31 January 2010

Memories of Saturdays at the Mall

Well the wait is over, and tonight is the Artists' Gala at the new Alberta Art Gallery.  Tomorrow morning VIPs and government officials will cut the ribbon and Edmontonians collective culture level will go up a couple of notches.  For my friend, she will finally be able to catch up on some badly needed sleep.  I've volunteered to help out tonight, so I've decided to bake her another little treat I think she will enjoy;  Chocolate Malted Whopper Drops, from Dorie Greenspan's "Baking: From My Home To Yours"

This is a fairly new recipe for me - I tried it out a couple of weeks ago, but discovered I was very low on malt powder, so I had to settle for only 1/2 a batch.  They were good.  They have that nice, smooth taste that you get with malted chocolate, and it reminded me of Saturdays as a child...

Every Saturday, as far back as I can remember, mom, my sister and I would pick Grandma up from the hairdressers and head for the mall.  We would spend the entire day there, window shopping with or without purpose.  We didn't always buy something, but it was part of our week - a day for just us girls, occasionally joined by my aunt and three cousins for a bit.  For my sister and I, we knew which treats we could look forward to having, depending on the mall we were headed to.  The best fries and gravy in the entire world from the dive-y cafeteria across from Sears (7- & 12-year-olds don't exactly have the most refined palates) or a chocolate malt from the bright orange malt spot near the bowling alley.  Mid-afternoon, no mater what the time of year, that icy-cold malt was the best treat for us to enjoy while mom and grandma rested their feet for a few minutes.  We're all grown up now, and sadly, our beloved Grandma has passed.  Saturdays at the mall don't happen as often as the used to, but I still enjoy a day hanging out with my mom in retail heaven when we get the chance.  The malt stops are all gone now, as is that dumpy cafeteria, but the memories are as fresh as ever for me.

So sis - if you're feeling a tad nostalgic, you should give these ones a try.  I can still hear the sound of plastic spoons scraping up the last bits of malt from waxed-paper cups... :-)

Chocolate Malted Whopper Drops
excerpted from Dorie Greenspan's "Baking: From My Home To Yours"
makes about 30 cookies

1 3/4 Cups (248 g) all-purpose flour
1 Cup (140 g) malt powder (or Ovaltine, regular or chocolate-flavoured)
1/4 Cup (23 g) coca powder
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1stick + 3 Tbsp (157 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 Cup (134 g) sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 Cup (60 ml) whole milk
2 Cups (200 g) Whoppers or Maltesers (coarsley chopped)
1 Cup (172 g) chocolate chips or chunks

Preheat oven to 350F (325F is what I used), placing rack in the centre of oven.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats (*highly recommended*  this cookie dough tends to be a bit sticky)

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, malt powder, cocoa, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.
Working with a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer & a very large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth and fluffy (approx. 3 minutes).  Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition.  Beat in the vanilla (don't be concerned if the mixture looks a little curdled, it will even out when the dry ingredients are added).  With mixer on low speed, add hlaf of the dry ingredients, mixing just until they disappear into the batter.  Mix in the milk, then the remaining dry ingredients, mixing only until they are incorporated.  The batter will look more like fudge frosting than cookie dough, but that's the way this one should look.  Using a rubber spatula, mix Whoppers & chocolate chips into the batter by hand.

Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls (or using #70 disher) onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 2-inches between scoops.  Bake for 11-13 minutes.  When done, cookies will be puffed and set but slightly soft to the touch.  Let the cookies cool on the sheets for 2 minutes before transferring to cooling racks.  Repeat with the remaining dough, cooling the baking sheets completely between batches.

29 January 2010

umm, ok... I hope you guys like chocolate

Today I made a stop at the bakery supply store to stock up on the chocolate chips I use for nearly every chocolate recipe I make. Callebaut Dark Chocolate Callets are silky smooth when they melt, have a wonderful taste of real dark chocolate with a beautiful, almost floral hint of real bourbon vanilla. mmmmmm... delicious!

I arrived, however, to find that they have changed the packaging of their smaller quantity bags of chips. I used to pick up a couple of 1 kg bags every couple of months, enough to have on hand for brownies, chocolate chip cookies, a jar or two of ganache... your basic chocolate emergencies. Now the chips of choice were packaged in small 1 lb bags, meaning a lot more unnecessary packaging and hassle. So instead, I bought the next size up... which would be the 10 kg bag.

