It’s hard to think of Christmas without having shortbread. When I was growing up, fruitcake (or Christmas cake) and shortbread cookies were some of the staples associated with Christmas baking. Fruitcake has definitely become lost in the shuffle but it seems shortbread still remains. While the traditional shortbread consisted of three main ingredients — flour, sugar and butter, today it is flavored with any number of ingredients.
The first shortbread recipe appeared in a Scottish cookbook dated 1736. Early formulas called for yeast, but by 1850, most were utilizing only flour, sugar and butter combined in a ratio bakers still use today. Originally it started out as a twice-baked medieval bread roll that was dusted in sugar and allowed to harden. For a number of years, Scottish shortbread (biscuits) were classified as a bread by bakers so that they could avoid the tax placed on biscuits.
There are infinite variations on the classic version such as additions of nuts, alcohol, citrus zest, dried fruit, anise spice, floral water, chocolate, lemon curd, caramel or ganache.
Some years ago,I started using a hazelnut liqueur in some of my Christmas baking. It adds a wonderful richness we really enjoy. My favorite is the Frangelico brand. It is distilled in the Piedmont region of northern Italy from an alcohol and water infusion of the nuts. Natural flavoring extracts such as cocoa and vanilla are added before blending with alcohol, sugar and water to meet the bottle strength. It’s origins go back over 300 years to the Christian monks who inhabited that area of Italy. The name Frangelico is derived from one of the monks, Fra. Angelico. The bottle itself, reflects this heritage, which looks like a glass monk complete with a rope belt. A bit pricey but if you are using it only for baking, the bottle lasts a long time.
This recipe was featured in a ‘Canadian Living’ magazine in December 2002. The perfect shortbread for the upcoming season.
In a bowl, beat butter with sugar until light & fluffy followed by the liqueur & vanilla. Stir in cornstarch & salt. Next add flour, 1/3 at a time combining to make a smooth dough. Add nuts, then divide dough in half & chill until firm but not hard, about 30-60 minutes.
Roll out each disk of dough to a 1/4-inch thickness & chill again at least 30 minutes. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut into desired shapes, re-rolling scrapes. Place 1-inch apart on baking sheet; chill until firm, about 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 325 F. bake shortbread cookies for 15-20 minutes or until LIGHT golden. Remove from oven & place on cooking rack. Spread with glaze if desired.
In a small bowl, whisk together powdered sugar, liqueur & 2 Tbsp water (adding more water if needed to make spreadable). Spread over shortbread cookies.
Love it or hate it, pumpkin spice season is well underway. Every year our obsession with the ‘flavor of fall’ continues to grow with weirder, more unique, pumpkin themed products invading the bakeries, grocery stores, coffee shops, you name it—
It all started with the introduction of the famous Starbucks ‘Pumpkin Spice Latte’ in 2003. Strangely enough, as a kid, I wasn’t crazy about pumpkin at all. But that was then, now I’m one of those who loves everything pumpkin.
Some time ago, Brion had picked up a bottle of Pumpkin Cream Liqueur. It has a wonderful taste on its own but of course it only seems fitting that I would want to bake with it.
I believe one of the secrets of having incredible flavors in both savory and baked goods is with the use of alcohol. You can’t help but notice, over the last number of years how the humble little cupcake has been elevated to a whole new level. Many of these specialty cupcake stores that have popped up are featuring alcohol-inspired, adult-friendly options.
Now, today, I’m back to ‘recipe development’ to see what I can come up with.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 12 cup muffin pan with paper cups.
In a small bowl, combine all topping ingredients & set aside.
In a large bowl, combine flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt & spices. With a pastry blender, cut in butter until it resembles coarse crumbs.
In another bowl, whisk together egg, liqueur, milk & pumpkin puree. Stir into flour mixture JUST until moistened. Place a small scoop of batter in each cup. Divide topping. Using half of topping, divide evenly between cupcakes, creating the 'filling' for the cupcakes. Divide remaining batter between cups; top with remaining topping. Bake 15-20 minutes or until they test done. Remove from pan & cool on a wire rack.
Technically, pepitas and pumpkin seeds are the same thing. But pepitas (which mean “little seeds of squash” in Spanish) don’t have a shell and are found in only select pumpkin varieties.
Nectarines & peaches are both members of the stone fruit family and are so close, only one gene is responsible for their difference. This unique gene makes the peach fuzzy and the nectarine smooth. For most part, nectarines are sweeter and juicer — in essence more nectar.
Nectarines originated in China and spread across the continents until they landed in America. They thrive in warmer climates, as a result, many of the nectarines we see in the grocery stores here are unripe, hard and tough. They are often harvested too early and therefore do not develop the aroma they should have. Baking will concentrate their flavor, while lemon, almond and vanilla draw out their more elusive variations.
