Gifts



Friends got married last weekend.  They are a fantastic match and I am so happy for them!  It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, but it wasn’t so hot that the men sweating in the sun, or the women had make up melting off their faces.

In February I was asked by the couple to make their wedding cake. I asked what they were thinking about. They wanted simple.  Good, because who are we kidding, while I enjoy baking I am no pastry chef!  I have made small cakes that serve 20-40 at most, not 150.  So I said yes, and offered the cake as my wedding present to them.

The cake was simple. Three tiers, three layers of cake in each tier. The bottom tier was chocolate brownie cake with a vanilla cream icing, and raspberry filling.  The middle tier was simple vanilla cake with a chocolate/Baileys (yes, can you say yum!) icing and the raspberry filling again.  And the top tier was chocolate/vanilla cake combo with the various fillings as well, kind of the uber tier.  The whole thing was covered in a vanilla buttercream with fondant.  Brushed with pearl dust to give it an iridescence that you can’t really see in the photos and finished off with ribbons in their wedding colours.  The cake topper was made by the bride’s mom – a personal touch to the couple.

3 tier wedding cake with ribbon

wedding cake cutting

sliced vanilla wedding cake

So congratulations to Robbie and Cate!

May their years together be long and plentiful, full of love, laughter, and of course…good food!
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It’s cookie season.  It’s cookie exchange time. I love seeing what everyone makes.  I love that there are twelve days of cookies on Foodtv.com.  Ironically I don’t even love cookies.  I just love the opportunity to get into the kitchen.  I love trying something new.

My mom and my brother’s girlfriend get together every year around this time to spend a whole day in the kitchen and make winter goodies.  It’s the winter equivalent of “putting up” the harvest by canning in the fall/summer I suppose.   This is one of the recipes they had tried together.  My mom was telling me that I “had to try” to make them.  That they would be so easy and you just couldn’t go wrong with them.  Perhaps she was right…but it took me way longer to make these than it would have taken me to make regular cookies, and in my oh, so humble opinion they were waaaaaaaaay more labour intensive than drop cookies.

That being said, they aren’t really cookies.  They are more of candies.  Almonst a chewy Almond Roca.  I thought my mom had created these, but upon some internet searching, I believe it was Giada De Laurentis’ recipe.  As usual, I reviewed and looked at ways to put my own spin on them.  I opted to roll them in chopped up toasted almonds.  Building on the almondy goodness.

As I munched on my one tester.  I think I would do them differently next time.  I think the idea is right, but the texture needs a little work.  The caramel centre is a little confused.  It is kind of chewy, and kind of brittle.  I feel like it needs to be one or the other…otherwise my jaw might need strengthening if I was to eat these on a more regular basis…come to think about it, perhaps it is a good idea that you can only eat one or two at the most at a time.  IF I was to make these again, I think I would make my own caramel.  I would add the almonds to the silicone liners and then ladle in the almond roca caramel mixture into the cups, cool and set, and then dip in the choclate and roll in the crushed almonds.  Basically creating little Almond Roca bites, rather than the bark I made a few years ago.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup (about 3 ounces) toasted slivered almonds
24 individually wrapped caramel candies (about 6 ounces)
1 cup (about 6 ounces) bittersweet chocolate chips
4 to 6 tablespoons cream, room temperature, divided
1 cup (about 6 ounces) white chocolate chips

1 cup toasted chopped slivered almonds

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Lightly grease the mini-muffin tins with vegetable oil spray. If you have silicone mini muffin liners or the pan, use that instead and you won’t need the oil.
  3. Place 1 teaspoon of slivered nuts in each of the muffin cups. Unwrap the caramel candies, cut each candy into quarters and place 2 quarters (1/2 candy) in each of the muffin cups, in the bottom, add the nuts and then add the other 2 quarters on top of the nuts in a single layer. Bake in the oven until the caramel is just melted and beginning to spread, about 8 minutes. Be careful not to over melt the caramel or it will bubble, burn, and become too hard. Place the mini muffin tins in the refrigerator for 5 minutes to cool. Remove the nut clusters from the tins and set aside.
  4. Meanwhile, melt the bittersweet chocolate in a double boiler over low heat. Whisk 2 to 3 tablespoons of cream into the chocolate to slightly thin the chocolate for coating the clusters. Dip half of the nut clusters in the bittersweet chocolate , remove exand place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Return the clusters to the refrigerator to harden, about 30 minutes.
  5. Melt the white chocolate in a double boiler over low heat. Wisk 2 to 3 tablespoons of cream into the chocolate to slightly thin the chocolate for coating the clusters. Dip remaining half of the nut clusters in the white chocolate and place on the parchment paper-lined baking sheet with the other chocolate-covered clusters. Return the clusters to the refrigerator to harden, about 30 minutes.


