Snickerdoodles

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On our way home from the farmer’s market today, we crossed paths with a lady who was taking her cute black Labrador Retriever for a walk. She was wearing a great pair of rubber rain boots covered in pictures of Labs. I complemented her on the fun footwear.

As we walked away, I thought to myself: that lady must really love dogs.

I have an affectionate, long-haired, black cat named Merlot. And I think it would be a hoot to have a pair of rubber rain boots covered in pictures of cats.

But, if I ever was to step outside the house wearing feline themed footwear, I would forever be branded a crazy cat lady. Not a lady who must really love cats. Just a crazy cat lady.

It’s an unfortunate double standard, especially since dog owners are just as crazy as us cat owners!

Don’t deny it. You talk to your pooches. Let them follow you into the bathroom. You buy them needless gadgets, beds, clothes, organic treats and Halloween costumes.

Us cat folk don’t have the market cornered on crazy. All pet owners have a little crazy in them.

I guess that’s why I’ve grown accustomed to Merlot curling up on my lap, keyboard or mouse pad whenever I sit down to blog. I’ve learned how to work around her.

Now that the baby is here, I think Merlot has realized that one of the few times I am solo is when I’m on the computer. So blogging isn’t just mommy time, it’s also a time for me to hang out with my favourite feline.

So this blog post is brought to you, in part, by my sidekick Merlot!

I’ve been meaning to try baking Snickerdoodle cookies for such a long time. And I’m glad that I finally did!

Snickerdoodles are a very simple, but delicious. The star ingredients are cinnamon and sugar. The cookies are cakey and moist, and they freeze very well.

I used a recipe from one of my favourite cookbooks, Martha Stewart’s Cookies: The Very Best Treats To Bake And To Share.

These sweet cinnamony treats were a crowd pleaser, so give them a whirl! Enjoy!

Snickerdoodles

(From Martha Stewart’s Cookies: The Very Best Treats To Bake And To Share)

2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon coarse salt

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 ½ cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

 

– Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Put butter and 1 ½ cups sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in eggs. Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in flour mixture.

– Stir together cinnamon and remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar in a small bowl. Shape dough into twenty 1 ¾ inch balls; roll in cinnamon sugar. Space 3 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

– Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until edges are golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks.

 

Merlot the Cat sends her warmest regards!

Merlot the Cat sends her warmest regards!

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Sift it baby!

Mix the batter

Mix the batter

Shape the dough into Timbit sized balls, then roll in sweet, sweet cinnamon sugar

Shape the dough into Timbit sized balls, then roll in sweet, sweet cinnamon sugar

Line 'em up on your baking sheet

Line ’em up on your baking sheet

Fresh out of the oven!

Fresh out of the oven!

The Chocolate Chip Cookie


I find myself conflicted.

On one hand, I have resolved to restart this baking blog. That means carving out a little time each week to putter in the kitchen and write. It also means that tasty treats will be frequently hanging out on our countertop.

On the other hand, I have also pledged to lose my last 15 pounds of post-baby weight. That means a 7 a.m. daily DVD date with Jillian Michaels and weekly yoga classes. It should also mean avoiding everything buttery, sugary and delicious.

I hope you see my dilemma.

But as a wise old philosopher once said, everything in moderation. That means have one cookie (or two, just definitely not three). Have a small slice of cake.

That seems reasonable to me. After all, I can’t imagine living in a calorie counted world that prohibits me from eating one of these…

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To me, one of life’s simple pleasures is biting into a freshly baked Martha Stewart chocolate chip cookie. Crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside. And don’t forget about the melty chocolate chips. Yum!

I have tried many a chocolate chip cookie recipe, and this is by far my favourite. If I was stranded on a dessert island (pun intended) and was only allowed one recipe, it would be this one.

Martha has found the magical combination of white and light-brown sugars, and pinch of salt. Do not substitute or tweak the quantity of any ingredients. The reason these cookies taste so good is because they are chalk full of butter and sugar.

