Sunday, February 26, 2006

Yogurt Bran Muffins

Muffins are ideal for packing in lunches. They're hearty, the variations are endless and they also freeze well so, in theory, you can have muffins all the time. The fantastic muffins I made are yogurt bran and come from Canadian Living. (The exact recipe is not on the website but there are many other bran choices.) The recipe is very easy to put together and the calls for 1 cup of yogurt and a hint of cinnamon. The batter is totally scoopable and has a light, springy texture. Adding raisins is a personal choice, so I put them in half and the rest I left plain just so everyone was happy.

The muffins baked for 20 minutes and are light and not cloying as some bran muffins can be. I especially like them because there is no molasses added which, I find, can make a bran muffin heavy and overly sweet. The bran lends subtle texture to the muffins and most people are pleasantly surprised that bran could taste this good.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Weekend Sugar Cookies

Sugar cookies are always a fun project to do with kids. Since weekdays are busy, weekends are perfect for getting creative with the sprinkles. Sugar cookies are considered a roll cookie which means the batter needs time in the fridge so that it can be rolled out later. The tried-and-true recipe I used is from Canadian Living and is your basic sugar cookie that can be mixed either by hand or mixer. Once combined, the dough is wrapped, pressed into discs and refrigerated for 60 minutes.

After that, anything goes. You can cut the cookies into any shape you like. I used all the different types of sprinkles I had and made circles even though I have one of the big boxes of 100 cookie cutters in the basement. (Next time I'll haul them out.) The whole pile of circle cookies on the plate looked very uniform and appetizing since they were all uniquely decorated. I love watching everyone choose which one they want - it can be tough deciding between blue sparkles or red, you know. Bake for 11 (or so) minutes, grab some milk and watch these soft, sugary cookies disappear.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Pear Pecan Cake

Sometimes, even the best of intentions can get thwarted. Making this pear pecan cake today was a lesson in patience. After prepping the pan, preparing the ingredients and putting the cake in the oven to bake, I made some tea only to discover that my tube pan sprung a leak and my oven was smoking like crazy. After taking out the unfinished cake, I turned off the oven and waited for it to cool down before cleaning it up and putting the cake back in (on a cookie sheet this time). After 40 minutes, I checked and it was finished and nicely browned. I took it out, very relieved that it was not ruined.

The recipe I made comes from the Magnolia Bakery Cookbook and is very straightforward. Dry ingredients are combined and then oil, eggs and vanilla are mixed in. The batter is not runny or pourable - it is stiff and I used my wooden spoon to distrubute the batter evenly in the pan. The cake bakes up with a solid, moist crumb. It is a perfect coffee cake studded with soft pear and crunchy pecans. I finished off the cake with a simple sugar glaze and sprinkled reserved nuts on top. Considering what it took to make it, this cake was well worth it.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Crumbly Apple Squares

Going to the grocery store mid-February in Ontario will yield very little choice in the fruit department. The most abundant choice right now are apples - Granny Smith, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Royal Gala...the list goes on. (Although, finding a bag of Northern Spy apples can be a daunting task.) Ontario has numerous apple orchards and, in autumn, there are no shortage welcoming you to come "pick your own". Even though picking season is over, apples keep well in coolers so we see them looking fresh and shiny months later.

I bought a bag of Royal Galas last weekend to pack in lunches but, since baked apple desserts are a favourite around here, I made Crumbly Apple Squares from the Clueless Baker. The recipe is reminiscent of apple crisp except that it slices up in even squares rather than being scooped. The butter in the crumble is cut in, not melted, making it very crumbly but surprisingly not dry. The squares were enjoyed by all, but I wonder if it would be better to melt the butter next time so the crumb is not so 'loose'. If you'd like to try it out, here is a simliar recipe by Evelyn Raab that uses cranberries as well.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

I don't make oatmeal raisin cookies that often because I am seriously lacking one thing - people who love raisins. When I say 'raisin' I get turned-up noses and faces that looked like they just sucked on a lemon. No one ever says "Yes! I love raisins." so, I end up making a lot of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies instead. Today I decided to give raisins their due and try a recipe from Wanda's Pie in the Sky. The recipe is for a classic oatmeal raisin cookie, with no cinnamon added, just a whole lot of raisins. The cookies mixed and baked up wonderfully and took about 12 minutes to finish. They came out very nice - not too flat and not overly rounded. The raisins lend a nice chewiness to the crisp oat cookie. The are not too sweet and perfect for a day when the windchill makes it feel like -15 C.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Raspberry Cream Cheese Brownies

My sister and her friends are going up to the cottage this weekend. (15cm of snow and -2 C, so not bad) Each one of them is responsible for one day's worth of food, including dessert. She was told, "You can't let your sister make anything for you!" (cheating, you know), but when they heard what I was making, they relented. I love my recipe for these brownies. They come out perfect everytime - fudgy, creamy and fruity all at the same time. The chocolate brownie base is topped with a cream cheese mixture and to finish it off, dollops of raspberry jam and reserved batter are swirled on top. They are truly decadent, especially when you want something over-the-top satisfying. They are extraordinarily good chilled and eaten straight out of the refrigerator.

