Sweet and Salty Caramel Nut Bars

Crunchy, nutty, chewy. Sweet enough to satisfy a craving, but not so rich to be overwhelming. A grown-up version of a Nature Valley Nut Bar.

I was looking for a dessert to bring to my boyfriend’s family Christmas dinner. It was the first time that I’d be meeting his parents, along with 20 of his closest relatives. I wanted a recipe that would please a crowd, and I think I found it.

20151227_115346

My inspiration was the cashew nut, which grows from a tree that also produces the cashew apple. In recent years, research (some of it funded by nut farmers) has shown that eating nuts can lower LDL and total cholesterol. There is not enough evidence about how nuts affect overall cardiovascular health (risks of heart attack, stroke, etc). But really, the point isn’t how “good for you” these bars are — it’s about savouring every nutty bite when you choose to treat yourself.

Roasting the nuts ahead of time produces their signature aroma and flavour. If you can’t find pre-roasted nuts, toasting them on the stove top or in the oven using low heat is well worth the time. Another tip is to seal any seams in the bottom crust very well (pinch it together with your fingers), otherwise the crust will crack during baking and the caramel-nut mixture will seep through.

Bon appetite!

20151227_115230.jpg

Sweet and Salty Caramel Nut Bars

Recipe modified from: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/rustic-nut-bars-233301

Yield: 40 squares

Ingredients:

Crust

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp table salt
  • 3/4 cup cold butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 egg, beaten

Topping

  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 tbsp whipping cream
  • 1 cup peanuts, toasted and salted
  • 2 cups cashews, toasted and salted
  • 1 cup pistachios, toasted and salted
  • 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
  • 2 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted

Method

  1. Grease a 9″x 13″ baking pan with butter, then line with parchment paper, set aside. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  2. Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and table salt in a large bowl.
  3. Use a fork or a pastry cutter to rub the butter into the flour mixture until the butter is rice-sized and evenly distributed throughout.
  4. Add the beaten egg to form a dough, and press the dough evenly into the pan (just the bottom, not up the sides). Bake at 375 ° F for 15-20 minutes, or until the edges are light brown and pulling away from the sides of the pan. Cool for 30 minutes before proceeding with the rest of the recipe.
  5. In a large pot over medium heat, bring the sugar and honey to a boil, stir to dissolve the sugar, then boil for 2 minutes. The mixture will foam and froth– use a large pot to prevent it from boiling over.
  6. Add peanut butter, butter, and whipping cream, stir to dissolve, boil for 1 minute.
  7. Turn off the heat, add nuts and salt. Stir to coat nuts with peanut butter and caramel mixture.
  8. Bake at 375 ° F for 15-25 minutes. Allow to cool before drizzling with melted chocolate (I melted the chocolate in the microwave and put it inside a ziplock bag with a corner snipped off as a makeshift piping bag).
  9. Remove from the pan and cut into ~1.5″ squares.

20151227_114820.jpg

Advertisements

Cherry, Blueberry, and Rhubarb Pie Feat. Serious Eats’ Easy Pie Dough

A couple of friends and myself gathered one summer day to make and eat pie. There’s a saying that goes “what grows together, goes together”. So perhaps the fact that cherries, blueberries, and rhubarb are all ready at around the same time is the universe’s way of telling us that they would make a great pie filling.

pie in the makingThe crust for this pie came from the website serious eats. It’s different from most other pie dough recipes, and I’ve been curious to test their unconventional methods based on the science of pie crusts.

Although the recipe calls for the flour and butter to be pulsed together in a food processor, we used a fork to cut the butter and flour. I had some serious doubts about the pie crust while we were making it. The dough felt really buttery and soft, whereas my previous experiences told me that pie dough is usually more dry. But when I tasted the crust, any skepticism I had disappeared. The dough came together quickly and it was also very flaky. Bonus points: it holds up whale designs particularly well!

Pie pictureAlthough this pie crust can’t tell you how it feels like to be feated in this recipe, you can watch Marshall Mathers discuss when he was a feated as a musician in this hilarious interview with Stephen Colbert.

