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. 

I love them with dark chocolate... like really dark. Bittersweet chocolate with 70%+ cocoa solids matches that somewhat slightly bitter tang from the thin skins on pecan nuts. 

Guess what else is so right about these cookies? 

I use whole wheat flour. Uh huh. I went all in - 1 1/4 cups of whole wheat flour all up in this recipe. I didn't go halfsies with white flour... or try a 1:3 ratio. I just went for it because it makes sense. 

Whole wheat flour is made from the whole grain of wheat. That means it contains all the parts including the germ, endosperm and bran layers. 

White flour is made by grinding mainly the endosperm which is the starchy bit. 

The germ contains oils and the bran contains protein and fibre. Clearly whole wheat flour gives us more nutritional bang for our buck, but unfortunately it doesn't taste great in just any recipe. And these Oatmeal Pecan Dark Chocolate Cookies aren't just any recipe...

Bran gives whole wheat flour a nutty taste.

Dark chocolate is a product of a reaction called Maillard browning that happens during roasting of the cocoa nibs, and it creates distinctly nutty and caramel-like flavours.

And pecans... they just taste like nuts!

Combining these three ingredients is either genius or written in nature.

I'll stick with genius...and delicious. 

Oh! PS - because of the oil content of the germ, whole wheat flour has a tendency to develop rancid flavours and doesn't last as long as white flour. So, if you need to search to the back of your cupboard to dig up your long lost bag of it - right behind the 4-year-old jar of nutmeg and box of raisins - then you may want to consider a trip to the shop. A fresh bag of flour will make all the difference. 

Don't underestimate the power of rancidity. It will taint the whole batch of cookies and what a waste of chocolate that would be. Don't waste chocolate. Just, please.... I can't handle it.

I'm about to handle a stack of these cookies though!
Happy Monday to you!

Oatmeal Pecan Dark Chocolate Cookies
Makes about 20 cookies

½ cup (113 g) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup (100 g) granulated sugar
½ cup (110 g) packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 ¼ cups (130g) rolled oats
1 cup (142 g) whole wheat flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
2/3 cup (120g) bittersweet chocolate chips or chopped bittersweet chocolate
2/3 cup (80g) chopped pecans

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Beat the butter, both sugars and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fit with a paddle attachment until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add egg and beat well.

Whisk together the oats, whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Add to the butter mixture and beat on low speed until just incorporated. Stir through chocolate and pecans. 

Drop tablespoons of dough onto prepared baking tray, spacing them 2-inches apart and bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown around the edges. Let cookies cool on baking tray for 3 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. 
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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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Sunday, October 5, 2014

Cocoa Cranberry Almond Muffins

The best thing about muffins is that they are dead easy to make.

The dodgiest thing about muffins is that they have a reputation for being healthy when most of the time they are not. They truly are the great con-artists of the baking world. A brownie could never disguise like this - sorry boys, but you're just too dang good-looking.

If you choose the blueberry muffin option for breakfast and think you're clever, I'm sorry to tell you that you're not. You just like blueberry muffins. Fair enough. The healthiest thing about them are the blueberries, hiding behind tremendous volumes of oil and sugar just like the rest. They're delicious - they're just not diet food.

This, coming from the girl who eats cookies for breakfast. I know.

These Cocoa Cranberry Almond Muffins are delicious and I've made a concious effort to sneak some good-for-you ingredients in here.
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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Butterscotch Oat Bars with PB Fudge (No-Bake)

It's an in-between time for most of us right now.

In the western world, people are revving up their ovens for a season of pumpkin and apple pies. Reach to the back of your cupboard and dig up those little jars of ground clove, nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger. They're a year old now. It's time to replace them.

You probably have a couple of weeks left before outside temperatures get cool enough to warrant a long hot oven.

Over on the eastern side, Spring is in the air and the taste of Summer is very sweet. My oven works 365 days a year so a hot Summer day isn't convincing enough to push my chocolate cravings aside and won't stop me from making these brownies. But, every once in a while a care-free no bake dessert feels laid back and fancy-free.
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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Dark Chocolate Cherry Tart

If you think pastry is too difficult, please reconsider.

You could make some sweet tart dough faster than it takes to find your keys and start your car, and it is WAY more rewarding than the store-bought crap. I'm sorry (I'm really not sorry). It's just crap. 

Pastry is one of those things where practice makes perfect. The more often you make it, the better you get a feel for it and the easier it gets. It's all about knowing how much to give and knowing when to stop. Kind of like telling a good story.