Yep, I am now the proud owner of a whopping 22 lbs of dark chocolate morsels. So I hope you guys are fans of chocolate, because I don't have enough glass jars in my house to store them all. Darn, I guess we'll just have to eat them then....

27 January 2010

Recipe Test Night

My sister recently sent me a cookie recipe that she thought I might like. She doesn't cook or bake very often since she moved to Southern California, a bad week of storms and heavy rain have caused her Canadian hibernating genes to kick into high gear and dust off the measuring cups. This was one of the many things she made last week, and I thought today was the perfect day to give them a try. After all, I had a busy day at work, and a full 45 minutes on the Wii Fit.. I've earned a cookie or two, haven't I?

Well, for starters, I had to make a few necessary changes to the recipe... Call me a food snob, but it just goes against everything I believe in to use Crisco in a cookie recipe when butter is so readily available - so I swapped the Crisco for unsalted butter, and then I took sis' suggestion of adding Skor bar bits (Heath Bar bits if you're south of the 49th) - at least to 1/2 of the recipe, since this was a test batch anyway. Sneaking a taste of the raw batter ('cuz who doesn't like raw cookie dough?), I also decided to increase the vanilla and salt in order turn up the volume on the flavours. Lacking any real instructions form the original recipe, I used the basic creaming method to prepare the batter. I baked one sheet of cookies at the recommended temperature of 375F which, as I suspected, was way too hot for cookies, so I fell back on my tried-and-true habit of baking all cookies at 300F and adjusting the cooking time. The result is a moist, chewy cookie that is cooked all the way through without being too brown around the edges.

The end result is interesting...a kind of "everything-cookie" (hence the name). Can't decide if you're in the mood for chocolate chip, oatmeal or peanut butter cookies? This cookie is a combination of all three - satisfying just about any craving you may have. I'm guessing this is why these were well received by my group of tasters (hubby's co-workers, along with my own).

So here you are, the initial test recipe for Everything Cookies. I'm still convinced that there's room for improvement, so I'll make a few more batches I'm sure, tweaking here and there in search of perfection. Perhaps decreasing the amount of butter slightly and increasing the peanut butter for a more pronounced peanut flavour...? I also invite you all to try the recipe yourselves and tell me what improvements you think these could use.

Everything Cookies
makes 42-48 cookies

1 1/2 Cups (213 grams) all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 Cups (190 grams) oatmeal (large flake is preferred over quick-cooking)
1 Cup (226 grams or 2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 Cup (201 grams) granulated sugar
1 Cup (180 grams) brown sugar
1 Cup (284 grams) smooth peanut butter
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
2 Cups (300 grams) chocolate chips
1 1/2 Cups (200 grams) Skor bits (optional)

Preheat oven to 300F, placing rack in the centre of oven. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mat.

In a medium bowl, mix together oatmeal, flour, salt and baking soda, and set aside.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add peanut butter and vanilla and mix on medium-high speed until fully combined. Turn mixer down to medium and add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl as needed to make sure everything is well mixed. With mixer on low speed, mix in 1/3 of the dry ingredients, gradually mixing in t second and final thirds of the dry mixture, just until no more streaks of flour remain. Take care not to over-mix the batter.

Using #70 disher or an ice-cream scoop, drop mounds of dough (about the size of a golf ball) onto cookie sheets, spacing them 2 inches apart. Bake cookies, one sheet at a time, for 15-18 minutes, until the edges start to turn a pale golden brown. Remove from oven, and allow to cool on cookie sheet for 10-15 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. While it's tempting to enjoy cookies while they are fresh from the oven and gooey, these cookies are so much better once they have cooled completely.

25 January 2010

Coffee & Dessert... In One!

The other night, hubby and I decided to go out for dinner - a little "date night" to break our usual week-night routine. Well, a new pizzeria opened up in our neighbourhood, so we thought we should give it a try. Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria offers a very different dining experience than we are used to on this side of the Atlantic, and in that way, it conjures up wonderful memories of meals enjoyed in Europe. You seat yourself and peruse the menu, then go up to the counter to place your order. A server will bring you your beverages and order when they are ready. The ingredients are fresh and simple - the way food should be. Sauce made from fresh tomatoes and little else, fresh, fragrant basil, creamy, whole-milk mozzarella, on hand-stretched, thin crusts. It all adds up to one delicious meal. Oh, and if you want a nice treat to get your meal started, I highly recommend the Prosciutto wrapped Mozzarella, served with fresh-from-the-oven flatbread and their wonderful tomato sauce.

