Rice Krispie Squares are standard fare around here; a good lunchtime snack that's light and easy to carry to work (no worries of smushed icing or a pile of crumbs formerly known as a cookie).
I have a special place in my heart for the straight-up, traditional version of the square, I really do. But peanut butter and chocolate have also laid claim to prime heart real estate and they're always looking to improve whatever they can get their sticky hands on.
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
5 cups miniature marshmallows
5 1/2 cups Rice Krispies
Grease two 8-inch round pans.
In a large saucepan over low heat, melt butter and marshmallows until smooth. Remove from heat and add vanilla and peanut butter; stir to combine. Add Rice Krispies and stir carefully with a wooden spoon until well-mixed. Divide mixture between two greased pans and lightly press down until roughly even. Refrigerate.
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup peanut butter chips
3 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup icing sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons milk
In a microwaveable bowl, melt the chocolate and peanut butter chips and butter on a low power level, stopping to stir every 1-2 minutes. Add the icing sugar and milk and beat until smooth and spreadable. Add additional milk or icing sugar if necessary.
Spread the filling evenly on top of one of the Rice Krispie rounds. Place the other round on top of the filling and press gently. Refrigerate until set.
Source: Adapted from a recipe for Krispie Fudge Sandwiches that appeared on the side of a Rice Krispies cereal box in the late 1980s or early 1990s.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Nanaimo, British Columbia is located on Vancouver Island (not Victoria Island as it is sometimes/often mistakenly called) and is home of the Nanaimo Bar. That's a shocker.
Depending on who you believe, the history of the Nanaimo Bar varies considerably. The City of Nanaimo dates the square back to a Nanaimo housewife who entered a magazine recipe contest about 35 years ago. According to Wikipedia, the recipe was first published in The Vancouver Sun in the 1930s under the unfortunate moniker Chocolate Fridge Cake.
Regardless of the square's true origins, we can all agree that the traditional Nanaimo Bar is a layered, usually no-bake, square with a chocolate and nut crumb base, a light custard or icing and chocolate on top. Today, you can find many variations on the original theme, with different nut options in the base (walnut, almond) and alternative custard/icing flavours (cappuccino, peanut butter, mint).
My version of history dates back to the 1980s, when I, perched at the kitchen table, would watch my Granny whip up her delicious recipe for the square. Once all of the layers had set, my Papa would take out his ruler or tape measure and mark off perfectly equal squares to take the guesswork out of cutting. Finally, each little Nanaimo Bar (or Nana Bar, as we affectionately called them) would be laid to rest - temporarily, mind you - in a round cookie tin lined with wax paper. We never had a Christmas without them.
Pictured here is the family recipe for Nanaimo Bars. There are a few recipes passed on from my Granny – her shortbread and this one, in particular - that I just can't bring myself to distribute widely. I fear thunderbolts from heaven. But, I will give you a few pointers on what I consider to be key traits of a great Nanaimo Bar: a crumb base with walnuts and coconut that is not particularly sweet, a traditional yellow custard/icing, a high base-to-custard/icing ratio, and a thin layer of fairly hard, semi-sweet chocolate.
Armed with this information, I'm sure you'll be well on your way to a great Nanaimo Bar this Christmas.
Labels: Bars and squares
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
When I left home for university, my mom began sending care packages. In addition to letters or cards, mail, newspaper clippings, jars of jam/jelly/jamelly and bags of cookies, she'd often slip in a few chocolate bars. And not just any old O-Henry or Kit Kat from the corner store. No, I believe my mom may have single-handedly created a market for Lindt bars in her little corner of Canada. This tradition has continued (albeit on a somewhat more limited basis) up to and including my recent birthday parcel, which contained the best bar yet and the one I sought to re-create in truffle form.
When The Passionate Cook posted the announcement for Sugar High Friday 25, my mind immediately jumped to the Intense Orange by Lindt, a dark chocolate bar flecked with thin pieces of orange and slivers of almond.
For those who haven't had the pleasure...
