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.

This recipe is easy as it should be. A muffin makes use of two bowls - one for the wet ingredients and one for the dry stuff.

Ultimately the two mixtures are combined to form a relatively thick and maybe slightly lumpy batter.

This simple technique is applied to "quick breads" which includes loaf cakes, such as banana bread, as well as scones and biscuits. The latter use an extra step of some careful cutting of cold butter into the dry ingredients before the wet stuff is added.

We sift flour, leavening agents and a surprising bit of cinnamon in a bowl. Cinnamon adds even more interest to this not-so-typical muffin and it's fruity spiciness just makes sense here. Add the sugar and salt and whisk it through so that we have an evenly blended mixture of dry ingredients. 

Toss through the chocolate chunks. I like Lindt 70% or Barry Callebaut 72%.

In another bowl we whisk together yogurt, olive oil, milk, eggs and gorgeous vanilla bean paste. Easy does it as we add this wet mixture to the dry mixture and whisk just until smooth - no need to overdo it here.

Muffins are very susceptible to over-mixing, so keep a light hand and you'll be rewarded with a soft but sturdy crumb.

You could fold in the chocolate pieces at this point, but that would mean more mixing. So, combining them with the dry ingredients at the get-go provides more insurance.

Eat them warm - that is the best ever.
Then store the rest in a container for tomorrow. It's an easy way to start the day.

Olive Oil & Bitter Chocolate Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

2 cups (284g) all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¾ cup (150g) sugar
¼ tsp of salt
4.5 oz (125g) bittersweet chocolate chopped or pieces (about 2/3 cup)
1 cup full fat Greek yogurt or sour cream
1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp light olive oil
1/3 cup milk
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla bean paste

Preheat your oven to 200°C. Line a standard 12-cup muffin pan with paper cases. 

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon into a large bowl. Add sugar and salt and whisk to combine. Toss through the chocolate pieces.

In a separate bowl, whisk together yogurt, olive oil, milk, eggs and vanilla bean paste until blended. Add to the bowl with the dry ingredients and whisk until just smooth and free of any large lumps. Do not over-mix.

Divide batter evenly among muffin holes, filling them right to the top.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

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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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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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