This dessert idea originated from Sweden. Quite similar to some of the other roasted fruit recipes I have posted except this dessert uses wine in the baking of it. If you don’t care for raspberries, blueberries or blackberries will work just as well.
Baked Nectarines & Raspberries with Almond & Honey
In a small dish, combine wine & honey; stir to dissolve. Halve & stone nectarines, place them flesh-side up in a glass baking dish. Crush amaretti biscuits, add cardamom & mix well; add beaten egg yolk, 2 Tbsp of wine mixture & toasted almonds. Combine & divide mixture between nectarines, spooning into 'pit' holes.
Sprinkle nectarines with brown sugar then top each with a bit of the butter. Pour remaining wine & honey AROUND but NOT over the fruit, add 1 Tbsp water & tuck in the vanilla pod.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake the nectarines for 30 minutes or until fruit is soft & the biscuit filling is crisp & golden. Remove vanilla pod. Carefully stir the raspberries through the pan juices. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving. Meanwhile, whip cream; when ready to serve dessert, top each with a dollop.
Root vegetable desserts aren’t exactly a new concept. Incorporating vegetables such as beets, asparagus, mushrooms and sweet potatoes can lend themselves to new creative dessert ideas if you start thinking ‘out of the box’.
Parsnips, traditionally used in savory dishes, can bring a subtle sweet tenderness to your baked goods. When roasted or sauteed, their sugars caramelize richly and are well complemented by a variety of seasonings such as orange or lemon zest, ginger and cardamom.
As the autumn weather turns cooler, root vegetables like carrots and parsnips convert their starch to sugar. After a few fall frosts, parsnips develop a higher sugar content than those harvested before the freeze.
My original idea was to make a loaf cake with shredded raw parsnips as you do with carrots when making a carrot cake. Knowing how sweet they become when roasted, I decided to do that first. If you have any roasted parsnips leftover from a previous meal they would work just great.
I realize parsnips are not for everyone. It probably seems a bit odd to make them the ‘star’ in dessert but I have to say we both loved this cake. The tart sticky lemon frosting was truly the ‘icing on the cake’.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Peel parsnips & quarter lengthwise; remove core. Chop into medium size pieces & place in a plastic bag. Add a little veg oil & shake to distribute evenly. Line a baking sheet with foil; place parsnips on it & sprinkle with salt & pepper. Bake until soft, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven & allow to cool, then puree in food processor.
Line a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper.
In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder & salt. Using a mixer, beat eggs & sugar together. Add parsnip puree, oil, sour cream, vanilla & spices. Fold in flour mixture, combining gently until well incorporated. Fold in walnuts & chocolate, creating a marble appearance ONLY.
Pour batter into loaf pan & bake for about 40 - 45 minutes or until it tests done. Remove from oven & cool slightly before topping with frosting.
While cake is baking, combine cream cheese, powdered sugar, lemon zest & extract in a small bowl. With hand mixer, beat until smooth. Frosting will be thick & sticky. Top loaf cake while it is still slightly warm. Slice when cool & serve.
I had personalized the spices in this cake but if my combination doesn't appeal to you, simply use 1/2 tsp each nutmeg & cloves with a teaspoon of cinnamon instead.
When purchasing parsnips, look for the small to medium size. Large parsnips are often bitter & have an undesirable woody quality.
You guessed it —- more roasted fruit! It seems to be my addiction this summer. This time its not that I had fruit on hand but instead some mascarpone cheese. Who would dream of letting that go to waste?? Sometimes called Italian Cream Cheese, mascarpone is believed to have originated in the Lombardy region of Italy. Mascarpone is used in both sweet and savory dishes to enhance the flavor without overwhelming the original taste. Lombardy has a rich agricultural and dairy heritage. Farms that produce the cheese provide their cows with special grasses that include fresh herbs and flowers. This in turn gives a unique taste to the milk and a creamy texture to the cheese.
Some years ago, Brion and I visited the Lombardy region of Italy. We have great memories of the wonderful food but probably even more so the beauty of the architecture and history. We spent a bit of time in Milan. While there we visited the world renowned ‘La Scala’ opera house and museum as well as the glass roofed shopping arcade and giant cathedral, the ‘Gothic Duomo’. I’ve included some of our photos from Milan for you to enjoy.
In a skillet, toast almonds until golden, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool.
Preheat oven to 400 F. In a small roasting pan, toss together all prepared fruit, half of the sugar, the brandy & butter. Roast, stirring occasionally, until for tender, about 15-20 minutes.
While fruit is roasting, beat together mascarpone, remaining sugar, vanilla, ginger & cardamom until smooth. In a separate bowl, whip cream; fold into mascarpone mixture along with half of the almonds.