Cointreau Chocolate Truffles
1/2 cup whipping cream, scant
1 tablespoon butter
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Cointreau
1 1/2 teaspoons orange peel, finely grated (1-2 oranges)
1/2 cup almonds, toasted and finely chopped
In a small saucepan, bring cream just to a boil over low-medium heat. Reduce heat to low and stir in butter until melted. Remove from heat and add chocolate. Let sit for 1 minute before whisking to combine. Whisk in Cointreau and orange peel.
Let mixture sit in saucepan until it reaches the consistency of peanut butter. Cover a baking sheet with wax paper. Using a pastry bag with a 1/2-inch tip (or a Ziploc bag with the corner removed), create small balls on the wax paper. Refrigerate until relatively firm (half hour).
In the meantime, toast whole almonds in a 375 degree Fahrenheit oven for approximately 8-10 minutes or until fragrant. When you cut the nuts, the inside should be a light, toasty brown. Chop the nuts finely and put them in a small bowl.
Remove truffles from the fridge and dip them in the nuts one by one, simultaneously forming balls and ensuring that the surface is coated in nuts.
Store finished truffles in the fridge.
Yields 20-25 truffles.
Source: The Casual Baker.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
I pride myself on being a do-er. You know the expression about talking the talk, but not walking the walk? Well, I’m short on talk and heavy on walk. I’m walking before talking has even been contemplated.
That’s why it pains me to say that I have spent a good deal of my life thinking about making Rocky Road Bars, but never actually doing it. In fact, the closest I’ve come to Rocky Road is the ice cream. (And I was just looking at a tub of it in the ice cream freezer at Baskin Robbins.)
So today, R. and I put our feet where our thoughts are and knocked a few things off that meaning-to-do list.
Early this afternoon, we headed out to Hintonburg, a mistakenly oft-maligned area of Ottawa just west of Centretown. It’s our new favourite part of town, full of a ton of great food places like the Trillium Bakery, the 3 Tarts Bakery and Thyme & Again, as well as my new favourite bookstore, Collected Works. Because we always seem to be in the neighbourhood on Sunday, we consistently miss out on the same places. Today, being Saturday, we finally hit Wellington Sandwiches for lunch and Artistic Cake Design on the way home for some chocolate-making supplies.
Back at the ranch, I finally tackled those Rocky Road Bars. I get the sense that it’s a classic square, but oddly enough – given that I come from a long line of bakers – there seems to be no family recipe in the vault. As synchronicity would have it, however, the October 2006 issue of Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food magazine contained a recipe sent in by a reader (from Beamsville, Ontario, no less!).
I had the impression that Rocky Road Bars contain graham crackers or crumbs, but this recipe begins with a thin brownie base, which is later stacked with nuts, chocolate chips, marshmallows and – if you’re The Casual Baker – dried cranberries. R. claims that the acidity of the cranberries cuts through the sweetness of the square.
In the words of a few good friends, I support that.
Rocky Road Bars
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup mini marshmallows
2/3 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup chocolate chips
2/3 cup dried cranberries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease an 8-inch square pan.
Place the butter and cocoa in a medium saucepan. Stir constantly over low heat until the butter has melted and the mixture is smooth.
Remove from heat. Add the sugar, flour, vanilla and egg, lightly beaten. Slowly add the milk, stirring to incorporate along the way.
Pour mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. In the meantime, in a small bowl, combine the chopped walnuts, chocolate chips, mini marshmallows and dried cranberries. Toss to mix.
Once the brownie base is cooked, remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle the “rocky road” mixture evenly on top. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 3 minutes until the marshmallows begin to puff up. If you want golden marshmallows, cook briefly (1 minute or less) under the broiler at a reduced heat (375 degrees Fahrenheit).
Remove from the oven and cool in the pan on a wire rack until the square is set. Store at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
Source: Based on a recipe submitted by Nancy Morgan of Beamsville, Ontario, to the October 2006 issue of Everyday Food magazine (p. 24).