Now while the whole "sit down, but place your order at the counter" deal might be out of the ordinary here, it is quite common across the pond. The nice part is, when you walk up to the counter, you have to walk past the dessert cooler, filled with all manner of tempting treats - which quickly reminds you that you really must leave room for dessert! Tiramisu, along with at least a dozen different flavours of Gelato... thank goodness you can make your decision while you enjoy your meal.

Hubby went for his trademark bowl of fruit-flavoured gelato (sour cherry I believe), while I indulged in the Italian favourite "Affagato"; a shot of espresso poured over a scoop of ice-cold gelato. Creamy, cool, and electrifying all at once, I decided on the Walnut Gelato - excellent when paired with a strong dose of caffeine. While their gelato is no where near as good as Antonio's over at Da Capo (that man is a gelato genius!), it was the perfect end to a pretty darn good meal.

On a Cold Sunday Morning

Well, the unseasonably "warm" January weather has passed and winter has returned. Sure, the trees look pretty, all covered in hoar frost, but we're back to layering no fewer than 9 different articles of clothing (yes, I counted) just to get the dogs out for a walk so they don't drive us insane for the rest of the day. Well, on a frosty Sunday morning like this, French Toast is the perfect way to get started.

This is a slightly unusual recipe for French Toast, but believe me, it is *delicious* - hands down the best I have ever had. You can either fry this on a skillet, or take the suggestion from Tyler Florence, and cook it in the waffle iron, creating the best of both worlds: French Toast with all those nice, neat little pockets to catch syrup....yummmmm.

adapted from Cook's Illustrated "The Best New Recipe"

French Toast
1 large egg
2 Tbsp (30 g) melted butter, plus extra for frying
3/4 Cup (180 ml) milk
2 tsp (10 ml) vanilla extract
2 Tbsp (30 g) granulated sugar
1/3 Cup (47 g) all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt

4-8 slices day-old sandwich bread. You can also use French or Italian bread.

Griddle: Heat griddle over medium heat for 5 minutes. Mix together egg, butter, milk and vanilla, then gradually blend in sugar, salt & flour. Gently soak bread in batter, coating both sides for a few second on each side, then fry in melted butter on griddle for 1 1/2 -2 minutes for the first side and approximately 1 minute on the second side. Place cooked toasts on warmed plate in a 200F oven to keep warm, while continuing to cook the remaining battered bread.

Waffle Iron: Preheat waffle iron for 5 minutes. Mix together egg, butter, milk and vanilla, then gradually blend in sugar, salt & flour. Gently soak bread in batter, coating both sides for a few second on each side, then place bread in waffle iron and close lid, as you would for waffles.
Place cooked "waffles" on warmed plate in a 200F oven to keep warm, while continuing to cook the remaining battered bread.

Serve with warmed Maple Syrup, fruit, or your favourite waffle or pancake toppings. Stay toasty warm in your PJ's and enjoy!

21 January 2010

For a Friend in Need...

A dear friend of mine has a fantastic new job at the brand-spanking new Art Gallery of Alberta - one of the most spectacular buildings to be erected in Edmonton in years. I envy her. She gets to go to work every day in this amazing place, which is art itself, and look at art, and be around art and on her coffee break she can just go wander around and look at the Degas bronze, or the
Karsch photographs... (sigh). My office looks out over a street into another building's parking lot.

Well, the truth is that, because the new AGA has not yet had their grand-opening, she is working an incredible number of long hours, and putting every ounce of her energy into making sure everything will be perfect for the end of the month, when the city's new gem will be revealed for all to enjoy. I know that as lucky as she feels to be a part of all this, most nights, she'd much rather be home with her husband and 4 kids, watching a movie, or sleeping.
So tonight, I'm heading off for a little orientation, as I've volunteered myself to help out a bit for the Grand Opening weekend, but I know she could really use a little pick me up, and the long hours are far from over for her. So, as a treat, and because I know how much she loves them, I baked her a batch of Pierre Hermé's Sablés Korova - deliciously dark chocolate sablés with a sophisticated accent of salt. These are not just another chocolate cookie, they’re a more grown up taste. They're not difficult to make, but they do need some time in the fridge before
you slice-and-bake, so you need to plan ahead. For the chopped chocolate, I prefer to use the Lindt Fleur de Sel bars, to further highlight the chocolate-salt combination. It must work, because the only complaint I have ever received when I've made these is 'why didn’t you make more?'
Adapted from Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan - a book given to me by the very friend I bake for tonight. I wonder if she planned this all along....?