The recipe is from a Canadian Living publication called Canadian Living's Best Chocolate.
The recipe comes from Dufflet Rosenberg, a celebrated Toronto pastry chef.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Aunt Daisy's Fresh Fruit Torte

What is the difference between a cake and a torte? Here's what I found out:

  • Cake is defined as "a sweet baked food made of flour, liquid, eggs and other ingredients, such as rising agents and flavorings." Source:
  • Torte is defined as "a rich cake made with many eggs and little flour and usually containing chopped nuts". Source:
  • Torte is a decorated cake with several layers. The layers of the torte are often made with ground nuts or breadcrumbs. About
  • "Torte" is the Eastern European word for cake. The plural is torten.
  • The term torte is used primarily to define round cakes, with a large amount of ground nuts to replace the flour. They are made without chemical leaveners, using egg foams to lighten them. They are most often multi-layered, filled with buttercreams, whipped creams and iced with glazes, marzipan or buttercreams. The recipes are more typical of Austria, Hungary and Germany and are named after princes and politicians. Dufflet

I made the Aunt Daisy's Fresh Fruit Torte from the Magnolia Bakery Cookbook and the main similarity it had to the above definitions was that it used a small amount of flour as compared to a regular cake. The batter was stiff, but spreadable, and no liquid was added in. The recipe did call for baking powder but no nuts. Did I really end up making a torte? Hmmm, well I think that 'torte' is used in the title because the cake is one layer and it does not rise as much as a plain cake. It came out moist, had a tender crumb and tasted fantastic - just like it came from a bakery. I used unpeeled Bartlett pears for the top and sprinkled it with cinnamon sugar. This torte is easily made in less than 30 minutes (not including baking time) and if there are no pears around, apples work just as well.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Toasted Coconut Bread

Making quick breads is one of the easiest ways to get baked goods on the table with a minimum of effort. Last night I made toasted coconut bread from a tried and true recipe that I've had for years. It comes from Joie Warner's All the Best Muffins and Quick Breads which I picked up at the World's Biggest Bookstore in Toronto. Warner writes, "Reminiscent of macaroons, this delectable bread is wonderful with tea or curry dinners."

The first thing you need to do is toast some coconut to release its nutty flavour and turn it a light shade of brown. Once it has cooled, the batter is mixed up with the sugar being added to the dry ingredients and the butter melted and beat together with the wet ingredients. Once it is all incorporated, it bakes for 60 minutes and, once cooled, the bread has a wonderful coconut scent and flavour. It is moist and goes extremely well with a cup of Chai tea.

Since this book seems to not be in stock, I'll reproduce the recipe below so you can see for yourself how great and easy this bread is.

Toasted Coconut Bread

1 cup shredded sweetened coconut
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg
1 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla

Adjust oven rack to top third position; preheat oven to 350 F. Coat a 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan with vegetable spray. (I used butter)
Toast coconut, stirring constantly, in a small ungreased nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, being careful not to let it burn. Let stand until cool.
Thoroughly mix flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and coconut in large bowl. In medium bowl, whisk egg, milk, butter and vanilla until blended. Pour liquid mixture over dry ingredients and fold in with rubber spatula just until combined; do not overmix.
Spoon batter into prepared pan, smoothing top. Bake for 1 hour or until tested comes out clean. Turn out onto rack to cool completely before slicing. Makes 1 loaf.

From Joie Warner's "All the Best Muffins and Quick Breads" 1992.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Orange Vanilla Chip Cookies

What do you make when you have oranges and white chocolate chips? Orange Vanilla Chip cookies of course. Unfortunately, I don't have vanilla chips but the recipe I used said it was fine to substitute white ones. (If anyone knows where to get vanilla chips in the GTA, please let me know)

This cookie is truly simple to make. It is a drop cookie with a plain cookie base and orange rind and white chocolate chips added in. The recipe comes from the Magnolia Bakery Cookbook. I've had this book for quite a while and have only made a handful of recipes. (Not for lack of wanting, though)

I made these cookies years ago and decided to give then another try since I don't think the first batch came out well. There seems to be a lot of differing opinion on Magnolia Bakery - all the way from "it's heaven" to "the cupcakes are dry". If you'd like to read a review of Magnolia, check out the post on Lovescool.

