homemade

Holiday Baking

The mall.

Two tiny words that can induce chills down my back at the BEST of times let alone Christmastime. You see, I live in a city where there is no shortage of locally crafted artisanal products yet, at some point or another, I always find myself at the mall.

'This year, things are going to be different', I told myself. 'This year I'm not buying one single mass produced piece of crap for anyone.' My family agreed - 'We've had enough too - let's keep it simple and do a little baking or something like that instead!!' I thought 'Great!! Everybody's on board. I'll find some recipes, test 'em out and pack 'em up as gifts. Easy peasy right?' Yup. Easy peasy. Except for the fact that it took me two weeks of trial runs to get everything right.

Just because I love to bake doesn't mean I am a great baker. Instead, I consider myself a 'baker-in-training'. I love doing it but it doesn't always turn out...

SUGAR COOKIES  

I chose Sugar Cookies as a starting point because, never having made a rolled cut-out cookie in my life, I thought they would give me the most trouble - I was right. It took me FOUR attempts to get the hang of these suckers. I began with The Best Rolled Sugar Cookie recipe from AllRecipes. I love AllRecipes because you can choose a recipe based on user ratings and reviews. Most reviewers suggested increasing the amounts of both sugar and vanilla and so I did. The cookies were absolutely delicious but what were perfectly cut-out Christmas trees going into the oven were puffy misshapen blobs coming out of the oven. I tried the recipe a second time, halving the amount of baking powder and using one egg instead of two in an attempt to reduce the puffiness. The second batch was still not quite right and so I turned to the Queen of Baking herself - Ms. Martha Stewart. Now love her or not, her Perfect Sugar Cookie recipe is AWESOME!!

Martha suggests adding 2 Tbsp of Cognac to the cookie batter for an extra oomph of flavour. I didn't have any Cognac but I ALWAYS have Baileys on hand. Well, let me tell you, I think I could LIVE on Baileys Sugar Cookies - I mean, I would eventually suffer from some sort of nutritional deficiency but it would be totally worth it!!

For the fourth and final gift-giving batch, in consideration of the kids in my life, I substituted milk for Baileys. Once baked and cool, I brushed the cookies with warm clear corn syrup and sprinkled them liberally with red and green sugar. After about an hour, the corn syrup dried shiny and hard, perfect for packing into tins.

 

SNICKERDOODLES

I'll never forget the first time I ate a Snickerdoodle. I was 30 when a neighbour knocked on the door at Christmastime and handed me a tin full of holiday cookies. Nestled within the creases of wax paper was the heavenly Snickerdoodle. What I also refer to as a 'Cinnamon Toast Cookie', a great Snickerdoodle is a puffy, chewy, cinnamon-sugar delight. For me, a shortcoming of the traditional Snickerdoodle recipe is Cream of Tartar. Some people enjoy the weird acrid aspartame-like tang of Cream of Tartar. I am not one of those people. I used this recipe and substituted 2 tsp of baking powder for the 2 tsp of Cream of Tartar - my cookies turned out wonderfully.

 

BUTTER FUDGE

Fudge, fudge oh glorious fudge!!! Has there ever been another confection so capable of bringing my mother to the brink of insanity? I think not!! I have a vivid mental picture of my mother standing over the stove, stirring furiously, glasses steamed up, sweating, cursing like a sailor - all for the sake of fudge that, for one reason or another, never quite turned out. It's this mental image that has stopped me dead in my tracks, time and time again, whenever the thought of making fudge has entered my brain. That is, until I found this. Now, it's KIND of a cheater's recipe because you only boil the fudge for 5 minutes but hey, you still boil it right? And so, technically, it's real cooked fudge, right? Hmmm... my mum may not agree, but who cares because it's so friggin' good!!

