Basically: Brownies

Brownies are, without a doubt, my dad’s favourite chocolate treat. I didn’t share these with him. I will likely make him his own pan for Father’s Day or his birthday because these didn’t last long in my house.

The half-way recipe for Basically is Camouflage Chocolate Fudge Brownies. These are rich and fudgy and cheese cakey and easy. They are rated as a level two Basically recipe but that is because of the number of steps. More doesn’t mean hard.

I needed a win this week because the shortbread from last week was a fail. It tasted good, but the method and ugliness made it a flop.

I have entered into a habit of opening my email Sunday morning in bed to read Basically. I read through the recipe twice because squinty sleepy eyes miss stuff. I had everything but the cream cheese. I miss those carefree days of having everything I need in the pantry. I went to the store early and bought cream cheese, some bread, things for lunches…because as soon as you say “I am going to Sobeys”, the entire house wakes up as yells, “CAN YOU PICK UP SOME….” So much for a quick trip.

I got home, made lunch, cleaned the kitchen THEN I began at about 3:00 p.m. Sheesh…

I prepped the pan, then added cream cheese to the double boiler to soften. It didn’t soften well. I have better luck in the microwave, but the rule was to follow the instructions EXACTLY to see what new insights I learn. I learned that cream cheese softens better in the microwave about 25 seconds at a time.

I whisked together all the ingredients and divided it into two bowls, one plain and one with cocoa powder. This tasted just like cheesecake. That is a win! I love cheesecake but never have it.

The next part was weird. 10 Tablespoons of butter. Why can’t we just do grams or one half cup + (whatever the measurement is?). The other tricky part is butter comes in 454 gram bricks here, not sticks. WTF(udge) is a stick? Glad you asked, I asked Google.

Butter Measurements When looking at a standard stick of butter1 stick or 1/2 cup butter is equal to 4 ounces, or 113 grams.

Basically (see what I did there?) one pound of butter is 454 grams. How do you measure out 10 tablespoons? I also asked Google.

5/8 cup butter141.8 gram10 tbsp
Crimeny crickets. That is not easy so I pulled out my scale and weighed out 141.8 grams of butter. Into the double boiler that went.

The strange part was all the ingredients went in. I didn’t melt the butter first. I think it would have been easier to do it that way. But I followed the instructions and poured the sugar, cocoa, coffee and salt into the double boiler, stirred it up and it became awful then glossy, just like it said it would. Then I stuck my (CLEAN) finger in it to see if it would scaled it – still part of the directions. (Honestly, I learned this step from my mom. Stick you pinky in there to see if it’s hot enough, especially for tomato soup – weird tangent but here we are) Second time the charm and it was too hot, just like the recipe called for.

I added the chilled eggs and flour – this was stiff but came together lovely. I scooped out 1/2 of batter, forgot to leave it in a warm spot by the stove… Poured the rest into the prepared pan.

It was thick. I smoothed it out into the corners with my offset spatula. Then I dollopped the other two cream cheese mixtures on top in a random pattern. Finally adding the reserve brownie mixture which was stiff and cold by this time making the process laborious. But it worked out.

I baked it or 25 minutes in a preheated 325F oven. It was floppy but set. Do not expect it to be like cake, its not. It is more like fudge. The chocolate filled the house and it smelled so good! I let it set and cut it into 16 pieces. After tasting one later when it cooled I realised my error and should have cut it into one piece. One is all you need. But I shared it out and it lasted until Wednesday. Damn….it was really good.

This is Basically’s and the other is mine. I think it was a complete success!

Next week is Sour cream and onion biscuits. Oh…yeah….

Basically: Shortbread

I have started to enjoy waking up early on Sunday mornings to find the new basically recipe in my inbox. The email has the ingredient list and an equipment list. I scroll through to see what I need and what I already have. Then I link to the directions and read through the entire page to see what I need to be aware of and how much time I need. The recipe for the week was Roasty Toast Pecan-Caramel Shortbread Cookies and you can find it here. Mmmmm caramel. As I scanned through the list I noted I didn’t have dulce de leche but I did have a tin of sweetened condensed milk. I had never seen dulce de leche in the grocery story here, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t there. A quick google search showed a recipe for Compliments (Sobeys) brand squares with Compliments dulche de leche. I could buy some if I needed it. But making my own is easy enough.

ET Note: This entire recipe was a fail at various steps along the way. But the end result was tasty.

To begin the procedure for dulce de leche, I filled my dutch oven with water and set it to simmer. I then transfered my sweetened condensed milk into a mason jar. I do this for two reasons.

  1. cooking in tins can created explosions and is not the best choice for health reasons.
  2. I can see when the caramel it the right colour and done to my liking.