Cookies, cookies, cookies! A few weeks back, I attended a cookie exchange, hosted by non-other than the lovely Ms. Jackie Connelly. A sunny (albeit, blustery) Sunday afternoon, armed with two dozen cookies, and a bottle of wine, I spent the afternoon with some fantastic foodies.

Cookie exchanges are a fantastic way to expand your horizons. Sometimes we, and by we, I really should really say, I get into ruts in the kitchen. I tend to default to the tried and true. As a kid, my mom made THE best chocolate chip cookies. Undoubtedly there was always cookie dough in the freezer to thaw and have cookies at your finger tips. That tends to be my go-to cookie.

A cookie exchange means you can stay within your comfort zone, if you really want, but sample the wonderful selection brought to the table from all the other participants. You could always make your usual, but why not try something new? There are so many options out there, it can almost become overwhelming. Narrow it down, do you want chocolate? Chewy? Traditional? Maybe you don’t even want a cookie, but perhaps a truffle…be daring!  For a handful of great recipes from this cookie exchange, you can find them on Jackie’s site.

In my adult life, access to cookies was/is not as important. I prefer savoury to sweet. But, it is the holidays, there are guests, and little home-baked packages to be dropped off…and so, into the kitchen we all head.

As usual, I started with a base recipe, tweaked it, and made it my own. I was inspired to put a little wasabi salt on the chocolate as it set to counter the sweetness of the chocolate, and compliment the buttery-ness of the shortbread. It’s all about exploration right? And in this case, I thought it paid off!


Ingredients

3/4 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp instant coffee
1 Tbsp hot water
3 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
500 grams bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
Wasabi salt to top, optional

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a small bowl, combine the instant coffee and water, combine until all crystals are dissolved. In the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and 1 cup of sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt; then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and roll shape into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough 1/2-inch thick and cut with a 2-inch snowflake-shaped cutter. Place the snowflakes on an ungreased sheet pan – place in fridge to chill – this will help the cookie retain its crisp edges.. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Melt chopped chocolate over a water bath. Once nice and smooth (achieved with a whisk), dip each cookie into the melted chocolate, place on a cookie rack to set. Once the chocolate has cooled, but not fully set, add a small sprinkle of wasabi salt.

However you choose to celebrate, may you enjoy the beauty, warmth and tradition of this holiday season…hopefully with a little sweetness in hand! ~ bakergirl

Adapted from Ina Garten’s Shortbread Hearts Recipe.


Some friends of ours recently got married – but it was a small and intimate affair back home in Ontario.   So of their West coast friends decided to throw a small celebration last weekend.  Our contribution to the spread was the wedding cake.

I used the lemon drop cupcake batter, a lemon flavoured buttercream icing and for the layers: lemon mascarpone filling…that part was my favourite!  Cover with fondont and voila… a pretty easy wedding cake for a casual affair.  No recipe has been posted in the past here.

Congratulations to Tam and Edwin!  May they have a lifetime of love, laughter and joy together.

wedding-cake


These were the cookie exchange cookies I made for my office.  The cookie monster would sing blissfully the cookie song if he got to enjoy these fresh from the oven! My friend Lana had posted in the comments that these cookies, featured in the New York Times in July were supposed to be the ultimate chocolate chip cookie…and they don’t disappoint!

The key to these are how delightfully moist they are, if baked absolutely perfectly. A smidge too long in the oven and they dry out. According to the recipe they should bake 18-20 minutes, however I found 15-18 worked better with my oven. The other wonderful aspect to these cookies is the combination of salty and sweet – absolutely melt in your mouth goodness!

cookies

The recipe can be found here, the only things I modified was that I didn’t have chocolate wafers, I just went with plane old chips and I used all purpose flour instead of the bread flour it called for.