The recipe gives you options for cookie sizes. I like the 4 inchers, which bake for 15 minutes. They have good heft, density and texture.

Please give these a try – enjoy!

The Chocolate Chip Cookie

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
Salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups packed light-brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips or chunks (2 cups)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Sift flour, baking soda, and 1 1/4 teaspoons salt into a bowl.

Beat butter and sugars with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

On low speed, beat in eggs, 1 at a time.

Add flour mixture in 3 additions.

Beat in vanilla.

Mix in chocolate chips.

Scoop dough onto baking sheets, using the measurements listed below. Bake until edges are dark gold but centers are pale gold and look a bit underdone (for chewy) or until centers are set (for crisp), according to times listed below. Transfer sheets to wire racks. Let cool for 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks. Let cool completely.

For 3-inch cookies, use a 1 1/2-inch scoop (2 tablespoons). Bake for about 11 minutes for chewy or 14 to 16 minutes for crisp. (Makes 4 dozen)

For 2 1/4-inch cookies, use a 1 1/4-inch scoop (1 tablespoon). Bake for about 10 minutes for chewy or 14 to 16 minutes for crisp. (Makes 8 dozen)

For 1 1/2-inch cookies, use 1/2 teaspoon dough. Bake for about 10 minutes for chewy or 14 to 16 minutes for crisp. (Makes 12 dozen)

For 4-inch cookies, use a 2 1/4-inch ice cream scoop (1/4 cup). Bake for 14 to 15 minutes for chewy or 18 to 20 minutes for crisp. (Note: I bake mine for 15 minutes)

ingred

The raw goods

Mix

Break out the trusty mixer

chips

I dare you not to eat a cup of this cookie dough. Seriously

scooped

I scoop generously – 1/4 cup per cookie

sheet

Voila!

Look out June Cleaver

Every Halloween, I feel like I’m fighting an uphill battle. All I want is a clever couples costume. All my boyfriend wants is not to look stupid. Apparently, we can’t have it both ways. I thought I came up with some pretty good costume ideas this year, all of which required little effort. Among the top contenders were America’s most dysfunctional couple, Jon and Kate; and hosts of MTV’s The Aftershow, Jesse and Dan. Both my ideas were rejected, especially the latter. We settled on another dynamic duo: Canada’s own UFC champion Georges St. Pierre, and an octagon referee. I was going to go as GSP.

Unluckily (or luckily) for my boyfriend, he was sidelined with a cold, so I had to fly solo to my friend’s Halloween party. I ended up recycling my sister’s costume from last year, and went as Suzy Homemaker.

Since I was dressing up the pinnacle of Domestic Bliss, I felt the pressure was on to produce a particularly delicious – and spooky – Halloween dessert. After sifting through dozens of recipes, I decided to try my luck with Martha’s Coffin Brownies. However, I decided to ditch the coffin theme. It involved working with marzipan and measuring stencils, and I really wasn’t feeling it. Instead, I used marshmallows, chocolate chips and red icing to make Bloodshot Eyeball Brownies.

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Eye spy a tasty, but tedious, treat!

I’ve tried making brownies once before, and it didn’t go too well. I’m not sure what happened, but I ended up with a tray of burnt pudding. This time, however, I fared much better! Martha’s brownies were pretty quick and easy. The recipe called for chopped chocolate covered almonds, which added a really rich, crunchy texture to the brownies.

The eyeballs were really cute, but incredibly tedious. The red veins had to be painted on the marshmallows by hand, using a tooth pick. Luckily, I enlisted the help of my artistically inclined sister. With her steady hand and keen eye for detail, she saved the day!

