Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Almond Chocolate Bark

It really is impossible to find an easier recipe than this almond bark. All you need do is melt a bar of fine Belgian chocolate (100grams/3.4 ounces) and mix in plenty of roasted sliced almonds (at least a cup or more). 

-Using a double boiler or if you do not have a double boiler; take a small saucepan or tempered glass mixing bowl that will fit into a larger saucepan.  
-Fill the larger pot with enough tap water to provide heat but not touch the bottom of the saucepan
(or  glass bowl)
-Heat the water on the stove top until it begins to simmer. Turn off the heat.
-Break the chocolate into small pieces and place in the small saucepan (or glass bowl)
-Place the smaller saucepan (or glass bowl)  in the larger saucepan.
-When the chocolate begins to melt, start stirring gently with a wooden spoon until the chocolate is melted.
-Remove from the stove top. Wipe off the water from the bottom of the saucepan containing the chocolate. Be careful not to allow any water to get on the chocolate.
-Stir in the roasted almond slices and coat with the melted chocolate.
-Spread on a parchment lined cookie tray and allow to harden.
-If desired, melt white Belgian chocolate and drizzle on the almond bark.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Almond Meringues

Better late than are probably thinking I'm referring to the recipe post. In reality, I'm kicking myself for not following Julia Child's tip way back, on freezing unused egg whites for later use. Being a doubting Thomas, I never followed this sound advice until recently. To my amazement, the thawed egg whites do whip up perfectly. As they say, "the proof is in the pudding"...... the almond meringues turned out beautifully with a little crunch in each bite and slightly chewy center. I followed Julia Child's suggested measurements once the egg whites thawed ......1/4 cup equals 2 egg whites or 2 tablespoons for 1 egg white.

2 egg whites (or 1/4 cup thawed eggs whites)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup toasted sliced almonds

In a bowl, beat egg whites with the cream of tartar until soft peaks start forming. Gradually add the the brown sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold in the vanilla, almond extract and sliced almonds. Spoon onto a cookie tray which has been lined with parchment paper. Bake in a 300º F oven for 30 minutes. Makes 40

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Lemony Cheese Crackers

While visiting Seattle's Art Museum, I did what any Montrealer would do...... I stopped not only to admire the west coast art scene but managed to squeeze in a little 5 à 7 at the museum's TASTE café. These savoury thin crackers were complimentary with the cocktail ordered. Buttery rich with Regianno Parmigiano, lemony citrus flavour and a wonderful punch from the black pepper, they are the perfect little bite with your favourite drink. The following is TASTE's original recipe and makes about sixty melt in your mouth savoury delights. The only change to the recipe was to adapt the method to accommodate the use of my trusty Cuisinart food processor.  Should you find the dough a little too dry, add an extra drizzle of cold water or as I did, add a little extra soft butter as you are working the dough. 

6 1/4 ounces Regianno Parmigiano cheese, grated
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons lemon zest
1 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
3 1/4 ounces cold butter, cut into small pieces
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

In a food processor add the flour, grated cheese, lemon zest and pepper. Pulse to blend. Add the butter pieces and pulse until it is the consistency of coarse cornmeal. Transfer to a mixing bowl and pour in the water and lemon juice. Mix with a wooden spoon to combine. Transfer to a lightly floured work surface and knead into a ball. Form into a round 1 1/2 inch log. Place the dough on plastic or parchment paper and roll  it up. Refrigerate for 40 minutes or more. Cut into 1/8 inch disks and place them on a parchment paper lined cookie tray. Sprinkle the sea salt on the crackers.Bake in preheated 350º F oven for 10-12 minutes until golden brown. Makes 60

Christmas Hazelnut Biscotti

This is this year's batch of biscotti which we made at Christmas. Below you will find the recipe, which happened to be one of my first posts when I started the blog. Hope you enjoy!

Sorry, Mom but these hazelnut biscotti do not come from your treasure trove of Italian recipes. Truth be told, for years I have been using a recipe gleaned and adapted from the Canadian Living kitchens. Angie is a fan of these delightful treats and as requested, I made a batch just for her so I could post the recipe on line. Angie, good luck with the recipe...let us know how they turn out! Hope you enjoy them, dipped in a nice espresso or café americano.

