Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Canada's Favo(u)rite

I am shamefully late in posting this.  Sorry.  Life got in the way.

Since we’re in the second year of this here blog, I thought I would try something new. So, I am going to do a new series:  Around the World in Desserts!  Every month (sometimes more), I will bring you a recipe for a dessert from another country.  I am really excited about this. I have always been fascinated by the foods of other cultures, and especially the desserts (big surprise, right?).

This month, we go to Canada!  Ever since the last Winter Olympics, I have been seeing recipes for Nanaimo bars on the blogosphere.  They looked really really good, but I never made them.  Since I’ve been thinking about them for so long, I figured they were a good candidate for the first of the new series.

Nanaimo  bars originate out of Ladysmith, Vancouver Island, south of the city of Nanaimo.  A local housewife submitted the recipe for the bars in the early 1950s to a regional cookbook.  As with many popular desserts, they soon became very popular with locals and tourists, and the bars soon became known as “Nanaimo bars”. 

A Nanaimo bar consisted of three layers, none of which are baked (it’s not cheating when it’s this good).  The base is a chocolate, graham cracker, coconut and almond cookie layer.  The middle is a vanilla custard buttercream filling, and the top is chocolate.  These were so tasty.  Amazing, in fact.  Even coming from me, and my general dislike of buttercream.  And, they are pretty easy to make!  They just require a little time, as each layer has to set in the fridge before adding the next layer. 

One ingredient that is called for is not all that common in the US – custard powder.  I read a lot of blogs that said that they couldn’t find custard powder locally, so they substituted vanilla pudding mix instead.  I must be lucky, because I found custard powder in the small local grocery store near my house.  Actually, I wouldn’t have even looked at that store, but I discovered I had the wrong flavor pudding mix, so I had to go to the store anyway.  Lucky accident I guess. 

I have heard that these bars freeze nicely.  I would have tried that out, but I didn’t get the chance.  Every one of them was eaten by someone, and all but one person (who has a crazy aversion to coconut) loved them. 

Nanaimo Bars
Source: That Winsome Girl (who got the recipe from someone else)
Makes 16 bars

Bottom Layer

½ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup sugar
5 Tbsp cocoa
1 egg, beaten
1 ¼ cups graham cracker crumbs (that was 11 graham cracker sheets for me)
½ cup blanched almonds
1 cup coconut

Melt first 3 ingredients in top of double boiler. Add eggs and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts (works well if you grind up the graham crackers, and then add the coconut and nuts to the food processor and grind them all together to make an even mixture). Press firmly into a parchment-lined 8” x 8” pan. Refrigerate while making second layer.

Second Layer

½ cup unsalted butter
2 Tbsp and 2 tsp cream
2 Tbsp vanilla custard powder (or vanilla pudding mix)
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and powdered sugar together well.  Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer. Refrigerate while making third layer.

Third Layer

4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (chips are fine, or a bar that has been chopped up)
2 Tbsp unsalted butter *
*I ended up using 3 Tbsp butter.  I started with 2, but the chocolate was not melting to a nice pourable consistency.  I added the other tablespoon of butter and all was good.

Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, but still liquid, pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator. Slice with a warm knife when ready to serve.

A note about slicing: To get nice clean cuts, that make a minimum amount of chocolate smears on the cream layer, run the knife under hot water, wipe it dry, and do one slice. JUST ONE! Wipe the knife off, and repeat the whole process.  Yes, it’s kind of nit-picky, but it makes for clean cuts.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Cookies for (slight unhinged) Champions

