Sunday, July 26, 2015

Chocolate Matcha Sable Cookies

I'm eating my way through Japan and really testing my appreciation of the utmost subtleties of flavour.

Japanese cuisine can almost be likened to Italian cuisine in the way of its simplicity and use of few high quality ingredients. They do have cinnamon and clove-infused curries that pack a punch, and then there's all different kinds of miso that tackle your taste buds at every angle of salty and sour. But, the art of sushi is defined by the texture and perfectly balanced subtle flavours of the rice almost more than the freshness of the fish.

Eating soba noodles is best done cold in order to prolong the enjoyment of the soft and slightly chewy texture of the noodles and mild tang of buckwheat. It is traditional to eat plain cold soba with nothing more than some dashi or light soy mixed with green onions and a touch of wasabi. You dip the noodles in - do not pour it on top - that way you control how much you need.

Probably my most favourite Japanese ingredient is Matcha. Matcha is a special grade of green tea of which the leaves are ground to a very fine powder so that in can be blended into a whole heap of things. You can find Matcha anything here in Kyoto and I am in heaven!

Like with most things, Matcha is appreciated in its pure form as a hot or cold beverage, but also can be used to make lattes, ice cream, sponge cakes, jellies and more.

One suprising combination that I am totally fond of is Matcha and dark chocolate.  You would think that the intensity of chocolate would overpower the green tea flavour, but the bitter qualities of each really complement each other.

These tender crumbly sable cookies are a French classic. 

The filling is based on white chocolate ganache which provides milky sweetness to carry the bitter tea flavours - sort of like the Matcha latte I mentioned.

A lot of people think adding milk to green tea is weird, but if you drink Matcha then it is totally right! Because this special tea leaf is ground so fine, it lends a creamy frothy mouthfeel to tea that marries well with milk or cream.

Traditionally these sable cookies are piped into shapes directly onto the baking tray which means that the dough needs to be the right consistency - that is not too stiff and a bit soft. In order to achieve this it is imperative that your ingredients are at room temperature. The butter must be perfectly soft and the egg whites must not be cold. Egg whites are mainly water,  and fat and water do not mix. So, having the ingredients at room temperature will help you get there. 

You also need to cream the heck out of the butter until it is nearly white. This aerates it so that you get a fine-textured cookie. Make sure to also bake them all the way through to get that crunch.

To get your hands on Matcha powder you will likely need to pay a visit to an Asian supermarket.  The good stuff isn't cheap and the not-so-good stuff is loaded with filler like maltodextrin. Look for a deep green colour and a texture like fine rice flour. The good stuff will likely be packaged very carefully too.

I hope you go green tea crazy like me. It's one of the best kinds of crazies!


Chocolate Viennese Sable Cookies
Makes 18-20 cookies

1 cup minus 1 tbsp (130g) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (25g) cocoa powder (Dutch processed)
25g corn starch
2/3 cup (150g) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup (80g) icing sugar
1/8 pinch of salt
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 large egg whites

Matcha ganache:
150g pure white chocolate
1/3 cup (80ml) 35% whipping cream
1 tbsp matcha powder

*MAKE SURE ALL INGREDIENTS ARE AT ROOM TEMPERATURE for easy incorporation of egg whites to butter, and for a soft dough that pipes easily.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees (180 degrees C) and line 2-3 baking sheets with baking paper.

In a bowl, sift the flour with corn starch and cocoa powder; set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat soft butter until very light and creamy, at least 4 minutes. Add sifted icing sugar and salt and beat until very light and nearly white in colour, another 4-5 minutes. Beat in vanilla.

Whisk egg whites in a small bowl just until foamy. Gradually add to creamed mixture with the mixer on medium-low speed and beat until well incorporated and fluffy. The mixture will loosen and then come together after beaten sufficiently. Sift flour mixture over the bowl and fold the dry ingredients in until the mixture is combined and a thick chocolate batter forms.

Spoon the batter into a durable pastry bag fitted with a large star nozzle and pipe 2 or 3 stars next to each other (or any shape you prefer).

Bake for 12-14 minutes until dry and crisp. Let cool on the tray completely. 

To make ganache, heat cream to a simmer and pour over chopped chocolate in a metal bowl. Stir until smooth. Stir through matcha powder. Refrigerate until very thick and spreadable, about 2 hours. Spread about 1 teaspoon of ganache between two cookies and dig in!
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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Nutty Butter Whole Grain Cookies

If anything comes close to a good-for-you cookie, this would be it.