I kept a watchful eye on the pot over a three hour period. I added water every hour to keep the milk submerged.

Would it have been easier to purchase dulce de leche? Absolutely. Should I have? Meh… I didn’t want to go to two different shops and Molly from Basically said “even better if you make your own”. I needed to go to Bulk Barn to buy pecans and nonpareils (Who among you knew what nonpareils are? I only know them as their common name, sprinkles so that took some research). While this was simmering away, I left the hubs in charge of it and left for the Bulk Barn. I learned from the Bulk Barn gurus, I can bring my clean containers, have them weigh it and mark my jars, then I can fill them with all my bulky items! This makes me happy because of my quest to reduce single use plastics! I filled a jar a quarter way with pecans and another jar with turbinado sugar, white nonpareils were empty and I am not enamoured with food dye, so I chose the sugar which is an option in the recipe, so far not cheating.

I came home to this.

And submerged the jar into cold water to cool it down. While that was happening I toasted the pecans for the 3 minutes as directed and promptly burnt the pecans. I had bought the perfect amount so I needed to go back to the store. Was I happy about this? Not a chance. Plus we were doing taxes and that also made me angry.

I toasted the new bunch and chopped them finely because I do not have a food processor. This was apparently not a problem for the recipe other than I needed to assemble everything is a different order. I will get to that in a minute.

This was about 10 minutes of chopping.

I went to the BA forum and looked up the order of the recipe when not using a food processor. I needed to cream the butter, sugar and the dulce de leche.

Then add the flour, salt and add the nuts.

Getting this into a log and into the fridge was fussy.

Wrapping up in the parchment and leaving it in the fridge for 90 minutes was oddly specific.

When it was time to pull it out, I basted more dulce de leche on it and rolled it in the sugar.

Somehow I didn’t read the part where I needed to chill it again. So I sliced it up and baked it.

These looked NOTHING like the Basically version so I went to the forum to see what I did wrong.

  1. Chilling a second time reduces spreading.
  2. Using parchment instead of silpat also reduces spreading.
  3. Silpat helped to melt the dulce de leche and everything ran off the sides of the cookies.
  4. The recipe didn’t say what to bake it at. I make a guess at 325F because the pecans were toasted at that and that is also the temp I bake my shortbread at. Turns out I was right. I was slightly annoyed they made an error this huge in the instructions – this is a test kitchen after all. But I work in communications so I completely understand how this happened. Always send copy to fresh eyes people, always.

All in all, the cookie tasted good. Would I make this again? Not on your life, however, I would add dulce de leche to a different recipe because it is so darn tastey.

Here is their version vs mine. the result? FAIL.

Next week is fudgy brownies. I am in.

Basically: Focaccia

I cheated. I know I swore to uphold the recipe and follow the instructions EXACTLY but I didn’t. I added a touch more flour than it called for because I am a bread baker and learned from a grandma (not mine) who knew by the feel when the dough was ready. I will explain in a minute.

The Basically recipe arrived a day early because this bread takes hours to rise and proof and rise again. You can find this recipe here.

I read the recipe through and was happy I had everything I needed in my pantry, including the yeast (bonus, it hadn’t expired yet!). It began with proofing the yeast and feeding it honey. All the things I do to start my bread. I waited patiently for it to bloom. It begins to get foamy and bubbles up to the surface.

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I love the smell of bread yeast. It’s sweet and fragrant just like homemade bread. I weighed out the flour and added it to the yeast liquid. I mixed and it did not form a shaggy dough. It was still gelatinous like gak. I knew something was wrong. I reread the measurements, I got those right. I KNEW this was wrong. It didn’t look like their photo nor did it feel like bread dough. It was GAK.

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ALL WRONG! I wondered what the heck was happening and I think there may be a difference in measures – Canadian vrs American. Plus I am at a high altitude and their recipes are for sea level…well, I am a touch higher by 2500 feet, so I made the executive decision to add more flour. I incorporated about a 1/8 of a cup. Still not shaggy but workable and it looked more like their images. I added it to the oil, just like it said too. THIS LOOKED LIKE TOO MUCH OIL! Oh well, too late.  The dough looked right just swimming in oil. It could be because of the shape of my bowl, but fingers crossed and I hoped it would turn out okay. I had doubts about its ability to rise.

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It told me to put it into the fridge for about 24 hours. I took a sneak peek at 11:00 p.m. before bed.

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I had hope! it was rising! Now we wait…

The next morning I pulled it out and it had risen more and was sticking to the top of the plastic (serious guilt at this point for using single-use plasitc. I am going to purchase a silicone lid for my bowls.). Seriously, use a large bowl for the rise.

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I prepared the pan and dumped a tbsp of oil in the bottom – weird but I think this will give it the fried bread texture.

