Thursday 18 December 2014

Chewy Double Chocolate Peppermint Bark Bell Cookies

Say that title 10 times fast!

During a wander through the mall a few weeks ago, we came across some delicious looking Hershey's Peppermint Bark bells in the holiday aisle at Target.  I knew I would find some way to incorporate them into a delicious Christmas treat.  With the help of Pinterest, I found a recipe for some double chocolate cookies that were finished with candy cane kisses.  They looked and sounded delicious.  I substituted the treats I bought, and with the addition of sprinkles, came up with a very festive looking holiday cookie!  Check out the recipe here.

Some hints for success.  

-Do NOT flatten these slightly after rolling the balls.  I was tempted to because that's what I always do with peanut butter cookies.  I experimented with a few and they are better when left as balls.

-Leave the cookies only a scant couple minutes on the baking sheets to firm up and then gently add the kisses or bells.  If you get distracted they will firm up too much and it will be difficult to get them to stick.

-Don't worry about freezing the kisses or bells overnight.  An hour is plenty.  You just want cold.  Frozen isn't really important. 

These are awesome!  I ran out of chocolate for the top and they are fantastic without the addition of kisses or bells.  Basically a chewy brownie like cookie.  Yum!

Monday 15 December 2014

French Bread - and toast!

We had some neighbours over for brunch a few weekends ago.  When I make brunch I like to have some of the main items ready to throw in the oven so that I can visit.  Uually French toast is a hit with everyone, including kids, so it's often a go-to oven dish for me.

On the weekend of the brunch, it was about -25 without the windchill, and of course, I forgot to buy French bread at the store.  Rather than brave the cold I decided to make a no fail French bread recipe that I love.   The best part about this is that it's bread-maker friendly, so it truly is almost zero work.  Here's the recipe:

Easy French Bread

1 cup warm water
1 tbsp sugar
2.5 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1.5 tsp bread machine or quick rise yeast

Put the ingredients in your bread maker* and select the dough setting.  When complete, roll out the dough into a 15 x 7 inch rectangle, and then tightly roll it jelly roll style, tapering the ends.   Cut slashes about 1/2 an inch deep in the top, and let rise for 30 mins.  Bake in a preheated 375 F oven for  approx 20 mins.  Note: some people brush the top with egg yolk before baking to enhance the golden colour, but I don't bother with this.

*if you don't have a bread maker, you can also make without.  Just proof the yeast in the sugar and warm water, add the flour and salt, and knead dough for approximately 8 mins. (until smooth and elastic, adding additional flour as necessary.). Let rise in the oven with the light on for approximately 1 hr.  Punch dough down, roll out, and bake as directed above.

I don't know where to give credit for this recipe.  It's written on a very well used index card in my recipe box and I have no idea where I originally got it.

For the French toast, I use a recipe from Kraft that is so simple.  The key to the recipe is to make sure the cream cheese is SUPER SOFT before using, and to beat the milk and eggs in very very gradually, or else you will have a chunky egg wash.  It will also seem like you have way too much egg mixture. Dump it all on the soaking bread afterwards.  It will soak it all up and make your toast even more delicious!  Here is a link to the recipe.  This recipe works equally well if you let it sit in your refrigerator for an hour or so as if you let it soak all night.

The french toast turned out great alongside some quiche, fresh fruit and banana bread.

Brunch is quickly becoming my new favorite activity on the weekends.  Gives a chance for my husband and I  to catch up with friends while the kids play.  Can't wait for the next one!
This loaf yielded about 15 slices of bread.....and the french toast recipe more than accomodates that much.

Thursday 4 December 2014

Almond Biscotti

At this time of year it's fun to bake things that I don't normally do all year long.  One of the things my husband sometimes requests at this time of year is biscotti.  When I first tried it a few years ago it intimidated me a little bit because of the various steps involved in baking it, but it's really one of the easiest cookies out there to make.  Plus, for some reason I feel less guilty eating it because I'm satisfied after one with a cup of coffee.  I've made a few different varieties, but this one is a simple favorite that I've made a few times now....

Shockingly, I didn't have a "helper" for this one.  My daughter was making her own playdoh biscotti, instead.  My son sat inside a cupboard and opened and closed the door.  Sure, it was the cupboard with the garbage can and he may have been digging through it a bit.  A lot.  Ok, he ate some leftover lunch he found sitting on top.  But hey, a rare moment of peace while baking :)  And yes, I did remove him from the garbage.  

Here's the recipe:

1/2 cup softened butter or margarine
1 cup + 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
3 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp pure almond extract
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1/3 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup white or dark baking chocolate

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, and beat after each addition until nicely combined.  Beat in extracts.  Combine the baking powder and salt with the flour and gradually stir into butter mixture.  Lastly, stir in the almonds.  The dough will be fairly sticky.  

