Everything is new right now - new city, new home, new job and new recipes!

After three years living abroad, I'm back reunited with my baking equipment. I missed my coloured plates, my tart pans and my favourite spatula. I'm learning how the afternoon light comes through my windows and what angles make my cookies look their best. I'm also learning that I can still eat four cookies in one sitting. That kind of skill never wears off.

Now that all of my cupboards are full, my cake pans are stacked and the empty boxes are gone, I can settle back into comfort baking! I'm still working on stocking my pantry but I'm nearly there. One thing I do have is a giant bag of almonds not just because I love eating them, but because I love to bake with them too.
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Saturday, April 2, 2016

3-Layer Peanut Butter Chocolate Fudge Bars

Because you haven't had enough shuga after Easter...

Because you might need a solution to your overstock of chocolate bunnies and chocolate eggs...

Because you've run out of candy dishes to fit all of that Easter candy in...

You can make these sweet AND salty layered peanut butter chocolate fudge bars.

Bars are easy to make. They are fast, satisfying and interesting because they can feature different layers with contrasting flavours and textures. They are not as Science-y as cake or pastry. They're more casual but still worthy.

The base for these irresistible bars is best described as a peanut butter shortbread cookie. Crispy, crunchy and not too sweet.

The middle layer is where your Easter chocolate gets reborn. If you are loved enough for people to know you like dark over milk (right!?) then you should have plenty of dark chocolate bunnies and eggs. You need 3 ounces of it to make a brownie-like fudgy filling. A bit of honey creates a more gooey texture but still firm enough to hold a slice.
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