Divide mascarpone mixture into dessert dishes forming a mound in each. Spoon fruit & pan juices over top. Sprinkle with remaining almonds.
You can prepare the fruit & cream ahead. Just keep them in separate dishes; cover & refrigerate for up to 4 hours.
As a rule, when a person thinks of a ‘cobbler’ dessert, it means warm comfort food on a cool winter evening. But summer is here with all its fresh produce. There are dozens of simple variations on cobblers, and they are all based on fruits and berries, whatever is in season. The nice thing is, a cobbler relies more on the taste than fancy pastry preparation.
While they are not as show-stopping as a fresh fruit pizza, these easy desserts are perfect for summer barbecues. You can mix everything up, then pop it in the oven while everyone is eating barbecue outdoors. Dessert will be baked and ready for a big dollop of ice cream by the time everyone is finished eating. Fresh Pineapple Cobbler is the perfect ending to any spring-summer meal. Quick, easy and good!
In an 8 x 8 x 2-inch GLASS baking dish, melt butter, tilting dish to coat bottom. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon & salt. Add milk & extracts folding until smooth batter forms. Pour batter into baking dish over melted butter. DO NOT STIR BATTER INTO BUTTER. Distribute pineapple chunks evenly over the batter & sprinkle with brown sugar.
Bake for about 40-45 minutes in which time the fruit will sink to the bottom of the baking dish & the batter will bubble & bake up to the surface in random spots. When baked, the cobbler will be golden & will spring back slightly when touched in center. Serve warm with a dollop of ice cream!
With doughnuts, its all about the ‘hole’. No hole, no doughnut. That little circle means everything. The idea of frying a piece of dough is ancient. The Romans, Dutch, Spanish and Germans all did it. While we know who introduced the doughnut, the story behind the doughnut hole is a little less clear. The most likely explanation was that at some point, bakers started adding egg yolks to their recipes, which produced a richer dough. Of course, this meant the middle of the doughnut no longer cooked at the same rate as its edges, resulting in doughy, raw centers. They came to the conclusion, that if they removed the thick center, the doughnut would cook evenly throughout. It was also believed that the hole was formed to make it easy to ‘dunk’ the doughnut in coffee. However, as in all food history stories you will find various other versions that are more entertaining and whimsical.
In Canada, doughnut holes that are sold by the Tim Horton franchise, have become known as ‘Tim bits’. The name is a play on the word ‘tidbit’ (a delicate bit of food). They were introduced in April 1976 and are available in at least 20 flavors that differ from store to store.
I’m not big on deep fried things whether they are sweet or savory. These carrot cake doughnut holes are baked — no frying necessary. Dip them in a bit of cream cheese ‘glaze’, sprinkle with remaining chopped walnuts and enjoy!
Carrot Cake Doughnut Holes with Cream Cheese Glaze
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a bowl, finely grate carrots. Sift in flour then add brown sugar, soda & spices. Add egg & oil & beat until mixture is smooth. Fold in half of the chopped walnuts.
Butter & flour a cake pop pan. Divide batter between 14 holes. Secure top pan in place with rubber clamps. Bake for 10-12 minutes, testing with a toothpick at about 8 minutes. When baked, remove from oven & allow to cool before removing top pan.
In a small bowl, with an electric mixer, beat cream cheese, margarine & milk. Gradually add sugar & vanilla beating to a glaze consistency.
Once doughnut holes are removed from pan & thoroughly cooled, dip in glaze, sprinkle with remaining walnuts. Allow to firm up in refrigerator before serving with forks.
Self-Rising Flour is made with 1 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt & enough all-purpose flour to measure 1 cup.
If you are not accustomed to using chutneys it is well worth revisiting the idea. Chutney is similar to salsa or a sweet ‘relish’. The perfect balance of sweet, sour and spicy are critical elements for most chutneys. The sweetness coming from fresh or dried fruits, the sour element from vinegar, lemon or lime and the spiciness from a variety of whole spices.
There is no right or wrong recipe, just a preferred flavor or two. They can be cooked or fresh and are made from a wide variety of ingredient combinations of fruits and/ or vegetables and spices. Ground spices tend to make chutney cloudy so it is best to use whole ones.
In the majority of chutney recipes one ingredient tends to dominate the flavor. The sweet and sour ones work well with beef, pork and chicken, whereas sweeter versions are great on cheese and crackers, bagels and toast.
I have made numerous chutneys over the years. Some were served with warm Brie cheese but very often I’ve used mango chutney when cooking pork. This particular recipe can be made with either purchased chutney or just make a recipe of your own. It creates a unique flavor along with nice tender ribs.
In a saucepan, combine honey & vinegar, Bring to a boil & simmer until honey dissolves. Add remaining ingredients & simmer, uncovered until mixture becomes slightly thickened. Pour into a glass dish & set aside until needed. Refrigerate any remaining chutney that you don't use in making ribs.