Cherry, Blueberry, and Rhubarb Pie Feat. Serious Eats’ Easy Pie Dough

Makes: 1x 9.5 inch pie

Ingredients

Pie crust

Recipe from: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2011/07/easy-pie-dough-recipe.html

  • 2 1/2 cups (12.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 1/2 sticks (20 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pats
  • 6 tablespoons cold water

Pie filling

  • ~ 1/2 cup fresh rhubarb, chopped into 1/2 inch segments
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 2 tbsp white sugar
  • ~ 2 cups cherries, washed and pitted
  • ~ 2 cups blueberries, washed
  • 2 tbsp corn starch

Method

  1. Combine two thirds of flour (1 and 2/3 cup, or 8.3 oz) with sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse twice to incorporate. Spread butter chunks evenly over surface. Pulse until no dry flour remains and dough just begins to collect in clumps, about 25 short pulses. Use a rubber spatula to spread the dough evenly around the bowl of the food processor. Sprinkle with remaining flour (0.83 cups, or 4.2 oz) and pulse until dough is just barely broken up, about 5 short pulses. Transfer dough to a large bowl.
  2. Sprinkle with water then using a rubber spatula, fold and press dough until it comes together into a ball. Divide ball in half (make one half slightly bigger– that’ll be the bottom crust). Form each half into a 4-inch disk. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before rolling and baking.
  3. While dough is chilling, in a small sauce pan over medium heat, combine rhubarb, sugar, and water. Cook until rhubarb is soft when mushed with the back of a spoon. Add more water to prevent burning if necessary. Drain off any extra water before using.
  4. Combine rhubarb, cherries, blueberries, and cornstarch in a large bowl, mix.
  5. Roll out one half of the pie dough and line the pie plate with it. I like rolling out the pie dough between two sheets of plastic wrap to prevent the dough from sticking to the rolling pin and the surface.
  6. Place oven rack ~1/3 of the way from the bottom, preheat oven to 425 °F.
  7. Fill the bottom crust with the fruit + cornstarch mixture. If you’re a slow dough roller (like me) you can refrigerate or freeze the half-finished pie at this point to keep the bottom crust cold while you roll out the top crust.
  8. Pinch the top and bottom crusts together, make a few slits for steam to escape, and decorate it however you want to.
  9. Bake at 425 °F for 20 minutes on the lower rack, decrease oven temperature to 350 °F and bake for another 30 minutes. Check on the pie after 20 minutes, if the edges are looking like they might get too dark, put some aluminum foil around them to prevent burning.
  10. Allow the filling to cool and firm up a bit before slicing. It tastes good with ice cream and whipped cream.

Hand-Dipped Chocolate Espresso Cookies

Chocolate and coffee is a classic combination, and the flavours of both are outstanding in this cookie. I think this would make a great pairing with any coffee-based beverage, or even a glass of milk.

Chocolate espresso cookie

To prevent a dry and bitter tasting cookie, check on them around 7 minutes, or even earlier if you’ve rolled them out thinner. I decided to dip the cookies in some melted chocolate flavoured with more espresso powder to garnish. An espresso icing, like the one from the source of this recipe, looks great too. Or you could sandwich an espresso buttercream filling between two of these cookies for a twist on an Oreo.

Chocolate espresso cookies

To make rolling out the cookie dough easier, I place it between 2 sheets of plastic wrap. This way, I can see the dough as it’s being rolled out, and it doesn’t stick to the rolling pin or the counter.

Hand-dipped chocolate espresso cookies

Yield: ~20 cookies (~4 cm diameter)

Recipe modified from: http://easybaked.net/2013/08/22/dark-chocolate-espresso-cookies/

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter, unsalted, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg, room temp
  • 1.5 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1.5 tbsp espresso powder
  • 1.5 cup white flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder

For dipping

  • ~ 1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • ~ 1/3 cup butter, unsalted
  • 1 tsp espresso powder

Method

  1. Cream together 1/2 cup room temperature butter and sugar until fluffy, add egg and vanilla, beat well.
  2. Sift cocoa, espresso, flour, salt, and baking powder over butter mixture, stir to combine then form into a disk-shaped dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 °F, line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper
  4. Roll out dough to 3-4 mm thick, cut into desired shapes using a cookie cutter. Gather and re-roll scraps, chill dough as necessary to make it easier to work with.
  5. Bake for 7-10 minutes, allow to cool completely before decorating.
  6. To dip the cookies: in a bowl, microwave the butter and chocolate chips together to melt (do this in 30 second intervals and stir every 30 seconds to prevent burning). Stir in the espresso powder. Dip 1/2 of the cookie into the chocolate, scrape the bottom of the cookie against the edge of the bowl to remove any excess, and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet to allow the coating to harden.

Sesame Cookies with Tahini

One of my favourite activities during the holiday season is baking, and I usually end up baking with a friend whenever I return to Ontario for Christmas. This year was no exception. After all, what better way to celebrate than by sharing delicious food with friends and family?

This cookie had a slightly crumbly texture, and it was full of sesame goodness thanks to the generous coating of toasted sesame seeds on the outside and the tahini in the dough. It’s super easy to make and received rave reviews from everyone.