Korova Sablés
Makes about 36 cookies
  • 1 1/4 cups (175 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup (30 grams) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (5 ounces; 150 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup (120 grams) packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar
  • 1/2 tsp fleur de sel or 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 5 ounces (150 grams) bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small bits

1. Sift the flour, cocoa, and baking soda together and keep close at hand. Put the butter in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until the butter is soft and creamy. (Alternatively, you can do this and all subsequent steps by hand, working with a sturdy rubber spatula). Add both sugars, the salt, and vanilla extract and beat for another minute or two. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the sifted dry ingredients. Mix only until the dry ingredients are incorporated—the dough will look crumbly, and that’s just right. For the best texture, you want to work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.
2. Turn the dough out onto a smooth work surface and squeeze it so that it sticks together in large clumps. Gather the dough into a ball, divide it in half, and working with one half at a time,
shape the dough into logs that are 1½ inches (4 cm) in diameter. (Cookie-dough logs have a way of ending up with hollow centers, so as you’re shaping each log, flatten it once or twice and roll it up from one long side to the other, just to make certain you haven’t got an air channel.) Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and chill them for at least 2 hours. (Wrapped airtight, the logs can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for 1 month.)

3. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and keep them close at hand.
4. Working with a sharp thin-bladed knife, slice the logs into rounds that are ½ inch (1.5 cm) thick. (Don’t be upset if the rounds break; just squeeze the broken-off bit back onto the cookie.) Place the cookies on the parchment-lined sheets, leaving about 1 inch (2.5 cm) spread space between them.
5. Bake only one sheet of cookies at a time, and bake each sheet for 12 minutes. The cookies will not look done, nor will they be firm, but that’s just the way they should be. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies stand until they are only just warm or until they reach room temperature—it’s your call. Repeat with the second sheet of cookies.

20 January 2010

Who needs a chocolate fix?

While it has been unseasonably warm for January in Edmonton, winter is far from over and the urge to curl up on the sofa with a good book and a warm gooey treat is still strong. If I'm short on time or energy, the gooey treat of choice has to be my brownies. They are ridiculously quick and easy to make - you don't even need a mixer! Just a few simple ingredients, a bowl and a stirring implement of choice (I'm a spatula girl myself...far superior to wooden spoons if you ask me), and voilà! Chocolate craving crisis averted, you can dive back into your book or movie to escape the snow and cold. The only way you can improve these brownies is to serve them with a bowl of vanilla ice cream... warm brownie, cold ice cream - it's a combination that's hard to beat.

Julia's Chewy Gooey Brownies
These are dense, rich, gooey brownies - not cakey or light. Icing these would be a crime.

1/4 Cup (60 g) unsalted butter, melted
6 Tbsp (50 g) cocoa powder
1 Cup (201 g) granulated sugar
2 egg whites
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 Cup (71 g) flour
2 tsp (10 ml) vanilla
1 Cup (185 g) chocolate chips (I prefer Callebaut, but your favourite chips should do just fine)
(optional: 1/2 Cup toasted, chopped nuts such as pecans, walnuts, pistachios)

Preheat oven to 300F. Spray 8-inch square baking pan with non-stick spray. In a large mixing bowl, mix together melted butter and cocoa powder until no lumps remain. Add the sugar, egg whites, vanilla, and salt and stir to combine. Mix in the flour, then add the chocolate chips (and nuts, if using), and stir to distribute evenly.

Pour batter into prepared pan, and spread batter to the edges. Place on centre rack in oven and bake for 30-35 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 5-10 minutes before cutting into squares. Serve warm on their own, with a bowl of ice cream or a big glass of milk. These can also be enjoyed fully cooled, but why wait?

19 January 2010