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I used the fork method as directed but it is fooling no one. This is kneading with forks. I prefer the hand method but this is a no-knead bread.

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I turned it out into the pan and poured the leftover oil over the top. I popped it into the warm oven with the heat off so it could prove.

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The wait began. I left it in for about four hours, maybe slightly less. It spread and filled the pan. This surprised me because I haven’t had bread dough spread like this before.

It sprung back too quickly so I knew it hadn’t finished proving. But. FOUR HOURS!!! So I preheated the oven to 450F and baked it for 30 minutes. I expected the texture to be smooth because nothing seemed correct.

I finished it off with melted garlic butter but four cloves is excessive for a family with garlic allergies. I used a half clove and it was perfect for us. The crumb was light and airy. I was gobsmacked. It was perfect. This was a very easy bread recipe, it just needed a lot of wait time. Definitely a keeper. In spite of the stress and doubts, it turned out perfectly. This is theirs. I think I nailed it.

Let me know how it worked out for you!

Pie

It is a big weekend here in Canada. Most people will celebrate Thanksgiving, and by celebrate, I mean eat turkey and pie. I invited my parents to join us for Thanksgiving dinner back in September. They are continuing their adventures overseas and are currently in France somewhere near Versailles.

Thanksgiving Days Past barely registers a blip on my radar. We always went to my grandmother’s home and family would come from across Canada. It all changed once my grandfather died. I didn’t really want to go anymore because the dynamic was different. I still went for a few more years, but then I stopped getting invited, so I stopped asking to come. There are three times a year when I think of grandpa most, Canada Day, his birthday and Thanksgiving. Those were his favourite holidays.

I am back to loving the holiday dinner again. It was wonderful having my parents join me and my family. We sat around the table and ate turkey, cabbage rolls, stuffing, carrots and homemade rolls. I destroyed the cranberry sauce by burning it to a crisp. There was a time when that would send me into a panic, and I would make the hubs run to the store for fresh supplies. This year I said, “oh well, no cranberry sauce this year”. This proves to me that my meditation practice and mindfulness techniques are working for me.  I did make homemade pies because pies are my superpower. I am much better at baking than I am at cooking. Some people say there isn’t a difference, but I disagree. I do think some people are good at one or the other.

I am a baker.

Usually, I am somewhere in British Columbia in the fall and manage to visit a pumpkin patch and purchase a few sugar pumpkins, my favourite for pies. I travelled to Smokey Lake Pumpkin fair looking for said pumpkins but honestly, the pumpkin selection was terrible. The alpaca wool selection was AMAZING! If you are looking for wool, that is the place to be, if you are looking for sugar pumpkins, not so much. I heard a rumour Safeway has some sugar pumpkins – or at least they are called pie pumpkins, I will investigate the difference but I have tins of ED Smith pumpkin in my pantry so I think I will just simplify my pie for the weekend. After all, Thanksgiving is over for me.

I have had requests for more recipes sprinkled into my blogs. So dear reader, I share my Pumpkin Pie with you. But first – pie alternatives.

Pie alternatives

  • You can bake the pie filling in a casserole dish or pie tin without the crust for a gluten-free experience or for those people who just don’t want the crust. This is one of the few pies that will still behave like a pie without the crust.
  • Sprinkle white sugar over top and use a torch to brulee it. The secret to a great crackle top after you torch one layer, add another layer of sugar and torch it again.
  • Crush pecans or your nut of choice and sprinkle on the bottom before adding your pie filling. I like to toss the nuts in maple syrup.
  • Adding ¼ cup of cream cheese adds richness and tang if that’s your thing. Sometimes I like to do this and will include orange zest.
  • Pie filling spread over phyllo pastry and rolled into a log. The spiral it into a greased pie dish. Brush with butter and sprinkle with sanding sugar. You’re welcome.
  • Add pie filling to your cinnamon buns before you roll them up for baking. This takes cinnamon rolls to the next level.

 

Pie things to keep in mind:

  • The type of pumpkin you use is important. If you are not roasting sugar pumpkins, then use ED Smith or Libby pumpkin purée. NOT PUMPKIN PIE FILLING. The difference is huge and worth it.
  • Use one tin of evaporated milk and supplement with whole milk or half and half. I have used full cream, as in whipping cream and that was decadent. Never use skim or 1% milk, the pumpkin custard needs fat.
  • Crust – I use butter to make my crust, cold butter. I blind bake by docking the crust and using pie weights – I use kidney beans I use over parchment paper – I reuse the kidney beans for every pie crust blind bake, I think my beans are several years old.
  • Crust part II – feel free to use a frozen deep-dish crust. I do sometimes because it’s quick. To make it taste like homemade, thaw completely and transfer into your pie plate. Same rules as above.
  • Always bake your pies on a baking sheet. It saves your oven from spills but more importantly it helps brown your bottom.
  • Nutmeg is the devil… I never add it

Pumpkin Puree

Cut and seed pumpkins. Cut into manageable chunks and place flesh side down in a roaster. Add one cup of water to the bottom. Preheat your oven to 400F and place the pumpkin on the center rack for one hour. When done it will be fork-tender.