I also wanted to bake something to carry as an edible prop when I wore my costume to work on Friday. A colleague of my parents’ gave me her recipe for zucchini loaf, which was absolutely delicious. Over the past few days, I think I’ve made at least six loafs! The recipe is simple, healthy and really tasty. It calls for whole wheat flour, and plain yogurt to reduce the amount of oil. The cake is moist, and rich in cinnamon and clove flavour. I added chocolate chips, which was a hit – at least with everyone except my mom, who’s more of a zucchini purist.

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Here's looking at you!

These are two must-try recipes, especially if you’re dressed-up like a brunette June Cleaver!

Bloodshot Eyeball Brownies

  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus more for pan
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder, plus more for marbling
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 8 ounces dark-chocolate-covered almonds, chopped
  • Bag of large marshmallows, for garnish
  • ½ cup of chocolate chips, for garnish
  • Red icing, for garnish
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square pan, and line it with parchment, leaving a 2-inch overhang on 2 sides. Butter and flour parchment, tapping out excess.
  2. Combine flour and salt in a small bowl. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Sift cocoa powder on top of butter, and whisk to combine. Let cool 3 minutes. Gently whisk in vanilla and eggs, then stir in sugars and flour mixture until just combined. Fold in almonds, then spread batter evenly in prepared pan.
  3. Bake until the top is firm and set, about 30 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack, and let cool for 20 minutes. Remove brownies from pan using parchment overhang, and let cool on wire rack. Once cooled, cut brownies into squares.
  4. Cut marshmallows in half, to form two circular “eyes.” In the center of each marshmallow, insert a chocolate chip, pointy-side down. Use a tooth pick to draw veins in red icing along the side of each marshmallow. Once completed, place one eyeball on top each brownie square.
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It's scary how well the zucchini and chocolate chips go together!

Best-Ever Chocolate Zucchini Loaf

*Makes 2 loaves

  • 3 cups shredded zucchini
  • 1 2/3 cups of granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ cup chocolate chips (if desired)
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare loaf pans with butter and flour.
  2. Mix zucchini, sugar, oil, vanilla and eggs. Add in remaining ingredients.
  3. Pour into pans. Bake loaves for 45-55 minutes until done (insert knife into loaf, and if it comes out clean, loaf should be ready).

Fighting the Good Fight

It’s amazing how people can rationalize just about anything. Take me, for example. Over the years, I have developed a fairly ridiculous set of food-related precepts. #1: Treats purchased at a charity bake sale don’t really count against your daily caloric intake, since they’re for a good cause. #2: A slice of cake eaten during one sitting is chalk full of calories. But, when you cut that very same piece of cake into multiple little “slivers” and eat them over the course of an evening, the calorie count plummets. #3: Jogging helps counteract precepts #1 and #2.

Recently, I have discovered that olive oil is a delicious substitute to butter in cake recipes. It provides added depth of flavour and aroma, and it gives cake a moist texture. And it just so happens that olive oil is associated with a host of healthful benefits. It contains monounsaturated fat, a healthier type of fat that can lower your risk of heart disease by reducing the level of bad cholesterol in your blood. According to the good folks at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, if you incorporate two tablespoons of olive oil into your daily diet, you could reduce your risk of heart disease.

So, by baking with olive oil, I am helping fight the battle against heart disease. Let’s just call it my bake-riotic duty.

I answered my call of duty this week by baking a hazelnut torte from chef Lidia Bastianich’s cookbook, Lidia’s Italy, which was featured on Martha’s website. Aesthetically, this is my ideal cake. It’s devoid of icing or filling, and it’s absolutely simple and homey. The cake looks like something one of my Italian aunts or cousins would easily whip up in advance of company. Unfortunately, this definitely wasn’t an easy baking process for me. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

The cake was flecked with finely chopped pieces of semi-sweet chocolate, which was the perfect partner to freshly grated orange zest. Not only did the roasted hazelnuts bring a flavour infusion, they also gave the cake good texture. Altogether, it was a subtle and refreshing dessert for an August evening, especially when paired with a tiny scoop of vanilla Häagen-Dazs.