Having never been to NY to try out their baked wonders, I can only say for certain that the cookies are great. They're not overly sweet with a nice orange tang and are more sophisticated than a regular chocolate chip cookie. A definite keeper.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

SHF #16 - Banana Cream Pie

For this month’s SHF, stimulating desserts were the topic of choice. Well, considering Valentine’s Day is less than a week away, creating a passionate confection seemed very timely and I got to it. The most obvious aphrodisiac connected to sweets is chocolate so I thought I would travel down a different road and make a classic Banana Cream Pie.

At first thought, bananas would not come to mind as an aphrodisiac. I searched the Internet and found some interesting facts about this common yellow fruit and why it would be suited for a Valentine’s Day dessert.

1. The banana flower has a marvelous phallic shape and is partially responsible for popularity of the banana as an aphrodisiac food. An Islamic myth tells the tale that after Adam and Eve succumbed to the "Apple" they started covering their "nudity" with banana leaves rather than fig. From a more practical standpoint bananas are rich in potassium and B vitamins, necessities for sex hormone production.

2. Due not only to its shape, but also its creamy, lush texture, some studies show its enzyme bromelain enhances male performance.

The recipe I made came from the Clueless Baker and, although there were multiple steps and long cooling times, the pie was incredibly easy to make and assemble. The stovetop custard set up nicely in about 8 minutes. The only problem I had was trying to cut a decent piece for my picture.

The custard was creamy and thick with sliced bananas in the middle letting their subtle flavour infuse the pie. It was all topped of with fresh whipped cream (who doesn’t love whipped cream) and encased in a homemade graham cracker crust.

If you would like to try out the recipe, you can find it here.

Also, thanks to Jennifer at Taste Everything Once for hosting SHF this month.

Banana info was obtained from Gourmet Sleuth and

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Overnight Buttermilk Coffeecake

Last night I felt like making cake. Just a simple coffee cake that could be made and baked in less than two hours. I looked in a couple of my books and found the perfect recipe in The Clueless Baker called Overnight Buttermilk Coffee Cake. It is called 'overnight' because the cake is able to be assembled the night before and baked in the morning in time for breakfast. I didn't wait until the next day and baked it immediately.

The cake came out moist and cinnamony and was latte coloured. The topping is a simple mix of brown sugar, pecans and cinnamon but no butter. It was sprinkled over the cake before baking. I found that I could have used less topping and next time I will sprinkle some in the cake between batter layers or just make less. It was crunchy and sweet so when taking a bite of cake, there was a mix of textures - soft cake and hard topping. I didn't mind this as it added character to the cake but, the cake alone would have sufficed. I would make this again for a quick sweet fix and the topping lends itself to almost any type of nut you have on hand - pecans, walnuts or almonds.

If you'd like to try it out, you can find the recipe on the Today's Parent website.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Fudgy Cheesecake Cupcakes

I had half a block of cream cheese left over from a previous dessert and I wanted to make something quick and simple for some friends I had over. I decided on Fudgy Cheesecake Cupcakes since the chocolate cake recipe is almost the same as 'Mix in the Pan' chocolate cake. This usually means that everything can be mixed in one bowl. Another feature of this cake recipe is that eggs are not required. (Except one yolk in the cream cheese mixture) It is similar to the recipe for Eggless Chocolate Cake posted on the Bakingsheet blog.

The recipe I used is from a Canadian Living publication called Canadian Living's Best Muffins and More. It is very easy to make these muffins. Once you pour the chocolate batter into greased muffin cups, you put a dollop of the filling on top and then let the oven do the rest. The filling should be rather thick so that it doesn't spread throughout the cupcake while baking.

The muffins are moist and the cream cheese filling is suspended perfectly in the middle. The filling is cheesecake-creamy which complements the flavour of the sweet cupcake. I love these cupcakes because they are a notch above regular plain ones and, if you're in the mood for indulgence, a chocolate glaze would definitely raise the bar.

If you're looking for a similar recipe, try the Black Bottom Muffins from Canadian Living. They are basically the same except it calls for a whole egg in the filling, not just the yolk.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

One of the quickest cookies for me to make up are peanut butter cookies. I usually have all the ingredients on hand and they are made as a simple drop cookie which means there is no fussy shaping involved. However, if you want them to be uniform in shape and size, a little rolling will be needed to achieve the desired results.