Remove flesh from the outer shell and mash in a bowl. It is at this point I place into two cup mason jars and process. I make about six jars of pumpkin. My pal Captain loves pumpkin, so I always reserve some for him. Apparently, pumpkin is good for dogs and they love it. Don’t add salt or sugar until you are ready to use in recipes.

 

Pie Filling (for 2 pies)

 

4 eggs

1 can (398 mL) EDSMITH Pumpkin OR two cups of your own fresh pumpkin puree.

2 cup (250 mL) packed brown sugar

1 tbs (5 mL) ground cinnamon

2 tsp (1 mL) ground ginger

1/2 tsp (1 mL) salt

1 ½  cup (175 mL) milk. Use one tin of evaporated milk and top up with milk or cream of your choice.

Beat eggs lightly in a medium bowl.  Add the pumpkin, sugar, cinnamon, ginger and salt – stir until well combined. Blend in milk. Pour filling in pie shell. Whisk together egg and water – brush the egg wash on crust.

Bake at 425°F (220°C) for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F (180°C) and continue baking 30-35 minutes longer or until knife inserted in centre comes out clean. Cool. Best served the next day – this lets the spices mingle. I serve with brandy cream (whipping cream, brandy and icing sugar – all to taste and whip until soft peak stage).

Saskatoon Berry Crumble

When I was little I went camping at Miquelon Lake Provincial Park with my aunt and uncle. It was just before they had their first baby. I guess they were trying out what it would be like to camp with kids. Obviously exhausting – have you met me and my brother? Imagine two Tasmanian devils spinning around like a Bugs Bunny cartoon for three days. My uncle took us on a hike to pick berries while my aunt ‘made lunch’ a euphemism for “OMG I am going to wring their necks if I don’t get some quiet time and NOW.” Or she just dropped to her knees and fell asleep. Either way, we are A LOT.

This moment in my life was the first time I ever picked berries and ate them off the tree without fear of being poisoned. I always thought I would die by quicksand or fruit poisoning. Obviously, I watched a lot of Gilligan’s Island and Disney movies. I found some raspberries that day, but mostly saskatoons (also known as June or serviceberries). We went back for lunch and had a bowl of berries with thick heavy cream. Damn – that is the best way to eat them. Or one of the best.

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I came home on Friday to a one-gallon pail of saskatoons sitting on the kitchen counter! The hubs took a pail to the dog park and spent about an hour cleaning off only one bush. (The City of Edmonton has planted various fruit trees around the city. I have found crab apple, pear and saskatoons. I have heard of a secret grove of Apricots in the river valley that I am still looking for – although it may be a myth.) I immediately went to work cleaning the berries.

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Back in the dark days, I had a friend who canned just about all her food. She would harvest berries and wild mushrooms, then work in her garden to supply food for most of the winter. She taught me about cleaning berries to minimize the amount of protein or bugs found in your desserts. Her method was simple, in the pail of berries add two tablespoons of vinegar and fill with water until the berries just begin to float. Let soak for one hour. The spiders will immediately climb to the top. I scooped them out and set them outside. FREE THE SPIDERS PEOPLE! Then any little flies or worms will also float to the top but they will be dead – drowned or pickled – whichever – I skimmed those off then rinsed the berries one handful at a time and placed them in a colander to drain. Once completed I placed on a clean towel to dry.

At this point, you can do one of two things, place in the fridge to chill and use up during the week or place on a parchment-lined cookie tin to freeze individually. Then place in an air-tight container. They will keep in your freezer for at least six months – may be longer but they don’t last that long in my house. If you just put berries in a bag and freeze before you individualize them, they will juice and you bet a big block of berries. You then have to use them all at once when they thaw. Individually, you can have one or ninety.

I decided to make a pie. But I didn’t feel like making a crust. So I made a crustless pie and called it crumble. After eating my crustless pie, I decided I will likely never make crusts again because they are never as delicious and straight-up filling. Here is my recipe for Saskatoon Crumble, or use your favourite pie crust and make a few pies.

Saskatoon Berry Crumble (or pie)

This recipe uses 1 gallon of berries. It divides well. Most berries can be substituted.

Ingredients:

Filling

  • one gallon of cleaned berries
  • 2 cups of white sugar
  • 8 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp of kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp of butter – not margarine or oil or spray – butter.