 

GINGER SPICE COOKIES

Ginger Spice Cookies - stacked in a Mason jar covered with burlap, tied with Christmas ribbon

These are what I call 'Grown Up Cookies'. They are chewy and spicy, loaded with ginger - not for the faint of heart. The kids might hate 'em but the grown-ups will swoon!! I found this recipe the night before Christmas Eve on the amazing Epicurious. With tens of recipes to choose from it can be daunting to decide on just one. That's why I always check out ratings and reviews. Out of all the ginger cookie recipes on Epi, this one received consistent '4 fork' ratings and rave reviews across the board. With no trial run, these cookies were simple to make and a huge hit with the adults in my family.

 

NUTELLA HAZELNUT BALLS

Who doesn't love a Ferrero Rocher? (If you raise your hand, we probably can't be friends) Knowing that Nutella is produced by the Ferrero Company, I did a little research and came across ALmsot Bourdain's recipe for Ferrero Rochers. I modified slightly and made this incredible homemade version:

4 hazelnut wafer cookies (available at the Italian Market on Young St.)

1 cup whole hazelnuts

2 or 3 large dollops of Nutella

chocolate for melting (I used Hershey's Chocolate Bars)

1. preheat to 350 - spread hazelnuts on baking sheet - bake until you can smell the nuts (about 10 minutes) - cool

2. put hazelnut wafers in a small Ziploc baggie and smash/roll them with a rolling pin - take out of baggie and crumble with fingers into a large bowl

3. in another bowl, lightly roll the cooled hazelnuts between your fingertips to remove skins (some people will recommend you gather the hazelnuts in a tea towel to rub the skins off but I found this to be very messy) once most of skins are off, smash, bash, chop or process hazelnuts into chunky bits - add to crumbled wafers

4. add two or three good dollops of Nutella to nuts and wafers - take your rings (jewellery) off - mix with hands - lick hands - put mixture in fridge to firm

5. once firm, roll into small balls - dip balls in melted chocolate - cool

6. eat!!

I hope you've enjoyed reading this post about the treats I gave to my family and friends for Christmas and that you as well spent Christmas surrounded by delicious food and people you love.

Warmest Wishes!!

Chocolate Pasta

I could eat pasta every day. I mean really - I can't get enough of it. After we got our Kitchenaid pasta roller attachment we made homemade pasta almost every day for two weeks (I still haven't figured out how I don't weigh 300 pounds). I'm always looking to try new things, especially in the kitchen, so I started doing a little research on variations of pasta. You can make red wine pasta dough, fresh herb pasta dough, lemon zest pasta dough - whatever you have kicking around your kitchen can probably be added to pasta dough. I decided to start with chocolate - well, cocoa - because a) we had some, b) it's powdered so I thought it would incorporate well with the flour and c) I thought the visual of dark chocolate coloured pasta would be really neat!!

Mike, the chef of the restaurant I work at, gave me the recipe that Sean and I use to make dough. I took a look in our fridge to see what we had on hand that I could use in a stuffed pasta. There were two chicken thighs that Sean had roasted the night before, some Philly Cream Cheese, a bag of unsalted, shelled pistachios I got at The Mid-East Food Centre on Agricola, some fresh rosemary and Romano cheese that our friends Jason and Erin had brought over when we were cooking together a few nights before and some applewood smoked bacon. 

I pulled everything out of the fridge and laid it out on my counter and decided, yup, this was going to be delicious!! Because we make ice cream often, we always have 35% whipping cream in the house and so I decided to make a cream sauce flavoured with nutmeg - the perfect compliment to the chicken/bacon filling and the pistachios.

We have a 3.5 cup Kitchenaid Chef's Chopper food processor, so I cut Mike's recipe for dough in half and usually make it in two batches. Here is the recipe for the half batch amount:

~ 1.5 cups '00' flour (a fine Italian flour perfect for making pasta - available at The Italian Market for $2.99 a bag)

~ 2 eggs + enough water to make 1/2 Cup

~ drizzle of Olive Oil

~ pinch of salt

Of course this time I also added cocoa powder!! (about 1/2 Cup) Whiz it all together in the food processor for about 30 seconds.

Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead for 8 -10 minutes.