Let's look at the facts:

Whole wheat flour,

a laughable 3 tablespoons of butter,

honey, and only 1/4 cup of it,

peanut butter (almond butter would make a great substitution),

rolled oats,

more nuts,

...and cocoa powder.

To summarize, that's more than half the butter than a regular cookie, more than half the sugar and a whole lot of fibre. We get fibre from the bran in the whole wheat flour, from peanut butter, from almonds and oats. Did you know that cocoa powder is an excellent source of fiber too? That's a fact.

To stay on track (and because its awesome) make sure to use bittersweet chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solids. Anything less than 60% is just sweet. For some it is an acquired taste, but you'll find that the more you eat it, the more you will like it. Plus, if you like coffee, there is no reason why you wouldn't fall in love with bittersweet chocolate - cocoa and coffee share many of the same flavour characteristics.

These are not the chewy gooey type - that would require a whole lot more sugar! These are more of a drier cookie, but not crispy. They are solid. Once you take a bite, they begin to feel moist thanks to oats which contain beneficial soluble fiber that activates as soon as it comes in contact with liquid. Then the honey helps to retain moisture despite their dry appearance. 

These get stashed in my purse on my way out the door so that I can have a quick breakfast on the run. This is best for everyone - me and anyanyone around me. When I am fed I am happy and not hangry. If I am hangry, I will just be difficult. I'm not ashamed. Just keep me eating.

Nutty Butter Whole Grain Cookies
Makes 12 cookies

¼ cup (60ml) honey
3 tbsp (42g) unsalted butter, melted
2 tbsp (30ml) smooth peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
¾ cup (75g) rolled oats
2 tbsp (12g) cocoa powder, sifted
2/3 cup (95g) whole wheat flour
½ tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
70g bittersweet or dark chocolate, chopped
2 tbsp sliced almonds, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two large baking trays with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the honey, melted butter, peanut butter and vanilla.

Add the oats, cocoa powder, whole wheat flour, baking soda and salt and mix until just combined.

Fold in the chocolate chunks and almonds.

Divide the dough into 12 portions and roll into balls. Flatten into a circle on the baking tray, spreading them an inch apart — they will not spread in the oven.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the tops feel dry. Transfer to a wire rack to cool and then store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Toasted Almond Pralines

I was never one for goodbyes. It just feels so definite. It makes me think of... the End. I don't like the idea of good things ending. I prefer to think of it as moving forward. Focus on the newness.

The idea of never seeing someone again - someone who I connect with - makes me sad, frankly. People and relationships are what make us human. But honestly, if we really get each other, we will see each other again. Period. I have friends all over the world - friends I've made through academia, work and travel - and I am happy to say we've managed to reconnect on many occasions. It's up to y-o-u to make it happen.

Sometimes I'm just no good at saying goodbye, but I am good at making chocolate. So, I give chocolate.

Making chocolates requires patience and a delicate touch. It says "I think you're alright". There are different components, different textures, different heating and cooling stages and precision. It requires time. And what better gift to give to someone than your time.

The kicker is the dipping and setting. You need to temper chocolate (GAH!). Tempering is called just that because it can test your temper. Be patient, take time. It is essentially a controlled method of cocoa butter crystallization (super scientific, but super achievable).
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Sunday, July 5, 2015

Berry & Lime Crumble Tarts

If you are not neck-deep in fresh berries right now, then where the heck are you!?

Summer is like an antique jewellery box - full of rubies, sapphires and amethyst. There are so many gems to behold and devour.

I'm a nut in the summer time. I must go picking for all of these jewels - strawberry picking in June, cherry picking in July, then raspberry and blueberry picking in August. My tongue is consistently stained either red or purple. I save a lot of money on lipstick.
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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Salt & Vinegar Brownie Brittle

I get these crazy ideas.

Ideas about making a chocolate version of salt & vinegar potato chips. Totally weird. I like weird.

It's not the first time I've put savoury pantry ingredients in dessert before. My Sweet & Soy Pecan Chocolate Pie Bars proved to be irresistible. 

It's also not abnormal for my ideas to turn into inedible disasters. That happens. It sucks, but it happens. The bright side is that I always learn from it. I never let the fear of failure get in the way of my wacky ideas. Ideas (and love and chocolate) are what make the world go round.
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Sunday, June 21, 2015

White Chocolate & Blueberry Brown Butter Cookies

I used to hate white chocolate. I hated it so bad.

