cookies

Brown Butter and Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookies

I don't love chocolate. There. I said it. BUT - my friend Padde makes THE BEST chocolate chip cookies so I asked for his recipe (I'll be honest - I wasn't sure he would actually give it to me). You see, I believe, whether you love chocolate or not, you still need a wicked chocolate chip cookie recipe in your repertoire!! It turns out he uses the Magna Carta of chocolate chip cookie recipes - the almighty Nestle Tollhouse. He even stocks up on Tollhouse chocolate chips when he's in the States because you can't buy them here (that, my friends, is dedication). Now, if you're new to my blog then you probably don't know this about me but I LOVE a challenge, expecially when it involves taking a classic and much-loved recipe and messing with it to make something new.

Brown Butter and Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookies

1.5 C all-purpose flour

3/4 C cake flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp kosher salt

1 C butter

0.5 C minus 2 Tbsp white sugar

1 C dark brown sugar, packed tight

3 tsp vanilla

2 eggs

1 package (225 g) semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 C nuts or Skor bits (optional)

Sea salt for sprinkling

  • Place the butter in a pan - melt on LOW until browned - will take about 10-15 minutes 

 

 

I recommend using a silver coloured pan so you can see when the butter has turned brown. The butter will melt slowly - then it will get foamy, bubbly and loud - it will even spit at you - but it's not quite ready yet!! Be patient because it will quiet down again. Soon after this it will start to develop golden patches of foam - swirl it around so you can see the golden brown transformation underneath - stick your nose over the pan and breathe in - is it a deep caramel brown colour? does it smell like toasted nutty goodness? If the answer to both of these questions is yes, then you're good to go. Take the butter off the heat and cool 20 minutes.

While the butter is cooling -

  • Whisk all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking soda, baking powder and kosher salt in a large bowl to mix - set aside
  • Measure white sugar, dark brown sugar (pack as much as you can into your measuring cup!!), and vanilla into the bowl of your stand mixer - add cooled brown butter and beat on speed 6 for 2 minutes

  • add an egg - beat one minute - add the other egg - beat one minute
  • turn mixer to low speed or even speed 2 - add flour mixture gradually until mixed well - when all flour mixture is in, scrape down sides of bowl and beat on speed 4 or 6 for one minute
  • add your chips (I used 75% Tanzanian chocolate that I was given as a gift - I just weighed out 225g on my kitchen scale) and mix them in by hand

  • put your mixing bowl in the fridge for 45 minutes to an hour to firm up the dough
  • roll the dough into balls a little smaller than a golf ball - you should get about 36 balls (depends on how much dough you eat) - put the balls back in the fridge to chill for 2-4 hours
  • When the balls are chilled, preheat the oven to 375 - line a cookie sheet with parchment - when the oven is ready, take 12 chilled balls out of the fridge and space them out on the cookie sheet - sprinkle them liberally with sea salt and bake for 11-12 minutes - cool them on the sheet 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack (If you're using the same cookie sheet to bake the second batch, make sure it is COOL before you put the new balls on)
  • eat one - eat another - then another - try to stop yourself - consider sharing (this may be impossible)

 

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!!

Mexican Wedding Cakes

Friends of ours flew to Mexico in late April, a small group of family in tow, to get hitched. Soon after their return, looking tanned and fabulous, they came to our house for dinner one evening. As they walked into our kitchen, the new 'Mrs.' handed me a small package wrapped in brown paper and tied with twine. I was touched that they would even think to bring me home a gift while away on such a momentous journey. I untied the string and unwrapped the paper to reveal a smooth dark shiny bottle of Mexican Vanilla. I cracked the top, brought the bottle to my nose closed my eyes and let the fragrance work its magic. Immediately I knew this vanilla was different than any I had ever met - like a great bottle of wine there were complex things happening inside the bottle - the heady scent of buttery caramel, the sweet joy of the 'Happy Birthday' scratch and sniff stickers from my childhood, combined with images of the clear barley 'Toy Candy' my mum used to buy every Christmas when we were kids. I opened my eyes and found myself back in our kitchen, no longer 12 years old clutching my stickerbook under my arm. It always makes me wonder - how many more times in my life will I think about those memories? It's truly wondrous what a smell can do to you. I tucked the bottle into my baking cupboard and we had a great dinner.

Two weeks later, 'Mr. and Mrs.' hosted a wedding reception at their house. I thought, 'Wouldn't it be cool if they had something at their Nova Scotia reception with a little Mexican authenticity?' This is where the Mexican Wedding Cakes come in. I had never heard of them before but after some online research I found a great recipe on Epicurious. They looked cute in the photo, had a ton of rave reviews, seemed super easy and would give me the chance to use my Mexican Vanilla!! I offered to make a batch to use as a wedding favour and my offer was quickly and graciously accepted. 

Two days before the reception, I baked 100 'cakes' (the cakes are actually bite-sized nutty shortbread cookies dusted with icing sugar). One day before, I created and printed personalized tags and put each cake into its own small clear cellophane bag. I tied each bag with a piece of bright, festive ribbon laced with a tag and displayed them in a large galvanized metal bucket. When we left the reception Sean and I took a few cakes home with us. I liked the cakes but Sean LOVED them - he said they were his favourite thing that I've made yet since we've been together. I told him that was a BOLD statement but he insisted it was true. Men are so easy to please!!

Click here for the recipe!!