Once you become friends with pastry, your dessert world opens up like the sky. A pre-baked tart shell is a canvas. It can carry a million different things (food-related things, I hope).

Mascarpone and honey cream.
Vanilla bean custard.
Fresh berries.
ANY pie filling you can imagine.
Chocolate ganache... baked chocolate ganache.
Cheesecake filling.
Chocolate custard.
Dulce de leche.
Lemon curd.
Thick coconut cream.
Marshmallowy meringue.
Ooey gooey pecan pie town.
Savoury of all sorts - caramelized leek, potato, cheese, tomato, mushroom...
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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Flourless Late-night Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

It’s not uncommon for me to bake at 10 o’clock at night.

Most of those recipes don’t make the blog since I’m too hungry and impatient to take photos.

These types of recipes are quick and efficient – 5 minute prep, no more than 7 ingredients, one bowl, one spoon, maybe a whisk…. And I can be eating whatever it is in 15 minutes.

That’s how nighttime baking rolls and I'm about to show you just how fast it can go!

You and me both know that if it's been 2 posts since I've shared a chocolate peanut butter recipe, that's 2 posts too many.

I just checked, it's been 4! Withdrawal has kicked in...

Last month I brought you Peanut Butter Cobbler Brownies.
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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Nocciole (Italian Hazelnut Cookies) and some Food Science thoughts

Can we talk about chemicals today?

Seems like marketers all over the world have managed to convince everyone that anything you buy in the supermarket contains "chemicals".

Well they'd be right. Your produce aisle is full of them. Water, sugar, salt and the wonderful essential oils in the skins of oranges, lemons and limes, and the compounds in fragrant spices are chemicals.

Let's back up a bit. I'm a baker. I adore the art of making cakes, brownies, tortes, cupcakes and cookies with the finest ingredients - pure unsweetened cocoa powder, excellent Lindt chocolate, New Zealand butter and seasonal fruit (to name a few).

I'm also a Food Scientist and I spend a lot of time developing delicious and safe products for you to buy in the supermarket. I work with natural and artificial flavours, but more and more I'm only working with the natural ones. And this is driven by consumer demand. The public is telling us that they do not want "artificial colours or flavours" in their foods.

What's the difference? Artificial flavours are synthesized in a laboratory to produce all of the (sometimes hundreds) of molecules to create the perfect combination that sends signals to your brain saying "strawberry!". Natural flavours are also manufactured in a laboratory, however they contain elements that are extracted from the original food source, ie. cherry extract, strawberry extract, vanilla bean extract... 
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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Chocolate Hazelnut Macaroon Squares (gluten-free)

The world of food chemistry is so fascinating, and more relate-able than one might think.

Like human chemistry, foods often go well with each other when they have something in common. There's the whole "opposites attract" thing that works once in a while, but it doesn't always last. Like those food trends that only stay around for a few months or so. Whoopie pies... really. 

I'll be the first to try the new black garlic and elderflower ice cream out of curiosity and to just plain switch it up a bit, but there will be a tub of classic Bourbon vanilla sitting in my freezer at all times. Forever and for always.
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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Best Double Dark Chocolate Pudding

This is for those times when I realize I have no ice cream in the house.

Big mistake. A close second to realizing there's no toilet paper in your stall when you're already squatting. Yeaaahhh....

This is my brain sequence in withdrawal mode:

                        All the shops are closed.
                                                       I have milk!
                But no more cream...
                                   Plenty of chocolate.
                                                           Eggs - of course.

Pudding will do the trick. It's cold, creamy, smooth and thick.

Pudding is custard at its core. The stuff that comes in plastic cups at the supermarket is thickened solely with corn starch, which is also what you pay for in those instant pudding packets.

Try making your own - it's gold. It's also easy and here's how to get 'er done.
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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Cool Confetti Faux-Fudge

There's a lot of sadness plastered all over the TV screen these days.

Seems like all news is bad news.

It's easy to lose sight of happiness in these times and I find myself wanting to stay informed but exhausted from feeling so ruined by it.

Scientifically Sweet is mainly about butter & chocolate, a little life talk and plenty of FUN. Today, I'll dig a bit deeper.

I've been reading things that are not recipes lately. My down-time reading normally doesn't extend past cookbooks and food magazines. Right now I'm onto three Jamie Oliver books (trying to catch-up), a couple of Donna Hay issues and Caramel.

In my reading, what I've learned (aside from how to make a paella in 20 minutes) is that YOU can actually control how happy YOU are?