Ribs / Sauce
In a saucepan, Brown ribs & set aside on a paper towel-lined plate. Add all 'sauce' ingredients to saucepan except for the 1 fresh mango. Bring to a boil, cooking for about 15 minutes, gently mashing tomatoes with a fork, until sauce is reduced to about 1 1/4 cups.
Preheat oven to 300 F. Place ribs in a baking dish; pour sauce over ribs, cover & bake for about 1-1 1/2 hours until ribs are very tender. Serve with sauce & top with remaining diced fresh mango.
I realize raspberry season in our part of the country is still a number of months away. I still see nothing wrong with using some of those frozen ones from last years crop. If there’s one thing I love, its an easy dessert that is still totally delicious. Combining raspberries and cream cheese is a match made in heaven then add some oatmeal and it becomes amazing.
The cheesecake part of this recipe has been one of my ‘go to’ recipes when it comes to the base for any any number of variations. Since I had some frozen raspberries on hand I though they would give this dessert just what it needs. I have also used different pie fillings and preserves in it or just left it as a plain cheesecake bar — all are good. These bars freeze well so its great when you need a bit of dessert on short notice.
In a saucepan over medium heat, stir together 1 1/2 cups raspberries, sugar & water until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil, stirring often. Reduce heat & add vanilla. In a small dish, combine cornstarch & 2 Tbsp water; mix well. Add to boiling mixture, stirring over medium-low heat for about 4 minutes or until mixture has thickened. Remove from heat & allow to cool for 15 minutes, then fold in the last of the raspberries. Set aside.
In a bowl, combine flour & brown sugar; cut in butter until crumbly. Stir in oatmeal. Reserving 1 1/2 cups; press remainder onto bottom of a 15 x 10-inch jelly roll pan.
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese & sugar until fluffy. Add eggs; beat well. Add milk & vanilla then lemon juice & beat well.
Pour cream cheese mixture over crust evenly. Next, carefully pour raspberry filling over cheesecake evenly. Sprinkle top evenly with reserved crumb mixture. Bake 25 minutes or until tests down. Cool thoroughly & cut into bars or diamond shapes.
This recipe will divide easily into thirds for a smaller batch.
If you prefer the raspberries sweeter, add another 1/4 cup sugar.
Not a pie at all, traditional whoopie pies are two thin chocolate cakes sandwiched around a white frosting. The origin of the whoopie pie is somewhat controversial. Some people say they were invented in Medieval Germany and brought to the USA by immigrants. Women would bake cakes and use leftover batter and icing to make these special treats. The little cake sandwiches were placed in children’s lunch boxes, where upon discovering them, cries of ‘whoopie’ were shouted. From the basic chocolate and vanilla formula of the past, a whole host of varieties have since taken the stage.
I love the pastel shades of Spring and try to incorporate them into anything I can. When I was shopping the other day, I happened to see some little colorful French Macaron cookies in a bakery window. As great as they look, I personally have never cared for the ‘meringue’ type cookie. Nevertheless, it gave me some inspiration for some ‘spring’ whoopie pies. Adding a few new flavors to the chocolate and vanilla batters along with some flavored Mascarpone fillings takes whoopie pies (cookies) to a whole new level.
Preheat oven 350 F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter, sugar & vanilla until light & fluffy. Beat in egg. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda & salt. Add flour mixture to butter mixture alternately with buttermilk.
In separate small bowls, divide vanilla batter into 4 equal portions. Leave one plain, to the second dish add pistachio nuts & a tiny bit of green food color gel. To the third dish add 2-3 Tbsp Chambord liqueur & red food coloring. To the fourth add lemon zest & yellow food color.
FOR CHOCOLATE BATTER: Follow directions in the first paragraph, adding cocoa along with flour mixture. Using a small scoop or heaped tablespoon, spoon mixtures onto baking sheet. Allow room for spreading. Bake for 10-12 minutes. DO NOT OVER BAKE. Remove from oven & transfer to wire rack.
While whoopies are baking prepare Mascarpone fillings. For every 60 grams of Mascarpone use 2-3 Tbsp of one of the preserve flavors.
When the whoopies are cold, match each with whoopie half with its closest partner size. Spread with a knife or use a piping bag to cover the flat side of one whoopie half of each pair generously with filling. Top each with its matching half, flat side down & gently press together.
Another flavor you might enjoy is lemon curd which can be purchased in the preserve section of the grocery store.
For chocolate filling, add a little cocoa powder & powdered sugar to some Mascarpone.
For some of the vanilla whoopies, I made a Rosewater flavored filling with 1 tsp margarine, 60 gm Mascarpone, 3 Tbsp powdered sugar & 3/4 tsp rosewater.