Mix together the sugar, flour, salt and zest of lemon. I add a layer of berries and a layer of dry ingredients and give them a toss to evenly coat the berries. I do this in stages to coat everything.

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Butter a 9 x 13 pan or larger if you have one. Get into all the corners and up the sides. If you skip this step or aren’t thorough, you will be frustrated with berry stickage.

Pour your berries into the pan in an even layer. I used two smaller pans so I could give some to my papa bear. But this will make four human-sized square pans for freezing, sharing or eating – the choice is yours.

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Streusel Topping

I use this recipe for peach pie, apple pie, strawberry- rhubarb and all my cobblers. I think a double crust is too much crust. When I make a pie I use 1/4 of this recipe. I increased it by 4 for this crumble thing.

  • 1 cup of butter – not margarine – use the good stuff. I like salted but unsalted is fine – just add a pinch of salt to the bowl.
  • 1 cup of brown sugar
  • 1 cup of white sugar
  • 2 cups of flour.

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Everything goes into the bowl and get your hands in there. You want this to be a crumble so don’t mix it with a spoon. Use your thumb and forefinger and mash/slide the two together. You want the butter-sugar mixture to look like small peas or coarse sand.

Pour over your berries and lightly pat it to the berries so it forms a crust. Alternatively, you could just use your hands to distribute evenly and call it a day. I prefer a crust-like texture and have deep regret that I didn’t do this. Place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet because you will get spillage and berry pops. If you can’t be bothered, that’s your deal and at Christmas, you will wonder why your oven is smoking. Your welcome.

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Bake in a pre-heated 375 Degree oven for 35 – 45 minutes.

Serve warm with ice cream or heavy cream or plain. I also like it cold for breakfast.

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Let me know what you think. The lemon zest is the secret ingredient.

 

Sugar Cookie Fail

I think I prefer to have fond memories of sugar cookies rather than eating them in real time. I loved making them, sneaking tastes from the bowl and licking the beaters of buttercream frosting. My aunt made the absolute best cookies. Sometimes she would make a million dozen for my dad’s classroom (give or take 100 000) and sometimes she would make some with me after my music lessons. The cookies were always hearts and always had pink frosting.

My embossed rolling pin arrived this week and I was super excited to try it! I had made all the shortbread and ginger cookies I needed for Christmas but I hadn’t made any sugar cookies yet. So, I dug out the best recipe and decided to try the rolling pin. I discussed technique with a gal at work, who bakes amazing creations, the best way to keep the dough from sticking to the rolling pin. We thought flour would make the cookies too tough, icing sugar too sweet, but thought cornstarch might do the trick.

That was my first fail.

Let me start at the beginning.

Sugar cookies are a familiar friend. I roll them and cut them and frost them. I would make hippy daisy flowers for my daughter’s birthday treats in elementary school. I know how to make an excellent sugar cookie.

I pulled out my favourite recipe where you don’t have to chill the dough because it rolls best at room temperature and is not crumbly. Very important things. I mixed the batter and placed it between two pieces of parchment paper so I didn’t have to handle the dough too much. It makes for a more tender cookie the less you manhandle it.

It rolled out beautifully. A lovely rectangle the right size for my new pin which is weirdly small. Thanks, random store on Amazon. I then put cornstarch on my pin to get it in the nooks and crannies. The detail is very fine and I wanted definition.

I tried using the handles, but my hands are too big – I don’t have large hands fyi. The I rerolled the dough to a flat surface. I ended rolling using the French pin method – with my hands on the long wooden dowel. I pressed too hard and I pressed too light. In true Goldilocks form, three tries was just right.

Kinda.

I pulled out my cookie press for comparison. The grooves in the press are deeper than the pin. The pin was too shallow. So the design which is gorgeous on the pin is too faint on the cookie dough. My dream of having the cookies look like a sweater was dashed. I cut them into hearts because that is what shapes sugar cookies are supposed to be. And in the right light, you can kinda see if you squint – the outline of the deer and snowflakes. All that fluffing around and I have shaggy hearts.

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The next step in my plan was to sandwich these with buttercream frosting. Crave Cupcakes in Edmonton (and probably Calgary) make these amazing sandwich cookies. I always get one for my birthday and by always its been two years in a row because I only just found out about that place.

Fail #1:

The cornstarch gave a weird texture to the top of the cookies – so don’t use cornstarch.

Fail #2:

The embossing was too shallow for the cookie dough. It might work better on shortbread or gingered bread. It’s too close to Christmas to experiment now. Thanks, Amazon for taking six weeks to get here. I am pretty sure a Keebler Elf whittled it thus explains the length of time getting here from some distribution centre – probably China so it likely came by barge. Then dogsled. Then an obscure white van with the mirror attached with duct tape.