Labels: Bars and squares
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Did I really just type that? Seriously?
I'm sorry, but I couldn't resist such a great pun opportunity. (Although, let's face facts: not so sorry that I deleted it.)
A little pressed for time lately, as evidenced by my less frequent and shorter-than-usual posts, I needed something quick, easy and tasty to bring to D's birthday potluck dinner this past Monday evening. After nixing my first few ideas:
...homemade sweet potato chips with tzatziki (Am I really such a glutton for punishment?)
...that marzipan cake recipe I've been meaning to try (Duh, it's a birthday potluck; someone is already bringing a birthday cake)
...cornbread (I wouldn't want to take on I., the cornbread aficionado. At least not today.)
I settled on Thyme Buttermilk Biscuits. A classic Casual Baker standby often enjoyed in our house with soup or chili. They're best fresh from the oven, piping hot, with a little salted butter melted on top, but are entirely edible the next day as well.
Bisquick be gone; few things are quicker to bake from scratch than biscuits.
Thyme Buttermilk Biscuits
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter, cold
1/3-1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a small bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Cut the butter into cubes and, using a pastry blender or fork, mix the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Add buttermilk and blend with a fork, just until combined. I find that I usually use more than 1/3 cup of buttermilk, but less than 1/2 cup. It shouldn't be a struggle to incorporate all of the dry mixture; err on the side of too much buttermilk if anything. Turn the mixture out onto a floured surface and knead lightly 2-3 times.
Using your hands, pat the dough into a square, about 1-inch thick. Cut into 4 squares and place on cookie sheet; alternatively, dip a glass in flour and cut dough into rounds using the glass.
Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden on the bottom.
Yields 4 little biscuits.
Notes: You can use virtually any herb, dried or fresh. When using fresh herbs, be sure to use approximately 3 times the amount to ensure a strong flavour. A personal favourite is fresh chives.
Source: Not a clue.
Labels: Biscuits and scones
Sunday, November 12, 2006
MWF seeks a sweet companion for long winter evenings spent in front of the fireplace (OK, TV) with a cup of hot chocolate or tea. Willing to accept a crusty exterior if you're a marshmallow on the inside.
Chocolate Chip Cookies are a pretty standard baked good, but I (unfortunately) don't have a standard recipe for them. Everytime I get the hankering for chocolate chip cookies, I either go online or flip through my cookbooks and pull out a different recipe to try. Then, I promptly forget whether they were good or bad, and end up repeating the same process the next time around.
This time, I chose the recipe in Sugar, one of the cookbooks I recently received as a birthday gift. The secret ingredient is cornstarch, which apparently is supposed to keep them chewy on the inside. Seemed to work.
That's good enough for me.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces chocolate (I used about 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips; a mix of dark and milk)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease baking sheets.
Make sure your butter is softened before creaming together the butter and sugars until smooth. Add the egg and vanilla and blend.
Stir in flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt.
Stir in chocolate pieces or chips. (My dough ended up being quite stiff.)
Drop by tablespoonful (I used a scoop) onto prepared baking sheets. Because my batter was stiff, I flattened the balls slightly before baking. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden around the edges.
Yields 2 dozen cookies.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
I've had gingerbread on the mind lately: the soft cake-y kind as opposed to the crisp edible man kind (although I'm a fan of both). After arriving home from work well past the hour one should arrive home on a Friday evening, and before running downstairs to rescue our dinner from the pizza delivery man, I squeezed in a short gingerbread baking session. Just me, my KitchenAid and Nigella (Lawson, of course) in the kitchen for a solid half-hour (excluding baking time) of amusement.
The cake turned out beautifully, with a light fluffy texture and rich ginger flavour. And, despite my initial hesitation at icing gingerbread, I must admit that the sharp acidity of the lemon is a nice complement.
