Sunday, September 25, 2016

Chocolate-Salted Caramel Sandwich Cookies

If you've every really needed a reason to eat two cookies at once, this is it.

The smooth, fluffy, creamy salted caramel buttercream needs these cookies as much as they need them and putting it in the middle only makes sense.

I most certainly was going to eat two cookies anyways, so this just saves me time.

These rich chocolate crackles are loaded with cocoa powder and come together with just one egg yolk to make them extra rich and tender but still quite crisp on the edges, almost like a French sable dough. A touch of honey keeps them just moist enough and complements the sweet caramel filling.

To make the filling you need to first make caramel sauce, and this you can do a week in advance.

Making caramel is a great skill to have because you can do so much with it - make more fillings, toppings, praline, ganache and decorations.

It all starts with the main ingredient - sugar. There are two ways to make caramel: wet and dry. The dry method is great for making hard candy and brittle, but it requires more attention. The wet method is a bit more fool proof and is great for making sauces and fillings.

The dry: sprinkle sugar in an even layer in a heavy-gauge saucepan over medium heat and cook until spots start to turn golden. Then stir with a wooden spoon gently to promote even colouring and make sure that it all melts into a dark amber liquid. You may need to increase the heat to melt the sugar. It will turn dark quickly.

The wet: sprinkle sugar in a heavy-gauge saucepan, add a bit of water and heat until it dissolves. Increase heat and bring to a boil without stirring. Continue to boil as the liquid starts to turn golden and swirl the pan frequently to colour evenly. Brush down the sides with a wet brush to dissolve any crystals that form on the sides of the pan if necessary. Boil until it turns dark amber.

For either method, carefully add the cream when the liquefied sugar is amber-coloured and stir or whisk to incorporate. That's caramel sauce. Add salt and vanilla extract to taste.

Once the caramel sauce is completely cooled and chilled, you can use it to make this thick buttery caramel filling.

Beat together soft butter, icing sugar and caramel sauce until smooth and velvety. Spread it between two cookies and you're golden.

Job done.


Chocolate-Salted Caramel Sandwich Cookies

For the cookie dough:
½ cup (113g) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup (165g) packed light brown sugar
¼ cup (50g) granulated sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp honey
1 ¼ cups (180g) all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
¼ cup (25g) cocoa powder
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt

For the Caramel Sauce:
½ cup (100g) sugar
2 tbsp (30ml) water
¼ cup (60ml) 35% whipping cream
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp vanilla extract

For the filling:
1/3 cup cooled Caramel Sauce (recipe above)
6 tbsp (84g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (120g) sifted icing sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line 2 large baking trays with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, beat together butter and both sugars with a wooden spoon or electric mixer until pale and fluffy; stir in egg yolk and honey.

In another bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; stir flour mixture into butter mixture combined. Roll tablespoon portions of dough into balls and place on onto prepared baking trays spacing them 2 inches apart. You can chill the dough for 15 minutes if it is too soft to work with.

Bake until cookies are puffed and cracked, about 8 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire racks and let cool completely.

Make the caramel sauce by any method described above in the post and let it cool completely, or chill overnight for best results. To make the filling, beat butter with sifted icing sugar until pale and creamy using a wooden spoon or electric beaters. Gradually beat in cooled caramel sauce until well incorporated and smooth. You may need to chill the filling between additions of caramel sauce to prevent separation.  Spread filling between two cooled cookies and get it on. 
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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Oatmeal Raisin Pecan Cookies

What is the consequence of being in love with your job?

You never get a break. When your job and your hobbies collide, meet in the same space, it becomes hard to make boundaries and discover true leisure. 

Leisure like how our grandma's knew leisure. Crochet, needle point... what is the point of needle point? Nothing. That's the point!

How about painting, water colour, dj'ing (a not-so-hidden passion of my other half), reading (not to be in a book club, but just because you actually like the book)... there are so many things but somehow we don't have time for any of them. I was enlightened by this read:

Feels like hobbies need to be productive or make money these days. Luckily, mine are edible and sweet and make me feel full. I'll admit I'm guilty of the 'job meets hobby' syndrome, but I'm working on making boundaries. For now, lets just work on making cookies.
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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Double Dark Chocolate Lemon Tart

I'm finally here. My brain is in it.

I can do Wednesday. The morning routine has beaten me up and down for two days so I'm broken in again. Thursday will be cool and Friday's are a breeze.

I made a tart to welcome the weekend. I'm thinking forward and being proactive.

This week I need a big chocolate hit. Summer is not over so I wanted something that can be served chilled - it's still pushing 30 degrees C everyday in these parts and I'm not complaining.

Something bright and tangy to keep things refreshing means lemon is in store. I went for a tangy lemon curd made creamy with milky white chocolate.
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Monday, August 22, 2016

Very Raspberry Sherbet in an instant!

Dear Summer,

Just stay. Will you? I'm going to miss my blazing afternoon strolls, the beads of sweat dripping down my back, the fresh herbs growing on my balcony and giant tomato plants that require more attention than a baby (don't quote me on that because I don't have kids - Lord help me.) Long days, dinner at 9pm, ice cream at 9:30pm, trail riding, berry hunting, lake swimming... I love them all.

I can do without the tricks your humidity plays on my Italian meringue and perfectly tempered chocolate. That's just not funny. But if I just make ice cream all day instead of baking, will you stay?

I'm going to keep making icy cold desserts to convince you to hang around.
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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Ultimate 5-Seed Crackers

If you make these once then you will make them over and over again. You might never buy crackers again. Because these, THESE, are holy mama delicious baby. They take about 10 mninutes of your time but look like something that came out of a factory even though they're made right in your cozy kitchen.

Let's run through the details.

They are simple and they use just one bowl. Do you have a mixer? Great. Put it away. You don't need it.

Do you have a spoon? Perfect.

Something you will need is a rolling pin, but even a wine bottle will do. The trick is getting them to look package perfect with sharp edges and uniform lines. It just requires a pizza cutter, or a sharp knife and a ruler.
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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...
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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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