Fail #3:

White cookies and white frosting blend together in whiteness. I am opposed to food colour because is it necessary? Also, is it good for me? Also, have you seen me use glue? Food colour is problematic for me and I don’t need to have it all over my face when I am going out for breakfast Christmas Eve morning.

Fail #4:

Hearts aren’t very Christmasy.

Fail #5:

I have terrible pipping skills.

Win #1:

My cookie recipe is outstanding.

Win #2:

The buttercream is delicious.

Win #3:

I dolloped loads of buttercream on the cookie and it squirted out the sides. If I had been thinking, I could have dipped the sides in peppermint shards (broken candy canes) or mini chocolate chips or BOTH. (I am grasping at straws for a win people, just give it to me.)

Here is the recipe, don’t do what I did, just roll them and cut them using hearts or whatever you fancy. I have Ninja shapes I should have used but I was nostalgic for my auntie’s cookies. Also, Merry Christmas from me to you.

No Fail (see the irony?) Sugar Cookies

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup salted butter (room temperature. I think its an American thing to keep the butter in the fridge. It’s useless in there.)
  • 1 cup sugar – white granulated in case it isn’t obvious
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla – the really good stuff, mine is imported from Mexico (is anyone going and can bring me back more?)
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 6 cups flour

 

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Add butter and sugar to your mixer.  Cream it together until lighter in colour and the sugar is dissolved.
  2. Add vanilla and egg and mix until completely incorporated.
  3. Add baking powder and mix. – this step is weird, usually, you put baking powder in with the flour. Don’t this time, mix it first. It makes a big difference.
  4. Mix in the flour two cups at a time, then one cup. (if doubling the recipe – do it two cups at a time)
  5. Do not chill the dough, the cookies will bake better if the dough is at room temperature.
  6. Roll a handful of the dough out on a prepared surface until it’s about 3/8″ thick and cut out shapes with a cookie cutter.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees for 6-9 minutes depending on the size of the cookie.  Do not over-bake. I do it for 9 minutes. They are done in that magical stage between translucent and golden.
  8. Frost with buttercream and sandwich together.

Buttercream:

In a mixer combine:

  • 1/2 cup butter – salted
  • 2 cups of icing sugar or powder sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla or more or add orange or peppermint or brandy – whatever floats your boat.
  • I drizzle in no more than a tsp of milk – just to smooth it out.

They taste way better than they look.

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Any tips for embossed rolling pins people? I may just stick to stamps, I have that down pat.

 

Shortbread

My former life and marriage had a lot of dark moments, but… I learned a lot of very useful and important things. I can operate a backhoe and chainsaw. I can peel logs, do a full scribe notch and build walls for a log home. I know how to leave space for windows so the settling won’t break the glass. I missed the part about raising the ridge pole and putting the roof on, but I bet I could find someone to do that for me. I learned to grow all my fruit and vegetables and preserve them for winter.  I can pickle, make jam and jellies and can fruit and veg until you think you will never run out of food. I can make quilts, sew clothes, knit and crochet sweaters, blankets and slippers. I know how to change oil, dig a trench (to run power and services from the road to the back of the lot) plus I can water ski, paddle a canoe down rapids and weld. All random things that I now have in my arsenal of skills. If there comes a time that the world might seem to be ending and everything is destroyed, I got you. I know what plants with keep scurvy away and you won’t starve. I can build you a home but not a roof – I am sure I can figure that out.  Come find me, we can start our own village. 

My favourite thing I learned during that time is the recipe for shortbread from the exhusband’s mom. I still make it every year and it is the one thing my brother loves, so I make sure he gets a generous batch. 

I was flipping through Amazon and looking at embossed rolling pins. They are so beautiful I decided to buy one for my shortbread this year.

It hasn’t arrived yet. It might take another 3 weeks. It looks like this:

I was taught to drop the dough onto the baking sheet and sprinkle with coloured sugar or red and green cherries. I did that once and decided …ew. No thanks. Plain is fine. So I use a cookie stamp. I roll the cookie out, stamp it and then use a cutter to get the perfect shape. I have a pottery stamp that I slipped into my suitcase when I left home. My mom wasn’t a huge baker, she is a French style cook and I baked. So I figured she may not notice it was gone until now, Hi Mom!

The stamp itself isn’t particularly beautiful but it is fun to stamp out designs. and I don’t know why I never bought a prettier pattern. But here were are. Now I wait for my new rolling pin.  It is not a Scottish Style shortbread, that is heavier and denser, also great but different.  This is the classic whipped shortbread recipe found on the cornstarch box, or rather you used to find it there, I haven’t seen it for years but I still have a copy taped to the inside of my cookie book. My cookie series has been so popular with you asking for more secrets. Since this recipe is not a family secret, this is for you. 