I decided to use a recipe from my Canadian Living Cookbook.
It did not include the chocolate chip variation but I added some anyways to liven them up. I used natural peanut butter for the recipe as well. The dough mixed up easily and when they baked, the cookies flattened nicely but were not frisbees. The cookies are chewy and dense, but not heavy. Two or three cookies would go perfectly with a cold glass of milk or a hot mug of tea. If you would like to try them out, you can find the recipe on the Canadian Living website.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Tip 3 - All About Flour

One ingredient that is almost always present when we bake is flour. This white powdery substance is the backbone of most recipes and comes in many different forms. In this post I will list the most prominently used flours used for baking as well as some wheat-free alternatives.

Usually, the word "flour" used alone refers to wheat flour, which is one of the most important foods in European and American culture. Wheat flour is the main ingredient in most types of breads and pastries. Wheat is so widely used because of an important property: when wheat flour is mixed with water, a complex protein called gluten develops. The gluten development is what gives wheat dough an elastic structure that allows it to be worked in a variety of ways, and which allows the retention of gas bubbles in an intact structure, resulting in a sponge-like texture to the final product. This is highly desired for breads, cakes and other baked products.

Bread Flour - This type of flour is also known as hard wheat flour. It has a high-gluten content and when water is added to the flour, the gluten causes it to become elastic and stretchy. This is desirable because yeast needs elasticity to help the bread rise.

Cake and Pastry Flour - This flour has a low-gluten content and produces delicate and tender baked goods. It is milled from soft wheat.

All Purpose Flour - This type of flour is a mix of both high-gluten and low-gluten flour. It is ideal for making pastry. There are two kinds: bleached and unbleached. Bleached flour has been chemically bleached to make the flour whiter and easier to blend with ingredients with higher percentages of fat and sugar. Both flours are virtually indistinguishable in baking.

Whole Wheat Flour - This flour is milled from whole wheat kernels and is ususally used in conbination with other flours to a nutty flavour and texture to finished baked goods. It contains more protein than cake flour.

Pastry Flour - This type of flour is made from soft wheat but not as finely ground as cake flour.

Self-Rising Flour - This is all purpose flour with baking powder (calcium acid phosphate and baking soda) and salt added.

Some alternative flours that can be used for baking are listed below.

Gluten Flour - This is a high-protein flour that is relatively starch free. It is primarily used for people on special diets.

Graham Flour - Is the same as whole wheat flour but more finely ground.

Rye Flour - This flour comes as light, medium or dark. It is sticky and tacky when mixed with liquids. It is high in protein and has limited gluten potential so it results in a dense loaf when it is used alone.

Semolina Flour - This is a yellow granular flour made from the endosperm of durum wheat. It is usually used to make pasta.

Soya/Soy Flour - Is a high-protein flour milled from soy beans. It doesn not develop the gluten necessary for making bread so it had to be combined with a bread-making flour.

Buckwheat Flour - Is milled from buckwheat seeds. Its claylike taste gives baked goods a unique flavour.

Corn Flour - This flour is prepared by milling and sifting yellow or white corn. It should not be confused with cornmeal. It is good for adding texture and colour to baked goods.

Rice Flour - This flour is made by grinding either brown or white rice.

Barley Flour - Is finely ground flour made from hulled barley grains. It is low in protein and high in minerals.

Potato Flour - This flour is made from cooked potatoes that are dried and then ground. It has a high-starch content that contributes to a quick rise in yeast doughs.

This was just a quick overview of flour in its many incarnations. To read more, check out my sources listed below!

The Fannie Farmer Baking Book - Marion Cunningham
Wanda's Pie in the Sky - Wanda Beaver
The Good Cookie - Tish Boyle
and finally Wikipedia where there is a wealth of information for your perusal.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Chocolate Crinkles

When you're in the mood for a simple chocolate cookie, Chocolate Crinkles will hit the spot. I was requested to make a 'plain chocolate cookie' the other day and decided to try them out. The one main difference between these cookies and others is that they are made with oil. I wondered why this was and looked around for some information and read that sugar does not fully dissolve in oil so the cookie texture remains sugary. Well, the cookies were indeed sweet, but not granular. I also came across a post on Simply Recipes that says oil makes a wonderful substitute for butter and also includes a Oatmeal
Raisin cookie recipe
The cookie batter was easy to mix up and had to be chilled for a couple hours. I waited about 2 hours before starting and the dough was thick enough to roll into balls. I had to work fast because the heat from my hands made the dough sticky. (This became frustrating after a while.) Once rolled, they were coated with powdered sugar and baked for 10 minutes. What makes these cookies visually interesting is that they 'crackle' on top and the chocolate dough peeks out from the white icing sugar making it look like a crater. The cookies were soft and had a rich chocolate flavour, just like a fudgy brownie. The recipe made about 4-5 dozen cookies so there was more than enough to share with others.
The recipe I used is from The Clueless Baker by Evelyn Raab.