Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas 2011

Sugar cookie cutouts with marble effect royal icing.
As the wrapping paper shrapnel settles and bellies begin to fill I'd like to wish you all a very MERRY CHRISTMAS! And all the best to you and yours in 2012!

Cookies, made from:
Iced Sugar Cookies from Martha Stewart's HOLIDAY magazine, 2010. This recipe also works nicely.

Marble effect tutorial from Sweetopia.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Gingerbread gets lucky...!

Gingerbread whoopie pies with white chocolate chai tea buttercream filling.

I lived in Virginia Beach for about five years while powering through grad school and I have to say some of my favorite memories are connected with U.S. Thanksgiving. It is a phenomenon. It is probably the most popular holiday of the year, ousting Christmas for top spot. It is an event...THE event of the year and it is not to be missed or approached halfheartedly.

Handy life lessons I've parked in my memory based on observations at friends' tables over those years:
  1. Preparing for Thanksgiving begins at least three weeks in advance with cardio workouts, recipe testing and making room in the fridge for a giant turkey
  2. Tablescaping is on par with college football when it comes to priority and devotion
  3. Wear loose, patterned clothing so other guests will not detect your expanding stomach or hidden elastic waistband
  4.  BEST TIP: post feasting gas releasing ritual...on knees and elbows, head down, butt in the air is by far the best way to let the wind out to make room for dessert...but probably best done far away from the dessert table.
  5. Eat in the afternoon, nap hard in the evening because Black Friday really begins at midnight.
It seems the matriarch of the house hosting Thanksgiving likes to have absolute control over the meal, but if you are a guest it's always polite to ask if you can bring anything. Not everyone is like this, but based on my observations so much effort went into the meal itself that the dessert options were often store bought or the old standbys: pumpkin pie, apple pie, pecan pie...very yummy, indeed, but maybe it's time to spice up the dessert table with a little whoopie!

If you're celebrating Thanksgiving this week and are expected to bring a dessert (clear it with the hostess first) I implore you to bring these:  gingerbread whoopie pies with white chocolate chai tea buttercream filling.

I found the gingerbread whoopie pie recipe at Pink Parsley. Hands down the best recipe I've tried. They come out smooth on top, which seems to be the real trick to successful whoopie pies. She uses a lemon filling, which is delightful with gingerbread, but I like the spice of chai tea complementing the spice of gingerbread and the sweetness of white chocolate holding everything together.

Here's what you need:
Gingerbread Whoopie Pies
adapted from Pink Parsley, who adapted it from King Arthur Flour

  • 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened (1 1/2 sticks)
  • 3/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup molasses
  • 3/4 cup whole fat yogurt (I use Stoneyfield organic whole fat plain yogurt)
White Chocolate Chai Tea Buttercream
adapted from Anna Olson

  • 2 cups unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 20 ounces good quality white chocolate, melted and cooled to room temperature
  • 2 1/3 cups icing sugar, sifted
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup chai tea concentrate (you can use store bought, or if you'd like to make your own you can find a recipe here. If you use this one, you will not need to add vanilla extract)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, and spices.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy.  Mix in the egg, beating until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl if needed.

With the mixer on low speed, mix in half the dry ingredients.  Add the molasses, then the remaining dry ingredients.  Finally, add the whole fat yogurt, mixing until just incorporated.

Use a medium cookie scoop or a pastry bag fitted with a round tip to form the whoopie pie shapes on the prepared baking sheet.  Space the whoopie pies a few inches apart, and bake 9-12 minutes, rotating the cookie sheets halfway through, until the whoopie pies are cooked through and spring back when lightly pressed with your finger.
Even though they look rough as they're going in to the oven, they still came out smooth on top.
Remove from oven and allow to cool 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Repeat with remaining dough.

While the whoopie pies are baking, make the filling, OR the icing can be made ahead and chilled for up to a week, or wrapped and frozen up to a month (thaw refrigerated). Once thawed, beat to make fluffy, then use.

In a stand-up mixer or in a large bowl with electric beaters, beat butter until fluffy. Beat in cooled melted chocolate on medium speed. Reduce speed and beat in icing sugar, vanilla and chai tea concentrate (icing will be a little soft). Chill for about an hour to set before using.

Arrange the whoopie pies so that each bottom has a matching top (as close in size and shape as you can). Fill a piping bag or ziploc with the filling and put a dollop in the middle of the whoopie pie. Place the top on and press gently until the filling meets the edge of the whoopie pie.

Refrigerate until filling is firm and they will be ready for transport. Keep refrigerated until an hour or two before serving. You want the  the filling to reach room temperature before consuming.

