Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sweet & Soy Pecan Chocolate Pie Bars

Salt! Oh goodness I love salt.

And sweet! Jeez I don't know which one I love most.

Just imagine life without salt. Not worth living, if you ask me.

Ask any reputable chef what is the secret behind being a great cook and I'll bet the answer is knowing how to season your food. Do not be afraid of salt. Don't overdo it either. I'm sure you understand - it's a balance. But really, don't be afraid!

If I had to cook without salt for a day, I'd get by but I would not be happy.

I'd manage with a few plain steamed veggies - like green beans and broccoli sans salt. Fruit would still be OK, although in Thailand they eat pineapple with salt and chili. Maybe they wouldn't cope as easily...

But any type of pasta dish would be horrific. It would taste like styrofoam. And tomato sauce would be overwhelmingly bland. Italians everywhere would cringe. Steak wouldn't be worth the dollars any more...

And cheese! Cheese would not exist. There it is! The biggest tragedy of all time - the non-existence of cheese. Not. Worth. Living.

This isn't the first time I've ranted about the importance of salt. I once forgot to put salt in my brownie batter. Here's what happened after that.

Salt comes in many forms too. One of those is soy sauce. It's a beautiful thing and not really used in baking but I'm gonna give it to you!

If there's anything that can make pecan pie taste better, it is salt to temper all that sweetness. Soy sauce does that even better. It enhances the flavour. It makes you wanna keep eating it. And you will... as I did...

Do not line the pan with parchment paper because the base doesn't stick to it - that's parchment doing its job. But, that means the crust will shrink and come away from the sides leaving space for the filling to seep down and make the base soggy.

Just lightly grease it or line it with foil. Also, pour the filling on while the base is hot - do not let it cool down too much. That will help.

The filling for this and any pecan pie recipe is basically a custard. It is a very, very sweet custard set by eggs but without milk and sometimes without cream.

You'll always find some sort of liquid sugar syrup - corn syrup, maple or golden. In this case I've used a combination of light corn syrup, brown sugar and molasses to give that earthy sweetness and robustness.

The interesting thing is that the purpose of adding soy sauce is two-fold. Not only does it add well-rounded saltiness to balance out that sweet, but it lends a bit of tang that comes from the fermentation process to really punch up the flavour.

Then there's dark chocolate and toasted pecans to add awesome to awesome.

Try it. I swear to salt you'll love it.

Sweet & Soy Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars
Makes 16 bars

For the base:
1 cup (142g) all-purpose flour
2 tbsp (25g) sugar
¼ tsp salt
7 tbsp (100g) cold unsalted butter

For the filling:
2 tbsp (28g) unsalted butter, melted
½ cup (110g) packed light brown sugar
¼ cup (60ml) light corn syrup
1 tbsp (15ml) fancy molasses
2 large eggs
1 ½ tsp soy sauce (I use Kikkoman, not low sodium)
½ tsp vanilla
1 cup (120g) toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
2oz (56g) bittersweet chocolate chunks

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8x8-inch baking pan with foil. (Do not use parchment because as the base cools it will shrink away from the sides and the filling will seep through to the bottom and make a soggy crust.)

For the crust, combine flour, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Add the cold butter and rub it in with your fingers until the mixture is combined, but crumbly. Dump the mixture into the prepared baking pan and use your fingers to press the crust evenly across the bottom. Bake until lightly browned, 15 to 18 minutes. Remove from the oven, but leave the oven on.

Meanwhile, make the filling as the crust bakes. Whisk together melted butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, molasses, eggs, soy sauce and vanilla extract in a medium bowl until thoroughly blended and smooth. Stir in chopped pecans. Pour the mixture over the warm baked crust, distributing the pecan pieces evenly. Scatter chocolate chunks over top and gently poke them into the filling.

Bake until just set, about 20 minutes. Let cool completely in the baking pan and refrigerate for 1 hour before slicing into squares or bars. The bars will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Hazelnut Rocher Cake

The chocolate-hazelnut combination is Italy's signature. It is one of their many culinary gifts to the world.

Without it we wouldn't have Baci, Ferrero Rocher or Guylian shells. My grandparents would be clueless - what would they give out at Christmas?

There'd be no Nutella and I'd lose out on one of my favourite gelato flavours. My after-school toast would've been so much less exciting - 9 times out of 10 I'd combine peanut butter AND nutella. It was easier than choosing between them...

Now that I really think about it, chocolate-hazelnut (or gianduja as it is know in Europe) is no different to North America's chocolate-peanut butter combo. But somehow it is so much more sophisticated.

I picture chocolate-hazelnut with a long curly moustache - one that needs expensive wax to maintain. Chocolate-peanut would probably have one of those striped multicoloured beanie caps with a propeller on top. It finds its way into wrapped chocolate bars more than fine boxed pralines like Ferrero. It comes wrapped in orange instead of gold. I could understand the jealousy there...

However, I'd admit that I love them both the same.
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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Tender Loving Crackle Cookies

It's no coincidence that the acronym for this cookie recipe is "TLC" because that is exactly what they do. They offer tender loving care.

Tiny little bites chalk full of chocolate flavour.

Even though these look like the typical cookie you might find on your annual Christmas platter or cookie exchange, they are made in a rather unique way.

