Baking, Baking - Cookies

Homemade Oreos

After the Power Ranger cake last week I had some fondant leftover. Last time I had leftovers I made some little fondant-covered two-bite brownies. We were about to host a party at our place and I didn’t think those would be the right fit, so instead I decided to try and make some imitation Oreos and use the fondant for the filling.

I looked up some recipes and settled on a chocolate sugar cookie. It was pretty straightforward, cutting out all the chocolate cookies, and then cutting out the fondant to match.

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The fondant was quite smooth, so I knew it wouldn’t stick to the cookies very well on its own. I was also making some empire cookies, so I just put a dab of royal icing on each side of the cookie to stick the sandwich together. It worked out pretty well, and because I had two colours of fondant leftover, we had two colours of cookies: white and hot pink. They were pretty tasty little guys, I will definitely be doing them again if I have leftover fondant!

Baking - Cookies, Decorating

Playing with Food: Bringing Fairy Tales to Life

20150328_171337My daughter has been really into the story The Gingerbread Man lately. You know the old Golden Book classic, “Run, run, as fast as you can, you can’t catch me I’m the gingerbread man!” She has a pretty high attention to detail, so after reading the story many times she finally said we should make a gingerbread man, “with raisins for eyes, a currant for nose, and a pink sugar candy waistcoat.” She did also say that she wanted a girl gingerbread, but we ended up making some of both 🙂

So one Saturday morning we made the gingerbread cookies together; I helped with the rolling, but she did most of the cookie cutting herself. They cooled during rest time, and I set to work getting all the decorating requirements lined up, with a few additions just for fun. I had almost forgotten the most important piece, but when I went up to check on my daughter mid-rest (I don’t think she actually rested at all!), she reminded me with great excitement “raisins for eyes, a currant for nose and a pink sugar candy waistcoat.” I had about 20 minutes to produce some pink sugar candy waistcoats!

I threw together a mini-batch of fondant by melting some marshmallows in the microwave, mixing in icing sugar, then colouring it pink. It came out perfectly, and there was just enough for the number of cookies we had.

She didn’t seem to mind that we didn’t have any currants for noses, and was pretty happy with chocolate chips and gold dragees as substitutions. Even the raisins only made it on the first one she decorated! But she was very focused and spent about an hour meticulously decorating each gingerbread cookie, making each one unique from the last. And at the end she eagerly picked her favourite one to eat.

On the last page of the story (spoiler alert) a fox eats the gingerbread man, and it reads “that is exactly what should happen to all gingerbread men.” I couldn’t agree more, and I think my daughter does too!

Baking - Desserts

Baking for the Masses

It’s been a while since I baked in really large quantities, but I recently started doing the desserts for church dinners every couple months. Since it wasn’t very often I thought it would be fun and manageable; and it is, but I had to remind myself how much more 100 servings is compared to the couple dozen that most recipes give you!

My most recent offering to them was date squares. I used a recipe from my baking course book, which I remembered to be really good, and I knew the quantity would definitely be large enough. The problem was I didn’t have a pan big enough to hold the full recipe, so instead of quadrupling a recipe that only gave two dozen I had to quarter a recipe that would give me 100!

I made a full batch of the date filling all at once and divided it up into four containers to save some time. I had gotten the dates at a Bulk Barn, and in retrospect should have gone for better quality. They were okay, but they didn’t break down very well as they cooked. I added extra water a couple times to prolong the cooking time, but I ended up pulsing the paste through the food processor to make it a bit smoother.

Our kitchen smelled delicious over the couple days I made these batches of date squares. And the bonus of them was that they crumbled quite a bit as I cut them, so I saved the extra oat crumble to use as granola – so yummy!

It’s a bit of a challenge getting back into baking individual desserts for a large group, but I’m really enjoying it, and looking forward to coming up with the next one in a couple months!

Baking - Desserts

Brownie Purism

I have decided to declare myself a brownie purist. No more of these ‘healthy’ substitutions, no more ingredient experiments. Chocolate, butter, eggs, sugar, all purpose flour, vanilla. It just doesn’t get better than that.

Avocado brownies: don't let their delicious appearance fool you!
Avocado brownies: don’t let their delicious appearance fool you!

This declaration was sparked by a brownie recipe that used avocados, which in my opinion failed miserably. It used avocado and whole wheat flour to make them ‘healthy.’ I ended up with a pan of gritty, mediocre chocolate pudding (and it didn’t even taste that chocolatey). I felt like I wasted perfectly good avocados and free range eggs, amongst other ingredients. Such a disappointment, especially when the website raved about how good these brownies were.

This is not the first time I’ve been disappointed with an alternative brownie recipe. Now, I am extra jaded because this most recent was by far the worst one I’ve tried, so my memories of the others may be influenced, but I do remember that none of them were as good as the real thing. I’ve tried black bean brownies, which actually were quite good, but a bit pasty in texture (I was going to write a post about them back in May, but changed my mind, which you can read for yourself here); I’ve tried chunky monkey brownies that use banana and peanut butter, a fun combination, but again, the texture was off; and of course I have tried pumpkin brownies of my own design (find them here), which were good in texture, but just not chocolate.

This avocado flop has made me realize that life is too short to waste energy and ingredients on mediocre attempts to be ‘healthy.’ If I’m craving a brownie I want it to be a good one, tried and true. Everything in moderation, my friends, and you can enjoy that delicious chewy, chocolate indulgence guilt-free. As long as your diet is balanced you can say ‘I’m already healthy, so I’m going to enjoy this brownie that isn’t.’

For those of you who still want to find ‘healthy’ recipes, more power to you, I wish you all the best. If you have found a good recipe, you can let me know; I probably won’t make it, but if you make it for me, I’ll try it. As for me and my kitchen, we shall be brownie purists.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a craving to satisfy.

Baking - Desserts, Decorating

Thankful for Pralines

For Thanksgiving’s dessert this year I made a pumpkin cheesecake. I have made it before, but drizzled it with a simple caramel sauce as the garnish. This year I decided to be a little more extravagant and make some pralines, which I discovered are really just pecans in fudge. Oh yum!

I will diverge for a moment to clarify that I’m talking about American pralines. While looking up recipes for pralines I learned that European and American pralines (like many things) are quite different, each geographic region modifying the recipe a bit to use the most readily available nuts, sugars and/or chocolate. The European recipes mostly used almonds, so I decided to go with the American because I thought the pecans would go better with the pumpkin.

Now back to the delicious process (which you also can find by clicking here). I mixed, heated and boiled the pecans, sugars, butter, and milk to about 234F. I was having issues with my thermometer, so I ended up doing the water test to make sure it was at the soft ball stage – dropping a bit of the syrup into a bowl of cold water to see if it would create a soft ball. Once I reached the right temperature I removed it from the heat, added the vanilla, and set the pot in a sink of cold water for about 15 seconds while stirring constantly, then removed it from the cold water and kept beating until it started to lose its sheen. I knew it would only be a matter of seconds before it would turn into crumbs, so I scooped it out onto a parchment lined pan as quickly as I could, and it set beautifully!

I chopped the pralines into small pieces for the top of the cheesecake, and piled them on with abandon, while possibly sneaking a few to eat on the side. They added a sweet and nutty touch, as well as some nice texture, to the creamy, spiced pumpkin cheesecake. A delicious way to end a day celebrating all for which we are thankful!