Mostly I hated it for spite. It's not chocolate. It would be like Crème Brûlée without the brûlée, or like J-Lo without the booty - she would just be Jennifer... or something.

It took me travelling to Portugal - makes no sense, I know - to discover how good white chocolate can really be. I understand I can taste great white chocolate anywhere really, but this is when I had my revelation. So, this is my story as weird as it is.

I was writing my Master's thesis and naturally this coincides with heavy consumption of chocolate day-in, day-out. Plus, my thesis was about the sensory properties of Portuguese red wine... So eating dark chocolate to complement red wine tastings was purely for research. Yeah... research.

There was this one supermarket called Pingo Doce that sold organic fair trade chocolate blocks that were delicious. The bittersweet bar - 70% cocoa - was well tempered and intense. And it was only 1.50 euro. For a student chocoholic, this was salvation. I loved it.
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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Giant Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Tart

You know I couldn't go much longer....

20 weeks is FAR too long to make you wait for a chocolate & peanut butter recipe, so this is well deserved and well desired.

Back in January I posted Chocolate Brownie Peanut Butter Pies and I felt they needed a follow up. Those were small size hand pies - peanut butter cream cheese filling sandwiched between two fudgy chocolate biscuits. 

Today I'm thinking big - I'm dreaming of one giant Reese's peanut butter cup! One big round chocolate pastry shell filled with creamy whipped peanut butter and topped with a cracking chocolate coating. 

Imagine the journey your fork will take... First it will require some force as it breaks its way through the snappy chocolate shell. Once it breaks through, it plunges into a soft creamy pool of peanut butter. Then it will sink towards the bottom to encounter a crisp buttery cookie-like crust. Get ready for a world of textures and the king of flavour combos.

You are in for a treat.
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Sunday, June 7, 2015

Chocolate Chip Cinnamon Swirl Sour Cream Cake

The internet is a funny place. We can write whatever we want.

Eating too much chocolate turns your hair dark, carbohydrates are bad for you and Liam Neeson is a total bad-ass. Believe that or not, but there is only one thing about that sentence that is true (and it's not the carbohydrates).

Most of the stuff I read on the internet is food or travel-related. I like to read blogs and look at pictures of beautiful landscapes and interesting dishes. When it comes to scientific facts, I rely on what's in my brain, published journals and text books. That's the real stuff.

Something I find really funny about the food space in the internet world are the reactions from baked-goods gone bad! It's always the recipe's fault. The recipe didn't work! Even though I used half the butter and one-third of the sugar called for... It's still the recipe's fault! It just didn't work and what a waste of ingredients!

Changing proportions makes a whole new recipe - that's the cool (completely nerdy) thing about baking. To change a recipe means you should have some understanding of that and be prepared to take a calculated risk. I make this sound like gambling, but it's just food. It's really not a big deal (it's totally a big deal!).
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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Apricot & Almond Olive Oil Cake

This past month I blasted the blog with gluten-free recipes galore. I tried to cover all occasions.

For your everyday, I made Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars. I pack these in the morning and can't wait to eat them. They're full of great ingredients and a sinch to make.

I made Flourless Chocolate Pear & Hazelnut Cake to impress your dinner guests - not only the special ones.

There were Freakin' Fudgy Gluten-Free Brownies that are the definition of fudgy. You might even replace your go-to brownie recipe.

And finally, the BEST Gluten-Free Double Chocolate Cookies because you just need to have these in your life.

Now I'm back baking with wheat and thought I'd also give my chocolate stash and my butter bank a break! Apricots are coming into season and they are a beaut to bake with. Gently cooked apricots take on a gnarly jammy flavour and retain their moist, almost creamy texture.
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Sunday, May 24, 2015

The BEST Gluten-Free Double Chocolate Cookies

As promised, I've been baking gluten-free all month. It has required a library of carbohydrates instead of just one. My pantry has been stocked with rice flour, oats and an array of tuber starches instead of the almighty all-purpose wheat flour.

I've learned that starch is a pain in the butt to clean up after!

You know that thing that happens when you add your dry ingredients to the mixing bowl of your stand mixer and then you are supposed to turn it back on low speed, but you somehow always switch swiftly past LOW and straight to MEDIUM? Well that means a whole lot more when working with starches. It means if you don't pay attention you will paper mache your kitchen.