No creaming butter and sugar. No beating. Just one or two bowls, a spoon and your crafty hands.

The first steps in making these cookies seems a bit deceptive.

You might think you're on your way to making a pie. It looks like the beginnings of chocolate pastry dough but trust that they will turn into cookies. Have faith in the method. Have faith in the science of sweetness.
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Sunday, March 8, 2015

Date & Dark Chocolate Discs

I was thinking about retirement. You can laugh - go ahead.

I'm not sure if it's because of the dates in this recipe that remind me of senior citizens (dates and prunes loved by the 65+, but also well-loved by me), or I need a vacation...

So many people who retire never actually retire. They just end up working part-time instead of full-time. Or they do a day here or there. The difference is, they love it! It's like retirement makes it OK to go to work. 

Like mom always cooking us dinner growing up. The idea of dad having to cook dinner every night would both exhaust and terrify him. But when mom had to work late and dad had to cook, he didn't actually mind and he probably enjoyed it. He knew it was just a once-in-a-while thing, and I knew it meant hot dogs and KD.

Or like work-related travelling. When it's twice a year it is a relief from the office and a bit exciting. When it's every week, it becomes tiring and annoying and you learn that you really hate airport food.
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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Cookies & Cream Brownies

It feels almost cannibalistic to put cookies in brownies. I'm sorry.

Cookies & Cream has always been one of my favourite ice cream flavours. It's like the experience of dunking Oreos in milk minus the dunking, so it's even less effort. It's a faster way of getting full cream dairyness and chocolate cookies into my mouth faster.

This recipe features a quality fudgey brownie batter with the addition of crushed chocolate cookies and pure white chocolate chunks to create that "cream" effect.

White chocolate is mainly cocoa butter and milk solids flavoured with vanilla, so it makes complete sense.
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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Chewy Coconut Oil Chocolate Chunk Cookies

So coconut oil... How 'bout it?

It's everywhere. The internet has exploded with recipes using coconut oil.

Could it be the paleo obsession or the viral (mis)information that it is so super healthy?... I struggle with this.

See - I like coconut oil. It's delicious. Every time I open the jar I think I'm on the beach in Mexico, or Thailand, or somewhere in the Caribbean. It's gorgeous stuff. I need a margarita. Stat!

Here are the things I do with coconut oil:

1. Rub it on my skin - moisturizer.
2. Rub it in my hair - again, moisturizer.
3. Cook Sri Lankan curries, Indian curries and Malaysian satays - it makes them taste so rich and very authentic.
4. Mix it with melted chocolate for a hard crackle topping on ice cream.
5. Use it in place of butter in a classic Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe for a super tropical cookie flavour.
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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Creamy White Chocolate Lemon Curd Tart

I only ever have your best interest: consider making twice as much filling because you will end up on the couch with a spoon. This is for real.

This lemon filling is like lemon pudding if lemon pudding won the lotto, bought a black Bentley, drove to the airport, flew to a Polynesian beach, put up a hut and ordered margaritas until the sun went down. It's that rich and that happy. 

A lot of times you'll hear people say "less is more" and that is very sound advice when it comes to great cooking and baking. I practice this advice all the time and make great meals with few quality ingredients.

But sometimes more is more! Like ice cream with split banana, hot fudge, caramel sauce, roasted peanuts, whipped cream and cherries. I'm OK with that. And I'll have two of those please.

Or, like this tart - flaky pastry enrobed in dark chocolate and topped with luscious lemon curd enriched with white chocolate and whipped cream.
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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Maya Chocolate Cookies

Quick fix cookies are what I'm all about today.

Something that doesn't require soft butter because all of my butter is in the fridge... Doh!

I wasn't planning to bake cookies today but sometimes life is more exciting when you're not prepared. Except when you have final exams, or a job interview, or a driving test, or a dream to climb Everest - best to be prepared for that. Cookies aren't as exhausting as climbing mountains so this is totally doable despite the availability of soft butter.

It's hard for me to bake a cookie that doesn't contain chocolate. This one is twice the chocolate - cocoa cookie with bittersweet chocolate chips.

There's plenty going on in here besides all the chocolate. I've added some chili and spice for an old Maya kick.

When cocoa beans were first discovered in Mexico by civilizations known as the Olmecs and the Mayans, they would combine bitter cocoa bean paste with ingredients that were native to the land, including sugar cane, cinnamon, chili and vanilla. Chocolate was first consumed as a hot frothy drink before it was ever made into silky smooth bars.
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Sunday, February 1, 2015

Cream Cheese Pound Cake with Dark Chocolate & Apricot

Don't tell me it's wrong to want to wake up on Sunday morning and do absolutely nothing until at least 1pm. Can I just make some tea, eat a piece of cake and put my feet up all before noon? I don't want a green smoothie or kale salad right now. I just want cake.

Even if the sun is shining and I could totally get to the beach, I just want to sit here with my piece of cake. Do you get me?

Sometimes doing nothing is more than enough. To quote my grandmother "I'm tired for doing nothing". I get it Nonna. You were wise.

Sometimes doing nothing can be exhausting in itself because when your body does nothing your brain does everything. Thinking is grueling.
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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.
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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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