Hi there!
So, after the race last Sunday, I spent a few days visiting April in Vegas, which is why I didn’t put this recipe up sooner. 
Since running 13.1 miles means that I would pretty much eat anything in sight afterward, I made some cookies, which I brought with me to our hotel.  I wanted something fun and different, and since April and I are both slightly unhinged, these cookies could be weird (not in taste, but in appearance).
I found this recipe on Culinary Concoctions by Peabody.  I completely, 100% adore her blog.  Everything is so fun and different, and everything that I have made from her blog has been amazing.  Please check out her blog if you get a chance.  You won’t be sorry!  Anyway, as soon as I saw these, and how fun and pretty they were, I knew I had to make them for Disneyland.   Bonus points for the recipe because the dough can be made in advance. 
I did have some trouble with this one.  First off, I’m relatively certain that my dough was too soft.  Maybe I over processed it.   But, I chilled it for a few hours, thinking it would be okay.  Second, I had trouble with the spiraling part.  You’ll notice that my cookies do not look like pretty spirals.  When I tried to roll it, even though the dough was cold but pliable, it wouldn’t curl nicely.  It just sort of folded.   It was late on the night that I was making the dough, and I was really tired, so this was really frustrating.  But, I was too tired to mess with it further, so I just sort let it fold in on itself, and then made a half-hearted attempt at shaping it into a round log with my hands.  If my hands hadn’t been covered in hot pink cookie dough, I would have taken pictures.  Trust me when I say it was a mess.  But, I semi-prevailed.  I rolled the log in sprinkles, wrapped it up in wax paper, and stuck it in the fridge.  They seemed to bake up just fine in the end, so I guess its all okay. And they tasted great!
About the eyes.  I mentioned that April and I are both slightly unhinged.  While perusing the grocery store baking section, I came across this little package of candy eyeballs.  I think they are hilarious, so I bought a pack to use on the cookies.  Here’s the thing I learned: don’t put them on the cookies until the last few minutes of baking, or they will melt into the cookies.  For the first batch, I stuck them on in the beginning.  For the second batch, they went on when there were about 6 minutes left of the baking, and they still melted more than I would have liked.  Lesson learned.  But, they still look kind of crazy, and funny, so I accept my results. 
You can make these cookies whatever color combo you would like.  Peabody made hers purple.  I made mine pink.  You choose. 

Vanilla Cake Batter Swirl Cookies
Makes about 30 cookies

1 ½ cups cake flour
2/3 cup cake batter (I used funfetti)
½ tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
10 ounces unsalted butter
2/3 cup powdered sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp cake flour
2 tbsp food coloring (you choose)
1 ½ cups sprinkles

Combine flour, cake batter, baking powder, salt and sugars in a food processor and process briefly to mix. Add the butter in pieces; process with on/off bursts until the mixture has the consistency of cornmeal.  Add the vanilla and process until the mixture just forms a ball. (fp note: mine didn’t really form a ball.  Perhaps my butter was too soft when it went it.  I don’t really know.)

Divide the dough into 2 equal parts and then return one of the portions to the food processor. Add the food coloring and the extra tbsp of flour to the processor and process until just incorporated.

Roll out each portion of dough between sheets of waxed paper. You want a rectangle about 11 x 8 1/2 inches.  Leave the dough between the sheets of waxed paper and slide onto a baking sheet. Refrigerate until firm, for at least 2 hours.

Remove dough pieces from refrigerator. Pour the sprinkles into a shallow rectangular dish.

Peel off the top sheet of waxed paper from both dough’s. Brush the vanilla dough very lightly with water. Using the waxed paper, lift the colored dough and flip it onto the vanilla dough so they are stacked. Press with your fingertips to seal the two doughs together. Remove the top sheet of waxed paper and trim the edges even.

When the dough is just pliable (but still cold), roll up the dough like a jelly roll. As you begin to roll, gently curl the edge with your fingertips so you don’t get any air pockets as you roll into a log. As you roll, the vanilla portion may want to tear (or totally break, like mine did), pinch it together as this happens and keep rolling.

After forming the dough into a log, throw away the waxed paper. Gently lift the log on top of the sprinkles and roll until the log is completely coated. Wrap the log in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm enough to slice (about 4 hours, or overnight, or whatever). (fp note: I learned a nifty trick for keeping cookie logs from getting a flat spot while in the fridge – take a paper towel tube, and slice it down one side. Cuff this onto the cookie log, and your cookies will stay round!)

Heat oven to 325 degrees. To bake, slice the log in ¼ inch thick cookies and bake on parchment lined baking sheets for 15-17 minutes, until cookies are no longer shiny on top and the vanilla portion is golden.

Monday, September 5, 2011

I've got news!

This post isn't about baking.  It's not even about food.  There is no recipe here.  I know that this is a baking blog, but I am asking you to indulge me for a minute.

Yesterday, I completed a half marathon.  13.1 miles.  That's a lot.  In a moment of craziness, my bff of 20 years, April, convinced me to train for this thing.  I trained for months, and the race was yesterday.  I use the term "race" very liberally.  I had no intention of actually competing.  I just wanted to finish.  And I did!! I have to say, crossing that finish line might have been one of the proudest moments of my life.  I think I did some sort of laugh/cry/gasp for air thing.  I really hope no one caught that on camera.

But, as proof, I will give you one picture of April and I, post-race.  I promise you a cookie recipe in a little while, but first, I'm taking a little vacation.