Sesame cookies with tahini dough
Sesame cookies with tahini

My friend and I baked a half-batch of the original recipe and made the following changes:

  • whole wheat flour instead of white flour
  • used toasted black and white sesame seeds instead of only white sesame seeds
  • rolled the cookies in a beaten egg before coating in sesame seeds
  • flattened the cookies slightly before baking

Sesame cookies with tahini dough

Sesame cookies with tahini

Yield: ~ 15 cookies

Recipe modified from: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Gilded-Sesame-Cookies-236670

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup tahini, well-stirred
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder, sifted
  • pinch salt
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted (I used both black and white sesame seeds)

Method

  1. Cream together butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, add tahini and vanilla and mix well.
  2. Add flour, baking powder, and salt to the butter mixture, mix to form a dough.
  3. Shape dough into a disk, chill in the fridge for 1 hour.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 °F and line 1 cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  5. Form dough into 1.5 inch balls (the dough will be crumbly) and flatten slightly, dip into egg, then roll in toasted sesame seeds.
  6. Arrange dough on cookie sheet with 1 inch of space between cookies, bake for 12-14 minutes, cool on the tray for 5 minutes.

Enjoy!

Cherry Pie

Happy belated Canada Day! I made this pie with my friend C for a special Canada Day dinner. Featuring fresh sweet cherries and served with ice cream, it was delicious.

Cherry Pie
Cherry Pie

The pie crust was made using this all butter crust recipe. The recipe makes a double pie crust (for top and bottom), but since I choose to do a lattice top, I didn’t use up all the dough. Next time, I will probably reduce the amount of flour to 2 cups from 2.5 cups and butter from 1 cup to 4/5 cup. 
In a food processor, pulse together butter, flour, salt, and sugar.
Then add in ice water 1 tbsp at a time until the dough just holds together. 
The trick to a flaky pie crust is leaving bits of butter in the dough. When the butter melts in the oven, it also separates the dough into layers. To preserve bits of butter until the very end, be sure to use very cold butter (try freezing cubed butter for 20 minutes before using).
When adding water to the dough, do it one tablespoon at a time. The dough should just hold together when pinched between two fingers; too much water makes a tough crust. Also, use ice cold water to prevent butter from melting. 
 
Divide dough in half, shape each half into a disk 6 inches wide.
Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to overnight.



Chilling and resting the dough is an extremely important step. This allows the gluten in the dough to relax, which will make the pie dough tender rather than tough. 


While your pie dough is chilling, this is the perfect time to prepare the filling. First pit the cherries: using a pairing knife, cut the cherry down the middle, all the way around the pit. Twist and pull the two halves apart. Then, work your knife around the pit to dig it out. I used 4.5 cups of fresh pitted, halved sweet cherries, which was approx. 1.5 lb. Add sugar and corn starch to the pitted cherries and mix thoroughly

Roll out the pie crust to 1/8th inch (3 mm) thick, transfer to 9 inch pie plate

Once the pie dough has been rested, take both disks out of the fridge and let it warm up for 20 minutes to make rolling easier.

Roll one disk to 1/8th inch (3 mm) thick. While rolling, give the dough a 90 degree turn every once in a while to make sure nothing is sticking. Add some flour if the dough is getting sticky. Transfer into the pie plate, and fill with cherry filling.

Roll out the other half of the dough to the same thickness, and cut into strips about 1/2 inch (1 cm) wide. Make a pretty lattice pattern with the strips.

Weave the strips into a lattice pattern.
Brush top with milk and sprinkle sugar on top.

Bake at 425 F for 15 minutes, then reduce temperature to 350 F and bake for another 35 minutes. I also put my pie under the broiler for a minute to further brown the top. 

Cherry Pie
Cherry Pie

Cherry Pie
Serves: 8

Ingredients

  • 2.5 cups flour
  • 1 cup cold unsalted butter, 1/2 inch cube
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 6-8 tbsp ice water
  • 4.5 cups pitted sweet cherry halves
  • 1/3 cup white sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 2 tbsp corn starch
  • 1 tbsp milk
Method
  1. In a food processor, pulse together flour, butter, salt and sugar until butter is the size of a pea.
  2. Add in ice water 1 tablespoon at a time until dough just comes together when pressed between your fingers.
  3. Form dough into two equal disks, wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour, or up to overnight.
  4. Combine cherries, sugar, and corn starch for the filling, set aside.
  5. Preheat oven to 425 F.
  6. Roll out one disk to a circle 1/8th inch thick (3mm), and place on the bottom of a 9 inch pie plate
  7. Fill with cherry filling
  8. Roll out the second disk to a circle 1/8th inch thick, cut into strips 1/2 inch (1 cm) wide. Gently lay the strips in a lattice pattern, pressing the edges to seal.
  9. Brush top of pie with milk, and sprinkle with white sugar.
  10. Bake for 15 minutes, reduce oven temperature to 350 F, and bake for another 35 minutes.
  11. Allow to cool for 20 minutes before serving.