An alternative to gingerbread whoopie pies is pumpkin. Just as festive, of course, but maybe find out if there will be a lot of pumpkin desserts before you commit to adding yet another pumpkin to the table. Here are two recipes that are quite lovely and would go spectacularly with the white chocolate chai tea buttercream: and 

My eldest tackling a pumpkin whoopie pie with white chocolate chai tea buttercream filling.
For those of you ramping up for the event of the year, I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving. May you enjoy the people you're with, get a parking space on Black Friday and kick off the Christmas season with a belly full of gingerbread whoopie pies!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sugar and Spice and Vanilla Chai Nice

Vanilla Chai Latte: homemade vanilla chai concentrate
I love LOVE the fall season. The sun is still warm but the air is cool... the leaves are turning red, orange and yellow. It's the perfect weather to sit on the porch and sip warm, spicy chai.

I love making chai concentrate. My whole house smells like the Spice Market in Istanbul. It's not hard to do and it's considerably more economical than buying the concentrates at the grocery store. And this way you can manage you're quantities of sugar, caffeine, tea strength, etc.

This recipe was adapted from one sent to me by the lovely Dana VanVeller (who got it from her friend Jess, who got it for our friend Marcia Siggelkow, who got it from her friend Jen)...recipe origin unknown at this point, but I will keep you posted when I find it.

What you'll need to do:
Get a stock pot that will hold 5 liters of water, but don't fill it up just yet...
Toss in a blender and blend just to break them up, or use a mortar and pestle:
15 cinnamon sticks

 Then add:
(Again, blend just to break them up)
Or if you're using mortar and pestle crush each spice one at a time and put in pot as you go.

1/4 cup coriander seeds
 1/2 cup whole allspice
 1/4 cup cardamom pods (or just the seeds if that's what you can find)
 1/4 cup peppercorns
 Add 2 vanilla beans sliced lengthwise (or I use 4 left over vanilla bean pods - the guts have been scraped and used in something else)
1 tsp whole cloves (not crushed)
Add 6 inches of sliced ginger.
Add 5 liters of water.
Simmer for 2 or more hours.
Remove from heat
At this point you can add 1 cup of loose black tea (in cheese cloth or tea bags so you can take it out easily). Steep for 2-3 minutes. The longer you steep the tea the more bitter it gets.

I choose not to add tea at this point. I prefer to add a sachet of black tea when I make myself a cup of chai. That way I can choose whether or not I'd like caffeinated or decaffeinated tea.

Pour concentrate through strainer into a pitcher, or I use mason jars so I can store it in my fridge a little easier. Should be good for up to 3 weeks in a sealed jar.

There are many ways to make your cuppa chai. Here is one suggestion:
  • Fill your mug half way with the chai concentrate and warm it up (either stove top in a saucepan or in the microwave...this is when I also add my tea sachet)
  • Put about the same amount of milk in a saucepan and bring to a simmer, whisking the whole should froth a little. Add to your chai.
  • Add honey to sweeten if desired

Monday, October 10, 2011

Delectable Chocolate Chip Cookies

Now that autumn is here, a great way to get cozy on a rainy day or  a cool night is making classic chocolate chip cookies.

Everybody swears by their chocolate chip cookie recipe...but I really swear by this one. I have tried dozens of variations of the chocolate chip cookie recipe and this is where I have landed. It is my number one seller at markets and online orders. Why? Maybe it's the melt in your mouth goodness of Belgian chocolate and soft cookie. Or the hint of caramel from the brown sugar. Whatever the reason, they are borderline addictive. The hardest part about making these for other people is not eating them up myself!

Here's what you need to do:
preheat oven to 375 F

combine in bowl (mix with  a spoon not a whisk):
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

in a seperate larger bowl, mix: (most helpful in a stand mixer and paddle attachment)
*add in order until each is fully mixed*

2 sticks (1 cup) almost melted butter (3/4 fully melted and mix it until smooth - no butter lumps)
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup regular sugar
2 eggs (room temp)
1 tsp vanilla

add dry to wet, mix just until ingredients are incorporated.
The consistency is important. It shouldn't be so runny it drips off the paddle or so stiff nothing falls off the paddle. It should slowly fall off the paddle in chunks
add 1 1/2 cups Belgian chocolate chips...mix until just incorporated...
don't sully this classic with cheap waxy doesn't cost much more to indulge in good Belgian chocolate which you can find at any bulk store or the bulk aisle of your grocery store.
tablespoon dough onto parchment lined cookie sheet.

 Bake for 11-13 minutes...until just brown around the edges...
they'll be a little puffy when you take them out of the oven...
...but they'll flatten a little as they cool
Let least a little up!

Rainy day pick-me-up serving suggestion: serve with steamed milk, latte or cup of tea...cozy on a comfy chair and read the funniest book you have. Enjoy!

Friday, October 7, 2011


Pumpkin Scones

Oh Canada celebrates Thanksgiving this weekend and, as per annual Thanksgiving protocol, I am reminded of the many blessings in my life. I have a loving, patient husband, two adorably loveable little girls (though I find my thankfulness barometer goes up when they're in bed sleeping - they're under 5, you get me), my health, safety, shelter, mobility...I have it pretty good. I am indeed full of thanks.

It is tradition in our family to share a meal during this harvest holiday with friends and/or family. We are not gluttons, but I'm not going to lie - stretchy pants are encouraged. This year we are hosting, but the men (who happen to know their way around a kitchen) will do most of the cooking...I did say I have it pretty good.