1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup hazelnuts
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon Triple Sec liqueur
2 teaspoons orange zest
1 egg white slightly beaten
100 g dark Belgian chocolate

Roast the hazelnuts in a 350°F oven for about 10 minutes. Roasting gives extra flavor and crunch. In a bowl combine the flour and baking powder then stir in the cooled hazelnuts. In a separate bowl whisk the eggs and gradually add the sugar, butter, vanilla, liqueur and orange rind. Stir this mixture into the dry ingredients and mix. You will have a sticky dough which will be transferred to a lightly floured work surface. Form the dough into a ball and divide into three portions. Roll out each portion into a 9 inch long by 2 3/4 inch wide log. Place on a parchment lined cookie sheet and brush with the egg white. Bake 350°F for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and cut each log diagonally into 1/2 inch wide slices. Return to the same baking sheet (cut side side up) and bake for an additional 20 to 30 minutes. Let cool and dip in melted Belgian chocolate.
Makes about 30 biscotti.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Dresden Stollen

Stollen is a German sweet dense bread, filled with candied fruit, currants, raisins, and almonds; much like fruitcake it is made about a month in advance in order to be  ready for Christmas. 
It dates back to 1457 and its original shape was to represent the baby Jesus swaddled in a blanket 
According to tradition it is served on Christmas eve with coffee.  Given the copious amount the recipe makes, it's  great for gift giving or keeping some in reserve allowing the Stollen to reach its full flavour. In fact the last loaf  is usually served at Easter when the almonds in the Stollen have reached a delicious marzipan stage. 
My recipes have been  richly influenced not only by my Italian origins but also by our urban multicultural surroundings.  I guess you could say that my trove of recipes is a reflection of our truly mosaic society. This Stollen recipe is no exception, and I have to attribute it to my husband, who as far as I know has no Teutonic bloodline. He does however have a propensity for German sweets, anything from elderberry jam to Pfeffernüsse cookies. It all started about fifteen years ago when out of the blue he purchased a Stollen, and thereafter took it upon himself to make his own for the following Christmas. In his search for the ideal recipe he enlisted the help of our dear German neighbour. I was sure that the novelty would wear off but much to my astonishment each year since, he embarks on his "Stollen production" project. Actually for a guy who never bakes, he does a pretty good job.

Ingredients: (to make 4 loaves or 6 small ones)
Note: this recipe was converted from the metric to the imperial system, thus the somewhat strange quantities and volumes... but it's tried and true!

 1-1/3 cups (225gr) currants
1 cup (150 gr) orange zest
1 cup (150 gr) lemon zest
3 cups (500 gr) Thompson raisins (or sultanas)
4-1/3 cups sliced almonds
6-1/2 cups (1 kilo) sifted flour
6 packets yeast (8 gr each)
2 cups (250 gr) icing sugar
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 pinches mace
2 pinches allspice
1/2 tsp salt
2.8 oz rum
2 cups (1/2 liter) lukewarm milk (reserve 1 cup for proofing the yeast)
1-1/3 lbs (600 gr) butter

Sprinkle the rum onto the mixture of currants, raisins,almonds & candied peel, cover and allow to soak overnight.

"Proof" the yeast by sprinkling it over 1 cup of the lukewarm milk (about 100 º) to which has been added a tablespoon of sugar. Set aside in a warm place for about 10 minutes. The yeast is active if it forms a creamy foam on top of the milk.

Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the room-temp butter, icing sugar, the remainder of lukewarm milk, spices and the "proofed" yeast mixture and mix Transfer to a slightly floured work surface and thoroughly knead.  
Cover the dough and allow to rise for approx. 30 minutes in a warm place.

Add the previously prepared fruit mixture.
Thoroughly knead the fruit mixture into the dough. The dough should be smooth and elastic.

Roll the dough into a long thick cylinder shape and cut into 4-6 pieces. Make the typical Stollen shape.

Transfer to a greased and floured baking tray and leave to rise for 20-30 minutes in a draft free place.
Pre-heat the oven to 350º F  and bake for 50 minutes.

While the Stollen is still warm, brush with melted butter and dust with icing sugar. Wrap well in aluminum foil and store in a cool place. 


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Shortbread Cookies

"It's getting to look a lot like Christmas"........ Lacking ingredients like rice flour needed for a friend's treasured family shortbread recipe, I reverted to an old standby....Benson's Cornstarch original shortbread recipe.

1/2 cup corn starch
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup butter, softened

Sift together the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl.  With a spoon, blend in the butter to form a smooth dough.   Transfer to a lightly floured work surface and roll out into 1/4 inch rectangle, and using cookie cutters, cut into desired shapes. If the dough is to soft to handle, refrigerate it for about 30 minutes. Transfer the cookies with a spatula to an ungreased cookie baking tray, spacing them 1 1/2 inch apart. Decorate as desired. Bake in a pre-heated oven 300º F for about 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Makes 24 cookies or more depending on the size of the cookie cutters.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Lemon Curd and Honey Spice Cake

 The excitement of  preparing for Christmas is in the air but my son's absence is tugging at my heartstrings this year, as he will be thousands of miles away on the other side of the world.  Knowing I'm missing him terribly, my husband lovingly put his picture on my screen saver, so it's Matt's smiling face I see each morning  as I fumble to the computer with my hot cup of coffee. I know he's also on my husband's mind, so this old fashioned recipe was made lovingly for him with all his favourite ingredients.