After kneading, your dough should be silky smooth. Once you think you have the right texture, wrap the dough in Saran and let it rest for about 20 minutes.

While the dough was resting, I made the filling.

I fried the bacon until crispy and then sauteed half an onion in some of the bacon drippings (oh my arteries!!). I took the skin off of the chicken thighs and tossed it, along with the bacon in the food processor and whizzed until  finely crumbled. I chopped the rosemary and added it to the bacon and chicken in a large bowl, along with the sauteed onion and a few large dollops of cream cheese.

Mix together and voila!! Pasta filling!!

At this point, my dough was ready for rolling. If you do not have a pasta roller, you can roll the dough out by hand but it takes longer and is less consistent (unless you are an Italian mama that has been making pasta for 30 years!! - trust me, get a pasta roller). I cut the dough ball into four pieces and rolled each one out into a sheet,

and then I cut the sheets into small circles with a biscuit cutter. I took some of the chicken/bacon/cream cheese filling and rolled into a ball, about the size of a small meatball,

then I laid another circle on top and pinched the edges together super tight - you don't want any water getting inside of your pasta!!

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil and while you're waiting, make your sauce. I reduced about 2 Cups of whipping cream and then seasoned it with salt, pepper and nutmeg. So easy!! At this point, I also decided to toast my pistachios in a dry pan in order to bring out another layer of flavour.

When the water comes to a boil, you just gently add the pasta. After about 2 minutes, it will start to float - take it out it's done!! I added my cooked pasta to my cream sauce, sprinkled it liberally with the toasted pistachios and the grated Romano cheese and topped it off with a sprig of fresh rosemary.

I have to admit, I was a little disappointed because I couldn't actually TASTE the cocoa in the pasta dough - I think there were just too many other flavours at play, but the rich dark chocolate coloured dough LOOKED amazing. And so what if I couldn't taste the cocoa? I mean let's get real - it was filled with chicken, bacon and cheese.

Decadence factor = 100%

Ode to Baskin Robbins

As teenagers, my sister Cindy and I loved going to Mic Mac Mall - but not for the reasons you may think. Yes the mall was a haven of clothing, make-up and boys, but what we truly went for was Baskin Robbins' Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream. Decadent chocolate ice cream laden with ribbons of smooth, creamy REAL peanut butter - it was SO DELICIOUS!! However, they say all good things must come to an end - the shop closed suddenly and our favourite ice cream was gone.

Over the last 15 years, if you were to ask Cindy or I what we thought was the best ice cream flavour of all time, I KNOW we both would have given the same answer even though it had been years since that pure bliss had passed our lips. Enter the glorious hunk of grey metal sitting next to our tree this past Christmas, otherwise known as the Kitchenaid 600 series Professional Mixer.

Somewhat intimidated by the Kitchenaid, Sean and I didn't really start to use it until a couple of weeks ago. Our love affair began with the 3-pack of pasta roller attachments. Next came the food grinder, and finally, the crowning glory - the ice cream maker attachment!! When I brought it home last week and set it on the kitchen table Sean and I spent a few moments staring at it with quiet reverence.

The main jist of this recipe came from the Dinner and Dessert blog - they have credited David Lebovitz's book 'The Perfect Scoop' for their version.

It begins so simply, as most good things do. Cream, sugar, cocoa and salt.

Baskin Robbin's-Style Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream

2 Cups Heavy Cream

1/2 Cup Sugar

1/4 Cup Cocoa

pinch of Salt

1/2 Cup Smooth Peanut Butter

1-2 Tbsp Icing Sugar

~ Whisk cream, coca, sugar and salt in a saucepan to a full roiling boil (should be foamy) - chill

~ mix PB and icing sugar together (adjust amount of icing sugar to taste - I used 2 Tbsp)

~ Churn chocolate batter in an ice cream maker

~ In a container, layer churned batter with dollops of PB - freeze

~ Eat!!

Baskin Robbins has officially made a comeback - well, in MY house anyway. I think I had better tell my sister...