While I loved the cake, the baking process was a little rough. First of all, I don’t own a whisk attachment for my blender. So, I just used my regular mixers. As a result, I had an incredibly difficult time creaming the butter and sugar. The recipe only called for six tablespoons of butter and a cup plus two tablespoons of sugar, and these proportions would not meld together for me. Adding to my troubles, I forgot to let the butter sit, so it was pretty cold. After trying – in vain – for at least twenty minutes, I threw in an extra three tablespoons of butter, in an effort to speed up the creaming process. After about half an hour, I settled with my slightly gritty mixture.

Secondly, I was so frazzled by my creaming debacle, that I also forgot to let my milk sit out at room temperature, so it too was cold. And to cap my trifecta of missteps, I threw a variety of wet ingredients into the mix all at once, rather than adding each one individually and blending at a low speed.

So basically, I was prepared for a torte-related disaster. Thankfully, the baking gods smiled down on me, because the cake turned out just fine!

Hazelnut Torte

  • 6 tablespoons butter, room temperature, plus more for pan (I ended up adding about 3 tablespoons more butter)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
  • 1 1/2 cups hazelnuts, toasted and skins removed
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon finely grated orange zest (I used the zest from a whole medium-sized orange)
  • 1 cup milk, room temperature  
  • 1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish (if desired)
  • Rich vanilla ice cream for serving (if desired)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 10-inch spring form pan; set aside.
  2. Place hazelnuts in the bowl of a food processor; process until coarsely chopped and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, mix together butter and sugar until light, smooth, and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the eggs, olive oil, and orange zest, mixing well on slow speed after each addition.
  4. With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture in 3 parts, alternating with milk and beginning and ending with flour; beat until just combined. Scrape down sides of bowl and beat on high speed about 2 minutes; fold in nuts and chocolate.
  5. Pour batter into prepared cake pan, smoothing top with a spatula. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean and the top is light brown and just springs back when lightly touched, about 45 minutes.
  6. Transfer cake to a cooling rack; let cool 30 minutes. Remove outer ring of pan; let cool completely. Cut into wedges and serve dusted with confectioners’ sugar or whipped cream, if desired.
Roasted hazelnuts en route to the food processor

Roasted hazelnuts en route to the food processor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A little confectioner's sugar, just for good measure

A little confectioner's sugar, just for good measure

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chocolate, orange and hazelnut - what more can you ask for?

Chocolate, orange and hazelnut - what more can you ask for?

Midnight Plum Cake

For some inexplicable reason, I am drawn to bouts of late night baking. Take tonight, for example. I guess I could have been out on the town, enjoying our unseasonably warm weather on a patio, drink in hand. But no. Instead, I drove to the grocery store at 9:30 p.m. to buy butter and sour cream, so I could whip up a plum cake.

Now don’t get me wrong – I am no Betty Crocker or Martha Stewart. I notoriously under-cream the butter and sugar, over-fold the eggs and have yet to beat egg whites into perfectly stiff peaks. But, I’m working on it.

I hope this blog will help track my progress, and generate a little advice from anyone out there in the baking blogosphere. So, here goes….

According to Martha, one of the season’s fruitful highlights is the plum. Sweet, tart and sensual in their colour, plums are perfect for mid-August desserts. And her Plum Cake, as featured in the September Issue of Everyday Food, looked just right for a dinner I’m going to at a friend’s house tonight.

The recipe was pretty straightforward. Though, I may or may not have “tented” the tinfoil at the appropriate time. And it turns out that plum pits are sharp, stubborn little buggers. One particularly belligerent pit managed to slice my thumb pretty good, whilst I tried to remove it.

I haven’t actually tasted the cake yet, but it looks pretty good. I’ll let you know how it turned out.

~gb

Plum Cake cooling at 1:15 a.m.

Plum Cake cooling at 1:15 a.m.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up close and personal

Up close and personal