Walnut Cupcakes with Maple Buttercream Frosting

Baking mini cupcakes may be the best idea ever. It doesn’t require a lot of ingredients, it’s fast, and the results are delicious. This recipe, which uses walnuts in the cupcake itself and a maple syrup flavoured frosting, is slightly modified from the book 200 mini cakes and bakes published by Hamlyn. 

Walnut Cupcakes with Maple Buttercream Frosting
Walnut Cupcakes with Maple Buttercream Frosting 

I didn’t take any pictures of the process, so I’ve uploaded a few more pictures of the finished product. Enjoy!

Walnut Cupcakes with Maple Buttercream Frosting
 

I changed the original recipe a little, using walnuts in place of pecans. 

Walnut Cupcakes with Maple Buttercream Frosting

I did not have a piping bag, so for the frosting, I simply placed it in a plastic zip lock bag, cut out a corner, and used that to pipe on the frosting. 
Walnut Cupcakes with Maple Buttercream Frosting

Walnut cupcakes with Maple Buttercream Frosting
Yield: 12 mini cupcakes

Ingredients (cupcake):

  • 65 g (1/3 cup) lightly salted butter, softened 
  • 65 g (1/3 cup) caster sugar
  • 65 g (1/2 cup) all purpose flour, sifted 
  • 5 g (1 tsp) baking powder 
  • 1 egg 
  • 40 g (1/3 cup) walnuts, finely chopped 
  • 12 walnut halves or quarters, to decorate (optional) 

Ingredients (frosting):

  • 100 g (2/5 cup) lightly salted butter, softened 
  • 4 tbsp icing sugar, sifted 
  • 6 tbsp maple syrup 

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F and line or grease 12 mini muffin tins
  2. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, add flour, baking powder and egg and mix until just combined. Fold in chopped walnuts. 
  3. Bake for 10-12 minutes until risen and just firm, set aside to cool on a wire rack. 
  4. Beat butter and icing sugar until smooth, gradually beat in maple syrup until pale and fluffy. Use a piping bag fitted with a small star nozzle to pipe swirls on top of each cake (or see method above if you do not have a piping bag). 
  5. Decorate with walnut halves or quarters if desired. 

Attempt at Mini Chocolate Angel Food Cupcakes

Mini chocolate angel food cake cupcake
Mini chocolate angel food cake cupcakes

It started out as a promising idea: I had a recipe for chocolate angel food cake, and a desire to bake mini things. Solution: make chocolate angel food cake. Unfortunately, there were several things that went wrong along the way, which resulted in really tough and chewy cupcakes. Read on to find out how not to make mini chocolate angel food cupcakes…

Sift together cocoa powder, all purpose flour, granulated sugar
and instant coffee granuels 

I think the first and most fatal mistake I made was using all purpose instead of cake/ pastry flour. All purpose flour contains more protein (gluten), which provide structure and chewyness. But in this case, cake flour is absolutely essential if you don’t want your cupcake to turn out bouncy and hard…

The original recipe also called for icing sugar. Again, due to a lack of supplies, I substituted granulated sugar. I don’t think this was that big of a deal. Although it was difficult to push through granulated sugar and instant coffee granules through the sieve.

Whipped egg whites with sugar and salt
Whisk egg whites with salt until soft peaks form
add granulated sugar 1 tbsp at a time while whipping until hard peaks form 

Whip egg whites. This step is a lot easier with an electric mixer, although it can be done with a fork, a lot of muscle power, and patience. Egg whites at room temperature are easier to whip than cold egg whites right out of the fridge.

Fold flour mixture into whipped egg whites
divide into 12 ungreased mini cupcake tins 

So folding dry ingredients into whipped egg whites is usually done with a rubber spatula (we lost ours a few years ago). I’ve seen Nigella Lawson use a whip to fold things so I thought, why not?

The whip worked pretty well for the first 1/4th of the flour mixture, then it got all clumpy and hard to move through the mixture. I reverted to a wooden spoon. Probable mistake #2: not folding in ingredients properly, deflating egg whites in the meanwhile.

I preheated the oven to 350 degrees F and popped in my filled cupcake pan. Mistake #3: over-baking these mini cupcakes. They sat in the oven for ~16 minutes when they only needed about 8-10 minutes. Although they weren’t burnt, they were definitely dried out.

Mistake-laden mini chocolate angel food cupcakes
Mistake-laden mini chocolate angel food cupcakes 

So here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Use cake flour for angel food cake 
  2. Use a rubber spatula for folding things into whipped egg whites
  3. Bake mini cupcakes for 8-10 minutes 
  4. Get icing sugar, just do it 
I will not provide a recipe for the obvious reason that my recipe sucked big time. One pro it did have is that it made 12 mini muffins perfectly with no left over batter. So when I successfully make this recipe, I’ll post it up!