Idiotstick’s Mom’s Shortbread Recipe 

  • 3/4 cup softened salted butter – this is important – or add a pinch of salt if you use unsalted
  • 1 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch 

Preheat oven to 300 F. 

Sift together cornstarch, sugar and flour. beat together with butter in the mixer or by hand – mixer makes it lighter. I mix it for a long while. You think it will never come together and them, boom, it forms a ball and pulls away from the bowl. Then it is done. 

I roll out on a clean surface, do not flour. 

I stamp and cut the shapes and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. It helps to have an offset spatula to loosen the cookies from the counter. Alternatively, you can form balls and press with a stamp or fork. I bake for 20 minutes. take out just before the start to go golden on the edges. You want white cookies, not brown cookies. These are shortbread but if you over bake them, its not the end of the world. Paul Hollywood or Mary Berry are not in your kitchen. 

Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Store in an airtight container. I like to freeze them and eat them cold, but I realize I am the only person on the planet who prefers this. 

See? Not the prettiest stamp but they taste amazing. 

Bear Grease and Gingerbread

Nostalgia is hitting me hard and I find myself thinking about the good old days. My Little Gram and my Grandpa W. have been in my thoughts a lot lately. I think about visiting them and where they would sit so we could talk. I now own the sofa my Little Gram would sit on. I would sit on the floor playing solitaire or at her knee while she taught me something important, like counting to 100 or a new card game or even just telling her about my day. She always had time for me. Even when she was sick in bed, she would hold my hand and listen to me talk. She was one of the absolute best people in my life. She taught me to take the time to be present with the people who mean the most to you. Be kind, be polite and always say yes when asked if you have a minute.

When I think about Grandpa I can smell ink and tobacco. I think of flannel and some made up story he was trying to convince me that was true. I knew when he was teasing me because he would smile like he swallowed a canary and his eyes would get all sparkly. He taught me about making great kites and how to identify birds. He made things so extra. That is a trait I get from him. If you want a shed, make it an edifice. If you make a birdhouse, make it a condo. Go big or go home. Add details that are hilarious and creative. Hide Easter eggs that only you know about. Do nice things for yourself because you deserve it.

Since I have been on this nostalic kick, I have been reviving recipes from my childhood. I made meatloaf and goulash. I think about fried macaroni in bear grease because grandpa said it was good. I pulled out my gram’s Ginger Sparkler cookie recipe. My uncle called them Molassios but he was wrong, they were Ginger Sparklers. The first time I saw the recipe it was in a faded and yellowed cookbook from the 30’s. It was a publication Robin Hood flour put out. Gram made these cookies every year at Christmas time and I can tell you they are the best when dunked in tea. I made a batch last week and they lasted 3 days. They were the very first cookie I ever made for my children. My son loved them and could eat an entire batch in one sitting. He prefers chocolate chip to these, but he never complains when these cookies fill the jar on the counter. One bite of these cookies and I am back having a tea party at the big round table at my gram’s house on Evergreen Street. I would go there after kindergarten and we would have tea and cookies. Sometimes digestive biscuits and cheese and sometimes ginger sparklers. The conversation was always divine.

Because I love you, here is the old Robin Hood flour recipe. If you love yourself, only use butter, not shortening or margarine. This recipe doubles well and freezes beautifully if you need to hide them for Christmas.

  • 1 cup (250 mL) butter
  • 1 cup (250 mL) packed brown sugar
  • ¼ cup (50mL) molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups (500 mL) Robin Hood  All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) ground ginger
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) baking soda
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) cinnamon
  • ½ tsp (2 mL) salt
  • ½ cup (125 mL) coarse sugar
  1. reheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add molasses and egg. Beat well.
  3. Sift flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a separate bowl. Add to butter mixture. Beat until mixture is well combined.
  4. Roll dough into 1” (2.5 cm) balls. Roll into sugar. Place on prepared baking sheets about 2” (5 cm) apart.
  5. Bake in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes ( I bake for 10 minutes to get the perfect chewy/crispy combination) Cool for 2 minutes on baking sheets; transfer to cooling rack to cool completely. (Or eat before they cool – warm cookies are a gift!)
  6. Dip in Red Rose Tea (steeped for 4 minutes) with milk for the authentic Little Gram experience.

cracked-top-ginger-cookies-19.jpg

Once upon a time there was a little girl who could make babysitters cry…

06443029462bcbe897d59a3467928dc4_answer_6_xlarge10 o’clock at night and my girl is upstairs blasting Time Lord Rock while baking Rose Tyler esc cupcakes for a dear friend and fellow Whovian’s birthday. I have been told that she is quite capable of following the instructions and baking on her own. Agreed.