Happiness and well-being is mostly driven by our own thoughts and behaviours. In these not-so-joyous times it is important to find joyful and positive points and focus on them. I don't mean to just think everything is always hunky dory - that's just ignorant, and people might want to punch you. But, recognize the unfortunate and then focus on the positive. It's important to constantly recover and move forward or the only direction you will go is back.
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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Peanut Butter Cobbler Brownies

There are only two thoughts going through my head right now...

1) I bet 4 sticks of celery balance out 4 pieces of brownie.

2) Hand-washing is the devil.

How can those two things occupy the same brain space?

I guess it's no surprise that thoughts of chocolate run through my head nine times out of ten.

But, you probably never guessed that thoughts of hand-washing regularly creep up in between to torment me. I hate hand-washing! But I have too many silky, lacy, beaded clothes that require a delicate touch. They end up piling up into Everest until I can no longer see the surface of my desk... they just sort of hang everywhere. Every night I say, "I'll do the hand-washing"... but I eat brownies instead.
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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Chocolate Olive Oil Granola Bars

One of the things I immediately stopped buying long ago after figuring out how awesomely easy and wonderfully delicious they are to make at home are granola bars.

I'm about to give store-bought bars a run for their money...

I'm giving you olive oil and dark chocolate today - a wildly unexpected combination that works outrageously well. It's the slight tang and fruitiness of olive oil that makes it marry so well with chocolate - DARK chocolate that is. Milk chocolate doesn't hold a candle here.

Chocolate is so distracting and a total attention hog, but let's not disregard the almonds and seeds. Sesame seeds in particular provide a nice savoury note.
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Sunday, July 27, 2014

3-Minute Hot Fudge Sauce (the real deal!)

It's all those little things...

...those little things that can really affect people.

I have a story to share with you that really means a lot to me. A reader of this overly chocolatey blog e-mailed me a while back asking for some guidance and advice around the study of Food Science and the best Universities with such programmes. I love when this happens because it means I've connected. It means that all of the foodie love I have spilled out from my heart and my brain (and my stomach) to the internet space of webpages, blurbs and far too many photos of Justin Bieber has actually found its way into someone else's heart, brain and stomach.

I love when I hear from any of you, period.

But, this was a special case. She told me how it was through reading my blog that she actually learned that the study of Food Science even existed, and the idea of becoming a Food Scientist really excited her. She contacted me in search of advice on where to apply. I told her my opinion and of course encouraged her to pursue the open world of food and science!

A few months later I receive another lovely email from her letting me know that she followed my advice and has ended up accepted into the Food Science programme at Cornell University starting this Fall. Knowing this makes all my 6 years of blogging worth it - aside from the fact that it gives me a very regular excuse to eat cake.
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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Chocolate Mousse Buttercake

Where is the "off" button for our brains?

Has anyone ever found that?

I need one.

I made this "OFF-switch" cake. A Homer-sized slice of this helps to slow things down. All I can think about is how creamy, velvety and delicious it is. But it's a bit of work that involves a reasonable dose of whisking, creaming, baking and waiting.

A button would be faster and more convenient. For now, this Chocolate Mousse Buttercake will more than suffice.

What we've got on the bottom is a soft biscuit-y base - somewhere between a biscuit and a butter cake. It is a thin layer that won't take long to bake, so keep an eye on it. Over-baked = dry = no thank you.

Gently perched on top is a smooth, thick & creamy yet airy shmear of classic chocolate mousse. Chocolate mousse is so wonderfully easy to make and a sure-fire winner with friends every time.
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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Honey Quinoa Clusters of Oats

Someone once told me one day I will turn into a muesli. I'm still trying to figure out what that looks like...

I eat a lot of the stuff. It's something about oats that's so satisfying and comforting.

There was this one "Swiss-style" muesli that I was addicted to when I lived in Dublin. I bought it from my local Tesco shop. There was milk powder blended right in so I didn't even need to add milk! I would eat it with a spoon dry from a bowl and the milk powder would dissolve in my mouth. It was like making instant milk - really, really concentrated milk. That's weird... I shouldn't tell you these things.

I haven't been able to find it anywhere since then. If you know where to get this stuff, shout!

I also love granola, and in Australia they call granola "toasted muesli". Granola bars are also "muesli bars".

They're perfectly correct because granola is a mixture of oats, nuts and seeds (basically muesli) that is baked until crisp. It's full of long-lasting energy and super easy to make at home. The best part is that you can control how much oil and sugar is added.
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