The tricky thing about gluten-free baking is that to get the best results, you need to cater each recipe to the specific bakery product that you intend to make. It is very difficult to build one all-purpose gluten-free flour. The proportion of starches needs to be manipulated to suit the desired texture of the final product, such as an open texture for muffins, fine crumb for cakes, and dense moist texture for chewy cookies.
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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Flourless Chocolate Pear & Hazelnut Cake

Being intolerant to something as prevalent as wheat means that you are a nightmare to a dinner party host.

(Just to clarify, I am not gluten-intolerant, but I have many friends who are).

It usually means that you are going to be the special one with the special meal. While everyone has home-made ravioli, you get the bowl of gluten-free spaghetti. While everyone enjoys big giant crusty garlicy buttered baguettes, you get a tiny turd bun wrapped in foil. And while everyone devours a decadent cake, you just sit and stare as you munch on your apple.

That special food is never as good, never as big, never as effortful... In fact, it's not very special at all!

That ends here, with this cake.
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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars (dairy-free, egg-free)

Did I ever tell you the story of my allergy appointment? My dreadful allergy appointment with the allergen specialist?

It was many years ago. It involved 60 needle pricks to the back and seven (SEVEN) big slow shots to the arm.

I was exposed to all sorts of substances and my degree of reaction was measured.

I left with a list of foods I needed to avoid and a very heavy heart.

Apparently I was allergic to bananas, yogurt and CHOCOLATE, of all things. This is just to name a few...

Let's just say I'm not quite sure about the credibility of that doctor, or where he is now, but if he reads this blog he'd have a laugh I'm sure.

I'm happy to report that chocolate makes a very daily appearance in my diet (so do bananas and yogurt) and I feel nothing but great about it.
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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Freakin' Fudgy Gluten-Free Brownies

For the month of May, I want to share with you my favourite gluten-free recipes.

I don't always bake with wheat flour. Some of my recipes work well with or without it... and sometimes they work even better without it. Sometimes.

One of the first brownie recipes I ever wrote, and featured on a Canadian daytime television show, was gluten-free. It was, for a while, my go-to recipe.

Since then I have learned to love an even chocolatier, thicker brownie which is what you are getting today!

Bonus: you don't need any special ingredients. In fact you probably have them all in your cupboard already.
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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Cocoa-Cocoa Nib Wheat Cookies

My weekly grocery list looks something like this:

(other less important stuff...)

That will never change. They're five things will always grace my list. You can make wonders with those ingredients. Anything else I buy is usually just an excuse to bake cookies with it. If I remember, I'll pick up some meat and veg too. Priorities people.

Lately I've been a bit unnerved by the food interweb land... it's full of recipes with ingredients that are not what a French patissier would recognize.

Agave syrup, soaked cashew nuts, malt rice syrup (it's still sugar!), hemp flour, stevia and sweeteners galore, flaxseed meal, apple sauce, almond milk, egg replacers... Why replace eggs? The chickens work so hard... (allergens and vegans - I get that). Why is almost every recipe made in a food processor? What happened to technique? I'm concerned. 

I like coconut but I don't want everything to taste like it. Do all desserts have to come rolled into balls? Please don't trick me with chocolate-y looking truffles made from avocado, dates and nuts. I might punch you.
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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sky High Bounty Bar Squares

My favourite chocolate bar as a kid was Aero, hands down.

No nuts, no wafer, no caramel - nothing but chocolate. Pure chocolate with something special - texture. The bubbles! Oh the bubbles... It dissolves on the tongue so silkily. Silllllkily...

I also liked Caramilk and enjoyed a Kit Kat, but the second best for me was Bounty. I discovered Bounty a bit later in childhood, but learned to love it quickly. I remember the most significant Bounty that I ever purchased was at the corner store in Little Italy where my grandparents lived. They handed over a $20 bill to the group of us grandkids and sent us off in search of sweetness, as grandparents do (gotta love 'em for it!). I thought I'd sway from my usual and grabbed a Bounty. Great decision. Loved it. Hooked.

It was a texture thing too - soft, slightly sticky coconut filling and smooth chocolate coating. It was a flavour thing too though because who can deny chocolate + coconut?

I didn't care for Oh Henry or Snickers. I hated peanuts.
That's all changed - I love peanuts! If you peruse my repertoire of peanut butter recipes, you will understand...
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