Sunday, January 25, 2015

Soft Date Turnover Cookies

Sometimes eating is more for the mind than it is for the stomach. Like a tasteful time machine that brings you back to the good old days. I can't ever resist pear nectar or Glosettes because it makes me feel 9 years old, watching Muppets, cuddled up with a knit blanket on Nonna's couch. Not a care in the world!

And giant wedges of cucumber with salt and pepper is a snack I'd have coming in from the blow-up kiddie pool/garden hose chaos set in the tiny patch of grass among Nonno's grape vines. Cucumber sounds healthy right? It was quickly followed up with an ice cream cone.

These cookies here today remind me of my schoolgirl days. If you know Nutrigrain bars, then you know what I'm talking about. There was always a box in the cupboard, and I often found one in my lunch box.

My version today is made up of a soft oatmeal & coconut cookie dough with a sweet, smooth date filling. The coconut is key - it's subtle, but I can always remember that flavour being there.

I love really dates. Most of the time they remind me of old people (same with prunes), but the secret is that I really like them (and prunes!).

We can bake with dates and still be hip and cool and modern. Check it:
There's traditional: Orange Date & Almond Biscotti
There's hardy and satisfying: Date Apricot & Pecan Seed Loaf
Something for morning tea: Dark Chocolate & Tangerine Date Scones
We've got decadence: Intensely Chocolate Fudgey Biscotty with Dates & Almonds
Classic sweet treats: Gingerbread Spice Date Cakes

We start the cookie dough part just like we would make a typical oatmeal cookie dough, except with much less sugar. The reason for adding less sugar is not just in regard to the sweetness of the date filling, but to keep the dough soft. The higher proportion of fat (butter) to sugar will do this. Not chewy - just soft. In a traditional oatmeal cookie, there would be at least twice this amount of sugar to make them moist and chewy.

These are better the next day, the day after that, and even the day after that.

The cookies soften as they keep in an airtight container and become that true turnover cookie texture.

They kinda look like tacos. The filling is not beef I swear. Like when Rachel from Friends made that trifle with layers of custard, jam, peas and ground beef. {"It tastes like feet!"}

If this recipe doesn't feed your mind, at least let it feed your stomach because they're bloody delicious. Love 'em up!

Soft Date Turnover Cookies
Makes 18-20 cookies

For the filling:
1 cup (150g) dates, chopped
1 tbsp honey
½ cup water
pinch of ground cinnamon
pinch of salt

For the dough:
½ cup butter
1/3 cup (75g) brown sugar 
1 tbsp honey
1 egg
2 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup (142g) all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 cup (100g) quick oats
¼ cup desiccated coconut

Place chopped dates, water and honey in saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer, covered, for 8-10 minutes until dates break down. Mash it up with a wooden spoon until it looks like a thick paste. Stir through cinnamon and salt. Set aside to cool completely.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg, milk and vanilla and beat until combined. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl and whisk to blend evenly. Add to butter mixture with oats and coconut. Cover dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking trays with parchment paper.

Roll dough to 1 to 1.5-inch balls and place on prepared baking trays, spacing them 3 inches apart. Use the palm of your hand to smear or flatten each ball into a 2.5-inch disk. Spoon a teaspoon of date filling into the center of each disk and then gently fold up once side of the dough onto itself, using a butterknife to help if it is sticking. Or, flatten each dough ball in your palm, spoon some filling in the middle and fold the dough over (like filling a dumpling). Bake about 15 minutes, until golden brown around the edges.

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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Chocolate Brownie Peanut Butter Pies

Remember Joe Louis? The wagon wheel cake lunchbox snacks. Two rounds of cake with a white as rice cream filling all dunked in fake chocolate?

I would bite around the edges first because the edges had the thickest layer of chocolate. Never save the best till last. Worst phrase ever.

Many things can happen while you are saving...
- that best part of a hot meal will get cold
- someone might eat it before you do
- you could get full eating all the other stuff that you won't want to eat any more
- seagulls

Eat the best part first! End of story.
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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Cranberry Orange Pistachio Bars

2015 seems like a big number.

I feel like I need to do a lot of stuff this year. Big stuff... like make a 12-tiered cake and travel to Japan for the finest sushi. I want to learn more words in Thai and fall asleep on every beach I see. I want to spend more time with family and feed them big delicious meals. I'm going to worry less and plan more. I want a puppy! (but maybe not this year...)

How about a big fat hair cut? I've always wanted a buzz cut but Britney Spears made that just look crazy.
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Saturday, January 3, 2015

Vanilla Walnut Crescent Cookies

Just because Christmas has passed doesn't mean we stop baking cookies.