Then I hear “Moooooooooooooooooooooooooooooom, can I have your opinion on these cupcakes please? They are giant but liquid in the middle. How long should I put them back in for? And why do they taste like Cherry Cough Syrup?”

Good Question… Ask Grandma.

My mom was a good egg in lots of ways. She always let me listen the radio station of my choice when we were in the car. She didn’t care. Dad on the other hand would say “This stuff is utter crap, I can’t listen to this.” And the station would change to some oldie station playing Peter, Paul and Mary or the Limelighters. This would account for my obscure and amazing talent of knowing every song ever written between 1948 and 1989, this includes jingles and TV theme songs. It’s a handy talent for some great trivia games and for radio quiz shows where I get to win tickets to The Who and The Rolling Stones.

Mom would also encourage me to experiment in the kitchen. I learned the basics from her and my Aunty Mary Poppins, but the fine tuning I did on my own. I dad would eat ANYTHING I put in front of him and he would always say, “That is the best I ever had! Did I make it?” Between both my parents, that made me fearless in the kitchen. I am not a swell cook – but I am an AMAZING baker. There is a difference. I think some people can be great at both but often they are only good at one or the other.

My girl is a self proclaimed distraction in the kitchen. I let her do all kinds of baking and cooking experiments but there is usually some disaster that happens and we need to figure out how to fix it. To be honest, it isn’t always fixable, so we pack it up and give it to her Grandpa (my dad) who will eat ANYTHING and say it’s the best ever.

I remember baking on Friday nights when we had a babysitter because Mom and Dad were off Dancing  – I know…it was the olden days when people went dancing at the club – (as in country club) It sounds fancier than it was, but my parents loved it. We went through babysitters like some people go through socks. My brother and I were THE WORST KIDS EVER – not true  – were only bad if we didn’t like the babysitter. I liked the weak ones. The ones that were nice on the outside but I could make them cry in an instant. One time we had this gal, a neighbor of my grandma, she came over and wanted to play games or watch TV and I would say – no. I am baking cookies.

“Are you allowed to do that?”

Me: NO – are you kidding? Mom is going to kill you. “Yes, my mom lets me all the time.”

“Okay – call me if you need help”

Me: pfffff whatever – “okay”

I went into the pantry and pulled out all the ingredients for Quaker Oatmeal Cookies. The Just Add Water kind of cookie mix that mom would buy and add a billion things to for granola bars. I used an entire package (enough for 1000 cookies) and a gallon of water. I think it said one cup but the measuring cup was really big – I think it was 8 cups. But I filled it because it was still only one cup.

I had made cookie cake. It was liquid porridge. I couldn’t spoon it onto a cookie tray, it would run all over the place. So I left it in the bowl, put all the dirty dishes and baking garbage into the oven and shut the door.

I went to join the babysitter and my brother and said I changed my mind. I didn’t want to bake.

Later while I was fake sleeping, my mother called me into the kitchen.

She had the keen sense of Sherlock Holmes. There wasn’t a dish left out, yet she knew.

“What happened in here tonight?”

Me: I was fake tired and said “What???’ in my sleepy fake voice.

“This kitchen is a disaster!”

Me: What are you talking about? I hid the evidence. I knew I needed to stay silent.

“Were you making cookies?

Me: How does she know this stuff? Silence…………

“Where did you hide the stuff?” She looked around and likely saw a fingerprint on the oven door.

Then I remember the oven door opening and the angry voice lecturing me for what seemed like a week. But thankfully dad came home and sent me to bed.

Now that I am a parent myself, these are the thoughts that run through my head:

  1. Why would the babysitter let an 8 year old bake cookies unsupervised?
  2. Obviously mom saw the flour dust all over everything. What is clean to an 8 year old is not clean to a mom.
  3. Why didn’t my parents just lock us up under the stairs to go out? We tortured babysitters for fun. How we make it out of our childhood alive is beyond me.
  4. I always thought my mom was crazy about cleanliness – I still do.
  5. Why did my parents change babysitters so frequently? Did the girls just say no? I would – but to be fair, I could talk those girls into anything and I think they didn’t expect that from a kid. I was the evil emperor of kids needing supervision. Let’s face it, after every girl in Sherwood Park failed and became brainwashed by my charms, there wasn’t a whole lot for them to do. They became powerless. I would put my sister to bed, I would talk my brother into running away or hiding or really – anything to make the sitter never wanting to come back. I’m sure my parents paid well, but sometimes no job is EVER worth it.

Meanwhile, my daughter just made cupcakes that taste like cough syrup and I am proud like I am raising a little me. Luckily her grandfather lives a block from the school, so when her friends don’t eat the cupcakes – he will.

And the family tradition continues….only the dirty dishes better not be hidden in the stove.