Now for the bone to pick. Page 236 of How To Be A Domestic Goddess clearly shows an extremely dark cake frosted with a generous layer of white icing. After looking at my version up, down, sideways and everyway, I have come to the rather sad conclusion that her photo is rigged, my friends. I followed the recipe to a ‘T’ and my cake does not even come close to her rich shade of brown. Maybe we can chalk that inconsistency up to lighting, but there is no escaping the icing issue. Namely that, despite having made a double batch of the icing, there was still barely enough to cover the cake.
Doesn't she realize the feelings of inadequacy that doctored photos can create among aspiring (casual, even) bakers who can never hope to achieve the photographic result from the recipe provided?
On second thought, having tasted the cake, never mind Nigella.
Fresh Gingerbread with Lemon Icing
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon corn syrup
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon molasses
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, finely grated
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda, dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
2 cups flour
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and line a 9"x13" baking pan with parchment paper.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter along with the sugar, syrup, molasses, ginger and cinnamon. Remove from heat.
In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, then add the milk, followed by the baking soda dissolved in water.
Pour the heated mixture from the saucepan into a third bowl. Add part of the egg and milk mixture, followed by some of the flour, and mix. Repeat until all ingredients are used. Mix well. The batter will be very liquid.
Pour the batter in the prepared pan and bake for 50-55 minutes, or until the cake has risen and is relatively firm to the touch. Cool completely before icing.
1 cup plus 4 tablespoons icing sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Measure out the icing sugar into a small bowl. Add the lemon juice and mix well. Add water if necessary to reach the desired consistency, but you want to keep it relatively thick. Note that the above measurements are for a double batch of the icing.
Spread the icing over the cooled cake and leave it to set before cutting.
Note: This gingerbread would also be tasty without the icing and instead topped with spiced apple sauce and whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Source: Nigella Lawson's How To Be A Domestic Goddess.
Labels: Cakes and cupcakes
Thursday, November 02, 2006
In a bygone era when children accepted unwrapped candies from strangers, and before the urban legend (?) of razor blades in apples infiltrated Canadian communities, we ate caramel apples on Hallowe’en. (Or on second thought, maybe that’s the urban legend.)
While I wasn’t about to hand them out at the door, I thought that R. and I, at the very least, could indulge a little.
1/4 pound golden brown sugar
1/4 pound demerara sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup cane syrup or golden corn syrup
1/2 can (7 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 wooden chopsticks, popsicle sticks, or something else that can be used as handles
6 medium Granny Smith apples
Optional toppings: salted peanuts, toasted coconut, melted dark or white chocolate (or both!), sprinkles, you get the picture.
Beside the stove, set up a small to medium-size metal bowl on a heatproof surface. This is where your hot caramel will cool slightly and where you’ll dip your apples.
Combine first 7 ingredients in a medium saucepan. Stir with a wooden spoon over medium-low heat until the sugar completely dissolves (about 10-15 minutes).
Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the sauce pan. Increase heat to medium-high and cook caramel at a rolling boil until the temperature reaches 236 degrees Fahrenheit or “softball” stage (about 10 minutes).
Pour the caramel into the metal bowl without scraping the sides of the saucepan. Rinse and dry the candy thermometer and place it in the bowl of caramel. Leave the caramel to cool until it reaches about 200 degrees Fahrenheit (about 15-20 minutes).
While the caramel cools, line a baking sheet with tinfoil and grease it very well (better than me, for instance). Rinse and thoroughly dry your apples and insert a chopstick into the stem end of each apple. Set up your toppings in bowls or on cookie sheets, whichever you prefer.
Holding the chopstick, dip one apple into the caramel at a time, rotating it through the caramel until all but the top is covered. Lift the apple out and allow the excess to drip back into the bowl, then turn the apple upside down for 5-10 seconds before placing it on the greased tinfoil, chopstick handle up.
Chill until the caramel is partially set (about 15 minutes). Lift each apple from the tinfoil and carefully press the pooled caramel around the apple. At this point, apply toppings as desired, pressing them gently into the caramel. Chill completely. Caramel apples will keep in the fridge for up to one week.
Yields 6 caramel apples.
Source: The Casual Baker.