Lemon Curd:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter
2/3 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
4 eggs
1/2 cup whipping cream
Add the sugar, lemon juice, lemon rind and butter in a saucepan.  Stir the ingredients on medium heat  until dissolved. In a bowl beat the eggs and  gradually pour in a steady stream  the lemon mixture. This method will temper the beaten eggs when adding the hot mixture. Transfer back to the saucepan and simmer for 1-2 minutes to allow the lemon/egg mixture to thicken. Pour into a glass bowl and place a plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a crust from forming. Refrigerate for  2-3 hours.  
Fold in the whipping cream and serve.

Honey Spice Cake:
1 3/4 all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
1/2 cup soft butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
1 cup Thompson raisins
Take a small amount of the flour (about 2-3 tablespoons) and coat the raisins. Set aside.  In a bowl, sift together the remainder of the  flour, baking powder, baking soda and spices to blend.  In a separate mixing bowl, cream the butter and gradually beat in the sugar. Blend in the honey and eggs. Add the dry ingredients alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Fold in the raisins. Transfer the batter to a prepared 8" inch pan.  Bake in a pre-heated 350º F oven for  40-50 minutes or until a wooden skewer placed in the center comes out clean.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

" I Can't Believe There Is No Butter"......Ginger Snap Cookies Revisited

This was one of my first posts when I started my blog back in March of this year. I thought it would be fitting to revisit the recipe as we're coming to the end of the year. I hope the recipe also comes in handy for the baking frenzy ahead, as we prepare sweets for the coming holiday season.

If you are searching for a healthy alternative to butter based cookies, I have the ideal recipe for you. This one comes from The Yellowstone Country B&B in Montana. You can munch on these guilt free, as they contain no butter but still remain ever so rich in flavor.

Ginger Snap Cookies
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup dark molasses
3/4 cup oil (not olive oil)
1 egg
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
turbinado sugar or granulated sugar (for coating)

In a mixing bowl whisk together your egg, oil, molasses and brown sugar. Mix the dry ingredients (in a separate bowl) then gradually blend in the dry ingredients with a wooden spoon. Do not overwork the dough. Form dough into 1 inch balls, flatten slightly, then roll into the sugar. I use turbinado sugar, for extra crunch and it looks pretty. Place (well spaced) on a cookie tray & bake in a preheated 375 degree F. oven for 10-12 minutes.
Yields approx. 2 dozen large cookies

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Best Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

This carrot cake recipe from the Canadian Living Test Kitchen is one of their many recipes which I often turn to knowing that it will never fail to impress. They aren't kidding when they refer to it as " Canada's Best Carrot Cake".  If you're a carrot cake fan, you're going to love this multi-layered cake filled with cream cheese icing. The cake with crunchy pieces of pecans, and little orange flecks poking through the carrot - pineapple batter is as near to perfection as you can get.
The only changes I made in the past to the original cake recipe is that  from time to time, I might add shredded coconut for that extra tropical flavour to compliment the pineapple. In order to have enough filling for the four layers, I stretched the already decadent cream cheese icing by adding extra icing sugar and some 35% cream .  My version of the cream cheese icing is provided below the original recipe from the CL Test Kitchens.  The cake is finished off with Belgium white chocolate disks and homemade candied carrot slices for garnish. 
One little word of advice should you decide to undertake the recipe; make sure the crushed pineapple is well drained. I even go so far as to wring it out in a paper or cloth towel. 

2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3 eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups grated carrots
1 cup well drained crushed pineapple
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans ( toasted for better flavour)

Sift and blend the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon,nutmeg and salt into a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, beat together the sugars, eggs, oil and vanilla. Stir in the carrots  pineapple and pecans. Transfer to two prepared 8" square cake pans. Bake in a pre-heated 350º F oven for 35-40 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

 Canadian Living icing: #1
1 package cream cheese (8 ounces/250 g) 
1/4 cup butter softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup icing sugar

Add the cream cheese and butter to a bowl and beat until smooth. Pour in the vanilla and gradually  beat in the icing sugar, until a smooth consistency.