And what is Thanksgiving without something pumpkin-ish? Since I'm still a pie crust dummy, I think my contribution will be either pumpkin scones or pumpkin whoopie pies. Maybe both!

If you're going to feast with friends or family this year what will you bring to the table?

Here is my scrumptious pumpkin scone recipe if you're looking for something different to add to the feast...or maybe to have with tea while preparing the night before (or day of, if you're like me!).

Here's what to do:
Preheat your oven to about 360 degrees F. Place parchment paper on a cookie sheet.

whisk together:
1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup cake/pastry flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder (fresh, opened within the last month)
4 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves

In a measuring cup whisk together:
1/4 cup plain yogurt (I use whole fat yogurt)
1/2 cup pumpkin puree (canned or fresh... not pumpkin pie filling)
1 egg room temp (for room temp: place egg in small bowl and cover with hot water, let stand for 2 minutes)
1/2 tsp vanilla

Take dry ingredients and cut in one stick (1/2 cup) of cold unsalted butter (either by food processor, or pastry cutter or by's best to touch it as little as possible so the butter remains cold).
 The texture should be sandy and mealy.

Pour wet mix on top and stir in with fork.

Don't over work it, just until all the wet is mixed in...should have some crumbly bits left at the bottom of the bowl. If you find it's still too dry, add a little more yogurt or heavy cream to help.

Dump out mix onto a lightly floured surface. gently work in any crumbly bits. Form dough into an 7-8" disc and cut into 8 pie-like portions.

Place on parchment on cookie sheet.
Bake for 20-ish minutes. Should be golden around edges and a little golden on top.
 While cooling, melt 1/2 cup white couverture chocolate (I use Belgian white from the Bulk Barn) in a double broiler:
  • bring about 2-3 inches of water in a saucepan to a simmer not a boil
  • place a bowl on top - not in - the saucepan 
  • place the chocolate in the bowl and stir while melting until almost melted 
  • remove bowl and continue to stir until all the chocolate has completely melted
Pour chocolate into a piping bag (I just use a Ziploc and cut the very tip of one corner) and zigzag the chocolate over the scones. Or however you want to do it...there's no right way! The white chocolate does add the "scrumptious" factor though.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Cupcake Wars: Cinema Concession Stand

Coca Cola cupcakes with cola caramel filling and buttery buttercream frosting, garnished with sea salt and popcorn.

Last year my friend and I duked it out cupcake style in our own little Cupcake Wars challenge. She lives about 1000 miles (1500km) south of my little hamlet so we had to rely on the discerning palates in our own neighborhoods to let us know how we fared.

The theme: cinema concession stand. We both had to come up with a cupcake that included both the salty and sweet goodness of going to the movies. I played around with some of my favorite movie treats: licorice and peanut m&m's, popcorn and peanut butter cups, sour candies and chocolate covered peanuts. But I couldn't imagine a good, edible cupcake with any of those combinations. Then I thought, "What is the most classic movie treat?" Buttered popcorn and Coca Cola.

I found a Coca Cola cupcake recipe that originally had cocoa in it, but I didn't add the cocoa because I didn't want it to interfere with the cola flavor.

I made a cola caramel by reducing two 237mL bottles of Coke in a medium saucepan down to one third. Then added:
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
Stirred to combine and then brought it to a boil over high heat until it reached 350 degrees on a candy thermometer. (it took about 10 minutes)

While it boiled I gathered:
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream (warmed up)
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
When the caramel mixture reached 350 degrees, I removed from heat and allowed it to cool for 1 minute. Then I carefully added the hot cream to the caramel and stirred to combine. I then whisked in the sour cream.

When the caramel cooled I poured it in a squeeze bottle and with an apple corer I popped out "divots" in each cupcake. I filled the hole left behind with the caramel and then replaced divot.

 I upped the butter in the buttercream because I didn't want to use butter flavor extract. I haven't found a butter flavor extract that doesn't taste chemically:
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 1/2 cups sifted icing sugar
  • 1/2 heavy cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla

I beat the butter in a stand mixer until fluffy and slowly added the icing sugar  and cream, alternating between them, but ending with sugar. I added the vanilla at the end and beat until I was happy with the consistency.

I garnished the frosted cakes with coarse sea salt and then added freshly popped, cooled popcorn. I didn't butter the popcorn because that would have made the cake and popcorn too soggy. I was hoping the buttercream would be buttery enough to carry the butter flavor.

 My dear judges were brutally honest. They liked the presentation and could taste the cola, but too much frosting made it too sweet and there wasn't enough saltiness to offset the sweet. If I ever do them again, I will cut down the icing sugar by one cup and up the butter by 1/2 cup and maybe even salt the popcorn as well.
One of my brave judges!

My warring friend did a southern caramel cake and frosting garnished with a chocolate covered peanut and caramel corn on top. She said her cake ended up being a bit crumbly and her frosting too messy, so for this war we declared a draw!