Shape into two rectangular "logs", measuring about 3 inches by 12 inches.  (Use lightly greased parchment paper).  Sprinkle with the 2 tbsp of sugar.

Bake in a preheated 375 degree for about 20 minutes, until slightly firm to the touch.  Remove from the oven and let cool on the parchment paper on a wire rack for about 15 minutes.  Don't let cool completely, or else they will be very crumbly to cut. 

Cut into 1/2 to 3/4 inch slices, at a slight angle.

Place the slices cut side down on a baking sheet, and cook in a 300 degree oven for about 8 - 10 minutes more.  Flip, and then bake for another 8 to 10 minutes.  Allow to cool on the pan, where they will firm up even more.  

Melt chocolate over simmering water, or in the microwave at short time intervals.  Drizzle with a spoon onto the biscotti, or pipe onto cookies using a piping bag or ziploc bag with a hole cut in the corner.  Allow chocolate to firm up and enjoy!

These freeze well too!

Monday 1 December 2014

Paint and Sip!

A moms group that I am a member of recently organized an outing to Vin Gogh paint and sip studio.  The basic idea is that you get together with a group of friends, drink wine, eat yummy dessert (or appies), and paint.  I have nearly zero artistic talent, but I was assured that even I could succeed at this.

So, a couple weeks ago, myself and some fellow Momstown members gathered for an evening of painting.  And sipping.  It was a Tuesday night so there was minimal sipping, but trust me, this would be such an awesome Friday or Saturday night event!

Everyone was supplied with materials, and you basically just show up, listen, and paint.  There was a stage at the front where the instructor takes you step by step through the process of creating the painting of the evening.  Our painting was really just a series of shapes that you build on to get the end result.  It really was a step by step tutorial, and another instructor walks around and answers any questions that you may have as you go.  They were super helpful, gave lighthearted advice, but never made you feel like your painting technique actually resembles that of a preschooler.  All in all, super fun night.  I will for sure be back!!

Christmas Tree Mini Cake

Pinterest is full of "mini cake" ideas.  Since I've recently started decorating again, I have a big list of projects I want to try.  The good thing about a mini cake is that when you have absolutely zero reason to bake a cake, you feel less guilty about whipping one up.  This was the case this past Friday afternoon when I made a quick 6 inch chocolate layer cake.  Earlier in the week I bought some green candy melts while perusing Target's Christmas aisles, and I found a Pinterest idea that could use both of these items.  Click here to see my inspiration!

The basic idea is to frost a round cake with a basic white frosting, and press some chocolate trees into the side.  I used my favorite swiss meringue buttercream recipe from Martha Stewart, my favorite scratch chocolate cake recipe (below), and simply piped some melted Wilton Candy Melts onto some parchment paper.

Here was the end result:

The finished product!


My favorite chocolate cake recipe is generally made in either an 8x8 or 9x9 square pan.  It also works well for cupcakes (makes about 15), and in this case, a two layer 6 inch cake!  This recipe is awesome because its quick, requires only a whisk and a wooden spoon, and bakes up in less than 1/2 an hour!  It's moist, and the perfect density.  This is adapted from a Taste of Home Recipe, found here.

Chocolate Cake

1.5 cups flour
1 cup sugar
4 Tbsp cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbsp canola oil
1 Tbsp white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup water

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  In a measuring cup, measure water, oil, vinegar and vanilla.  Add to the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon.  Switch to a wire whisk and beat out the majority of the lumps.  Poor the batter into a parchment lined or greased pan (in this case I poured half into each 6 inch round pan).  Bake for approximately 22 minutes (for the 6 inch pans or cupcakes), and between 25 mins to 30 minutes for the square 8 or 9 inch pans.

And NO, this recipe does not require any eggs.   Weird, hey?  First I thought I missed adding them, but no eggs here.....


I filled the cooled chocolate cake, and used a layer of icing to crumb coat this cake (a chocolate cake crumb is pretty unforgiving, especially with this moist cake).  

Crumb coated cake ready to frost and decorate

A great tutorial on properly crumb coating and icing a cake can be found here.

Unfortunately I don't have any pictures of my tree piping, as there was a bit of mayhem happening in the background with my kids at the time.  It's super easy though!  Just melt some candy melts, put into a disposable piping bag (or a ziploc baggy with a hole cut in the corner), and draw little trees of varying sizes on parchment.  They harden up in under 10 minutes.  Carefully peel off of the parchment and stick to your cake with a little bit more melted chocolate, or additional buttercream.  In my case my buttercream was a thick enough layer that I could just press them in.

We went for brunch to a friend's house the next day and I brought my cake as a hostess gift.  So this one didn't hit my garbage can or waist line.  Win win!  I love eating cake but can't stop at just one piece.........

All set to go to as a hostess gift