It doesn't mean we have to stop eating 7-course meals everyday or slip whiskey into our morning coffee either. 

And unless your new year resolution is to put more chocolate in your life or bake cinnamon rolls every single Sunday, then I don't want to hear it.

And if your resolution is too kick sugar, then I'm afraid this relationship isn't going to work.
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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookie Shapes

Merry Christmas!!

It's as good a time as any to add another cookie to your list.

Every year we have a tradition called "cookie buffet". It is exactly as it sounds - a selection of at least 8 different varieties of cookies that I make in bulk and then put out on a plate for the family to munch at after dinner during the nights approaching Christmas.
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Saturday, December 20, 2014

10 Things You Might Want to Bake/Make this Christmas

Christmas morning breakfast! Molasses Cinnamon Rolls.

For loyal friends of chocolate + hazelnut: Ferrero Rocher Crescent Cookies

After a satisfying 7-course Christmas meal: After Eight Cookies

Because Christmas can't pass us by without at least one thing gingery: Gingerbread Cake with Cinnamon Butter Glaze.

The all-American way made smaller: Gooey Little Pecan Tarts

And another variation of that... Caramel Apple Pecan Tarts.

Fruity, light and authentic: Italian Raspberry Crostata.

For your cookie exchange: Raspberry Coconut Jam Dots

Something for Santa to dunk in his milk: Orange Date Almond Biscotti

Red and white and totally decadent: White Chocolate Raspberry Tart

A coffee table nibble, maybe dipped in chocolate? Sweet and Salty Peanut Brittle.

Christmas morning brunch! Perfect Breakfast Brunch or even Lunch

A celebration cake: Raspberry Jewel Devil's Food Cake. Chopped toasted hazelnuts or rum-soaked rasisins can replace fresh fruit in the winter time. Canned cherries (drained well) work too!

Merry Christmas foodie friends. May your every appetite get wetted. 
With love & chocolate, 
Christina xox

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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Olive Oil & Bitter Chocolate Muffins

I know why everyone loves a muffin - it's portable, it's satiating and dang easy to make.

You know I'm always harping on about how butter rules. Butter is better, no question. BUT, if there were ever an oil that could hold a candle, it would be olive oil.

Olive oil is rich, intense and has body. 

Exquisitely enough, olive oil also matches very well with very dark chocolate. It's those peppery, citrusy, fruity notes that complement the bitter, roasty, yet also fruity notes of the darkest chocolate.
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Sunday, November 30, 2014

White Chocolate Gooey Cake

Sometimes it's as much about texture as it is about flavour.

Think about South-East Asian desserts for example.... Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam...

When it comes to sweets, it is all about textures! Most of them are made with very few ingredients. The most important one being boat loads of sugar - coconut sugar, palm sugar or cane sugar. The remaining ingredients contribute pleasant, but subtle flavours. 

Some of my favourites include pandan jelly custard, mango with coconut sticky rice (OMG so good), and sweet black glutinous rice. These flavours are not as loud as chocolate and peanut butter, but they're balanced and satisfying. 

The thing that makes them really stand out is their wonderfully weird consistencies. They can be sticky, gooey, jelly, creamy, bouncy, slimey, crispy or everything at the same time. To put it simply - they are fun. 

This cake plays on the gooey, creamy, sticky parts.
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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Salted Chocolate-Coconut Crust Tartlets

Gluten-free is great when it's not intentional.

These crunchy crispy little tart shells are made with a macaroon recipe, starring coconut and almond.

Imagine coconut toasted to its nth degree, and flavour transformed from creamy, milky, subtle to BAM! - nutty, caramel-y, roast-y!

Plus this is super easy and as much as I love love loooove making pastry, I don't always have time for that critical dough-chilling step. I wouldn't be able to forgive myself if I rolled out warm pastry. No way Jose.

Toasted coconut and chocolate pair well together just as chocolate and almond, chocolate and hazelnut, chocolate and pecans...

It's because chocolate is a by-product of carefully roasted cocoa beans and this roasting brings forth nutty flavours through a process called Maillard browning. These reactions are what create the brown crust on a loaf of bread, a flavourful sear on steak, that caramel flavour in dulce de leche, the robust sweetness of raisins and that rich butterscotchy-ness of a perfect chocolate chip cookie.
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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Devil's Food Chocolate Cake

I have a recipe for chocolate cake that I go back to again and again, yet I reaaallllllly have 26 recipes for chocolate cake.

It's amazing how many chocolate cake recipes are out there... some with butter and some with oil; with brown sugar or white sugar; milk or buttermilk; coffee or water....