Anna's Version: #2 
( enough icing for two 8" inch cakes and  filling for 4 layers.) 
1 package cream cheese (8 ounces/250 g) 
1/2 cup soft butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups icing sugar
1/4 cup 35% cream ( more if needed)  

In a large bowl add the cream cheese and butter beating until smooth. Add the icing sugar, 35% cream and vanilla.  Continue beating until a smooth consistency.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Soused Fruit...At Least One Reason to Love Fruitcake

I've taken it upon myself to defend the much maligned "fruitcake", which has become the butt of many holiday jokes. It has been known to conjure up visions of "grannies" and  "brick doorstops". It has probably even made it on some list for the most dreaded gift to receive. In my case, I associate the fruitcake with the "magic of Christmas" past and "visions of sugarplums". I delight in each nutty and fruity morsel as does my friend Nicole, who is also a connoisseur of fine fruitcakes. I still recall the enjoyment long after the holidays had passed, savouring each bite of  her mother-in-law's treasured fruitcake during our coffebreaks at the office,.  I never did manage to get my hands on her recipe but was determined to one day, come up with one that met my standards.......plenty of brandy, plus tons of colourful fruit and nuts.

Last year, I fell upon a "Robin Hood flour "recipe, and adapted it to my liking by adding molasses for its taste, plus additional nuts and fruit. The results were so good that I ended up rationing what was given away, in order to have some for the months to follow. Now as November rolls around, I already envision the ingredients I want to incorporate and the challenge of finding them at my favourite stores.

Let your imagination and taste buds guide you in choosing the fruits and nuts to personalize the recipe. Brazilian nuts hold special childhood memories of my parents  festive Christmas table. I've always loved the rich exotic flavour and texture of  the nuts, and I make sure to have a healthy helping in my recipe, along with the abundant almonds, pecans and hazelnuts already in the mix.  Candied mango is another favourite which I couldn't resist adding for flavour and colour.  I guess  the final recipe is a mishmash of tropical (mango, papaya and pineapple) ingredients and the the more traditional ones (raisins, currants and candied cherries). The other vital ingredient is the brandy, and I admit having a heavy hand when it comes to adding it to the recipe. I can never resist sneaking a few pieces of the fruit and nuts from the bowl, as it sits on my kitchen counter soaking all the wonderful flavour of that golden brandy. In fact, I believe the glistening fruit and nuts mixture is probably the reason for  my  procrastination, allowing the fruit and nuts to macerate longer than the twenty four hours suggested in most recipes.

The following ingredients posted are from the original Robin Hood recipe, and below is my adapted version with more than the suggested amount of fruit and nut mixture. Who needs all that batter anyway when you have all that amazing soused fruit and nut mixture as the star of the show. The addition of  extra fruit and nuts made for a monstrous amount of batter; enough for two 8" loaves, two smaller loaves, and one long bread loaf pan. 

I can't wait to see your take on the fruitcake debate and hopefully have a few chuckles along the way.

Robin Hood  Flour Fruitcake Recipe:
Fruit and Nuts:
1 cup chopped dried apricots
3 cups raisins
2 cups candied pineapple,coarsely chopped
2 cups candied cherries halved
2 cups mixed candied peel
2 cups coarsely chopped pecans
1 cup slivered almonds
1 cup all purpose flour

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 1/4 butter, softened
1 1/2 cup liquid honey
1 tablespoon vanilla
6 eggs

Preheat the oven to 275º F and prepare three 9x9 loaf pans (greased and lined with parchment paper)
In a large mixing bowl toss the fruit and nuts in 1 cup of flour to coat. In another bowl combine the 1 1/2 cups of flour, baking powder,salt, and spices. Set aside. Cream the butter, honey and vanilla on medium speed of an electric mixer. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the dry ingredients, on low seed until blended. Stir in the fruit and nut mixture. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pans. Place a pan of hot water on the bottom rack of the oven and place the cakes on the middle rack. Bake for 2-21/2 hours or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Wrap well and store in a cool dry place.

Anna's  2010 Fruitcake Version:

Fruit and Nuts Mixture:
2 cups dried pineapple cut into small pieces
3/4 cup candied pineapple pieces
1/2 cup dried papaya cut into pieces
1 cup dried apricots coarsely chopped
1 cup dried mango coarsley chopped
2  cups candied mixed fruit
2 cups red and green candied cherries
3/4 cup dried cherries
2 1/2 cups Thompson raisins
2 cups golden raisins
1 cup currants
2 cups Brazilian nuts
2 cups  slivered almonds
2 cups pecans
1 cup hazelnuts
2 cups brandy

In a large pour the brandy into the fruit and nut mixture. Toss to coat with the brandy. Allow to macerate for 24 hours.

Substitute half of the honey in the original recipe with dark molasses, giving you 3/4 cups honey and 3/4 cups molasses.  Coat the soused fruit with a cup of flour and set aside.  Follow the same directions for the batter as the recipe above.

Once cooled pour a splash of brandy on the cakes and wrap in cheesecloth and aluminum foil. Store in a cool and dry place until Christmas......if you can resist.