It is the season of cookie exchanges, office goodie parties, and holiday baking to last through the month. Every where I turn people are busy in their kitchens, getting ready for company and some time to relax away from the hussel and bussel of every day life and prepare for a little hibernation.

Both my bookclub and office are holding cookie exchanges. Bookclub is today, and the office, tomorrow. I made two different batches of cookies for the two different exchanges, the roca cookies, and the perfect chocolate chip cookies (stay tuned for those!).

My very first blog entry last December was for home made almond roca bark. It is something I love! Mmm. But we don’t tend to eat the sweets during the rest of the year in the same way that we do over the holidays, so I figure it was time to bring those flavours back into the house.

As they bake the cookies smell amazing. The are solid and tasty and feel like a little bit of an extra special treat. I found this recipe on the Food Network website, courteousy of Lynn Scully.

almond-roca-cookies4

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup butter, room temperature
2 eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 package toffee bits
1 cup coarsely ground almonds
4 ounces milk chocolate
1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, blend sugars together on medium speed.
  4. Add butter and mix to form a grainy paste.
  5. Add eggs and vanilla and mix at medium speed until light and fluffy. At low speed, slowly add the flour mixture and then the toffee bits. Mix until just blended; do not over-mix.
  6. Place ground nuts in a small bowl. Using hands, roll balls of dough into 1 to 1 1/2-inch balls, then roll in the ground nuts. Place on cookie sheets several inches apart.
  7. Bake approximately 22 minutes and then transfer cookies to a cooling rack.
  8. Melt the chocolate with the vegetable oil in a double boiler or in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water.
  9. Drizzle melted chocolate over cooled cookies.
  10. Place cookies on a cookie sheet and place in freezer or refrigerator until chocolate is firmly set.

Yields 6 dozen small cookies.


Back in August, the bounty of the summer season was upon us. There is nothing like the farmer’s markets overflowing with such fresh and wonderful looking produce. In the middle of August we were in the Okanagan and picked up 15 lbs of Roma tomatoes, amongst other things. I thought I would take a stab at making some salsa to store away for those fall and winter months that need livening up with summer’s freshness.

Our friends who got married this summer gave home made salsa and raspberry jam that we made as favours for the wedding. I didn’t have that recipe so I started scouring the internet. I will admit that the concern over the acidity of the salsa (to make sure it was high enough) was a little nerve racking. I was planning on using a hot water bath (HWB) instead of a pressure cooker. Afterall, I didn’t want to kill anyone with botulism.

I finally came across this recipe from several years ago, on the iVillage Garden Web. I made some slight modifications based on notes from many of the reviews. The biggest change was that I did not de-seed the tomatoes. I had read that roma tomatoes are a paste tomato thickening sauces, so I wanted to keep the liquid from the seeds, we prefer our salsa to be on the thinner consistency, not super thick. We also made it a little spicier than the original recipe.

I was really happy with the result. It is a medium hot salsa – we like it that way, however all you have to do is reduce the hot peppers if you want something a little milder. I will be making this for years to come, and will make more than just the one batch… next summer! (A big thank you to Annie for sharing this great recipe!) I didn’t take any pictures of the salsa back when I made it. Today was a gorgeous day, with lots of natural light, so I finally dug it out to add to the blog.

salsa

Ingredients:
8 cups roma tomatoes, peeled, chopped
2 ½ cups chopped onion
1 ½ cups chopped green pepper
8 chopped jalapeños
2 chopped Serrano peppers
6 cloves minced garlic
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp pepper
1/8 cup pickling salt
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup red wine vinegar (or you could use lemon and lime juice as well)
16 oz. can tomato sauce
4 oz tomato paste

Directions

  1. When chopping vegetables, be careful with the hot peppers. I didn’t wear gloves a few months back and seeded and chopped about 20 jalapeños. I experienced some pretty intense burns on my hands…I don’t wish that on anyone! I used my little food processor this time for the peppers and garlic. Super fast work of a tedious job!
  2. Mix all ingredients, bring to a boil, boil 10 minutes.
  3. Heat rubber rimmed tops in hot water, not boiling.
  4. Pour salsa into hot sterlized jars, wipe rims with a damp paper cloth. Place rubber rimmed tops on and tighten ring.
  5. Process for 15 minutes for pints.

Makes 9 pints.

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