Do we need that many? Yes. Isn't one enough? No. 
You can never have enough recipes for good chocolate cake. I love all my 26 equally.

Devil's Food Cake is named for it's reddish brown-coloured crumb. Achieving this colour depends a lot on the type of cocoa powder you use and ultimately the pH, or acidity, of the batter.

A true Devil's Food chocolate cake will have baking soda as part of the leavening system. It will also use water as some portion of the liquid ingredients along with buttermilk or sour cream to provide some acidity. 

Classic chocolate cakes use milk which is relatively neutral and produces a gentle, soft chocolate flavour. Milk proteins also interact and bind with the colour-producing polyphenols in cocoa powder, which can alter their flavour and appearance.
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Sunday, November 9, 2014

New York-Style Sea Salt & Poppy Seed Bagels

Bagels are awesome. Who's with me?

I'm a slather-it-with-cream-cheese kinda girl most of the time.
Sometimes I fancy the loads-of-peanut-butter-and-honey at breakfast.

But when you make them from scratch and they come from the oven all warm and steamy, a knob of butter will do just fine.

There's quite a difference between Montreal-style and New York-style bagels. I like them all though - I don't discriminate.

The dough for bagels is similar to bread at its core: water, yeast, flour and sometimes salt.
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Sunday, November 2, 2014

Sticky Ginger Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

November is like a baking alarm clock.

It tells me to re-stock my pantry and refresh my spice cupboard. 

I know that between now and February, most things I bake will include cinnamon, clove, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom and even a bit of coriander and ground black pepper.

I'll need to have dried cranberries, dried apricots, dates, dried figs, raisins, coconut and plenty of chocolate on hand.

Ginger is all famous in seasonal baking owing to its irreplaceable role in gingerbread. It has this spicy warmth that makes winter baking feel like a giant hoodie.

I love dried, ground ginger for its really earthy flavour - different to fresh ginger which has a spicy astringency. 

Spices really make appearances in my baking all year long - a bit of cardamom in a lemon tart, a dash of cinnamon with strawberry pie, a pinch of nutmeg in crème brulee - but, these months they get a work out!
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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Fudge Frosted Peanut Butter Bars

It's about that time. And if you're thinking "Peanut Butter-Chocolate" time, then you'd be right.

I never liked peanut butter as a kid. My mom used to threaten me with peanut butter and jam sandwiches for lunch when I gave her an obnoxious "I don't care" answer to her question, "What do you want for lunch tomorrow?"

My answer quickly changed to "proscuitto sandwich please". I must've been going through a phase. I'm sorry Mom - thank you for packing my school lunch every single day, and for writing loving messages to me via banana peel!

I eventually grew up and learned to love peanut butter. Green apple + peanut butter is crazy delicious no matter how many strange looks I get in the lunch room. Don't knock it 'till you try it - that's what I say.

These thin squares are a killer lunchbox treat. Imagine dessert meets granola bar... that's what kind of territory we're in here.
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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Oatmeal Pecan Dark Chocolate Cookies

Dark chocolate and nuts... nuts and dark chocolate... they're so made for each other.

Pecans are my nuts of choice in today's recipe for oatmeal cookies. They are so packed with flavour but don't normally get much attention, and are totally underused in baking.

It's rare you'll find pecans in the "mixed" nuts selection at the Pub and they're not the first thing you see in some paleo granola bar recipe.

Peanuts always make the cut at the Pub. Almonds are a health bar favourite. Cashews let vegans eat something that resembles cheesecake (plus cashews are awesome), and macadamia nuts will forever live in the white chocolate cookie at Subway.

Well, let me be a bit frank. The pecan tree doesn't grow just for Pecan Pie.
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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Caramel Custard Pumpkin Seed Pie

If we'd have to vote on the second best thing after chocolate, I think it would be a tie between caramel and peanut butter.

This recipe showcases a brand new way to bake with caramel and it turns it into a custardy gooey, gel-like texture. Think Pecan Pie filling... this is new age Pecan Pie (without the pecans).

It starts with making pastry. I'm sure you're a pro at that by now after this and this, and this to name a few.

Then we make caramel since it is the star of the show. Caramel seems daunting to some people. I was once one of them. It's like you go through a period of never getting it right - you're always left with a grainy mess and lot of frustration.

Then suddenly... you get it! It's actually not as delicate as so many people make us believe. And once you get it, you will never make grainy caramel ever again. The trick is to be confident and trust in these three facts:

1. Water works
2. Sugar can take the heat!
3. Swirled, not stirred
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