Years and years ago, the Canada Cornstarch company printed a four-ingredient recipe for shortbread on the side of a cornstarch box and the rest is history.
Here in Canada, shortbread is in our DNA. This beloved cookie is simplicity personified. If the holidays had their own taste, I’m pretty sure it would be a shortbread cookie.
Over 40 years ago a Canadian company, by the name of Mary Macleod’s Shortbread was opened in Toronto, Canada. Mary, a homemaker and fantastic baker who took her love of this cookie and created Canada’s first shortbread-only bakery.
Her shop was an instant hit when she first opened its doors – she’d bake until midnight, and her goods would be sold out by noon the next day. Mary’s business grew and expanded, and her loyal customers followed her everywhere, but, to this day, the company crafts small-batch, all-butter shortbreads, the best butter being the key.
Mary Macleod’s Shortbread became synonymous with the Christmas season. Many people have made shortbread part of their holiday and family traditions.
Shortbread is undoubtedly one of the best cookies, but it’s without question that it all comes down to the butter. A good shortbread cookie can be transformed into the stuff of dreams by placing freshly baked shortbread into a tin, store it in the back of your pantry, somewhere cool, and forget it for a few months. You’ll be amazed at the flavor when it comes time to eat it.
So here we are … the famous Canada cornstarch shortbread cookies!
Shortbread Christmas Trees
In a bowl, sift together cornstarch, powdered sugar & flour. Blend in butter & flavoring with a spoon, mixing until a soft, smooth dough forms. If dough is too soft to handle, cover & chill about 1 hour.
Between 2 sheets of parchment paper, roll dough out into a rectangle about 12" x 7" & 1/2-inch thickness. Make 7 strips on the longest side & 6 strips on the short side. Transfer to ungreased baking sheets spacing 1 1/2-inches apart. Place baking sheets in refrigerator & chill 30 minutes. Halfway through preheat oven to 300 F.
Bake for about 20 minutes or until edges are just barely browned.
When shortbread is cooled, decorate with icing & sprinkles to create Christmas tree design.
- The almond flavor is optional but I think it adds a nice touch.
Today, March 28th, our family honors the birth date of my mother. Over 40 years has gone by since her passing and she still is a never ending song in my heart …. sometimes I may forget the words but I always remember the tune. As children we think we are invincible, that nothing can harm us. Innocence is bliss and makes our childhood carefree and happy as it should be. Little do we know of the worry we cause our mothers as soon as we step out of the door.
I grew up in a time when we would sit down to supper with the entire family and relate our adventures of the day. So much has changed since then and I feel so fortunate to have experienced a time when life was much gentler.
As I’ve mentioned many times on the blog, my mother was an amazing ‘baker’. Although, my siblings & I just took her cooking and baking skills for granted then, I realize now just how amazing they were. If she ever had any ‘failures’, I sure can’t remember them. Yeast goods were her forte. She baked bread every week and there was always something special with one little piece of that dough such as a pan of cinnamon rolls etc.
I recall some raised potato doughnuts that my Dad called ‘spudnuts’. Potato bread or doughnuts are supposedly a creative way to use up leftover mashed potatoes. The truth of the matter is, it is the secret ingredient to incredible tasting, light & airy potato bread.
Spudnut Shops were North American, 1950’s franchised stores selling doughnuts made with potato flour called Spudnuts. The original recipe is based on a folk recipe that traces back to Germany. I’m presuming Germany calls them ‘fastnacht‘.
To make a long story short, when my mother made these potato doughnuts, they were to die for! So here’s my version of the taste of a memory.
BEAUTIFUL MEMORIES OF OUR DEAR MOTHER!
Raised Potato Doughnuts w/ Blackberry Glaze
In a small bowl, combine lukewarm milk, & 2 Tbsp of the sugar; stir until sugar is dissolved. Add in the yeast & allow to sit until frothy.
In a large bowl, combine mashed potatoes, eggs, salt & butter. When yeast mixture is proofed, add to potato mixture, combining well.
In another bowl, whisk together flour & remaining sugar. Combine with wet mixture until dough forms a ball. Knead on a work surface for about 10 minutes then place in a greased bowl.
Cover with plastic wrap & a towel. Allow to rise in a draft-free place for about 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size. Lightly butter a 12-hole doughnut pan; set aside.
Punch down the dough & cut into 12 evenly sized pieces. Roll each piece into a strip long enough to fit around each doughnut hole mold. Lay them in the molds & pinch the ends together so the dough rounds are more or less even.
Cover the tray with plastic wrap & a towel & allow to rise for about 30 minutes.
Bake doughnuts for about 20-25 minutes. The bottom should only be slightly browned while the top is still pale as they will be a bit chewier then.
While doughnuts are baking, place blackberries in a food processor & puree ; strain. Place in a small bowl & add lemon juice, vanilla & sifted powdered sugar. Combine until fully incorporated & no lumps remain.
When baked doughnuts a still slightly warm, drizzle glaze over them & allow glazed doughnuts to set about 20 minutes before serving.
- I wanted to give my little doughnuts a bit of a fancier look today so I baked them in mini Bundt pans. Same great flavor wearing a new look!
Scones are the quintessential, must be baked at home and eaten immediately foodstuff. Good scones are all about lightness and texture …. crumbly but a little moist, slightly dense but not grainy, flaky but not powdery.
The secret to a good moist scone that is also light, is in the proportion of rising agent to flour. Use too much leaving and your scone will definitely rise but be overpowered by baking powder chemicals. It is also important to keep the mixing to an absolute minimum or the gluten in the flour gets overworked, which makes the dough elastic and consequently the baked scones hard.
Many recipes call for self-rising flour as a staple ingredient. Often times, we find ourselves passing these recipes by because we don’t have it on hand, or because we don’t use it enough to actually want to buy it. Luckily, self-rising flour is easy to make at home. It requires only three ingredients and can be used in both recipes that call for it as an ingredient, and as a substitute for regular flour in quick-rise recipes to cut down on separate leavening agents.
The glaze is definitely the ‘icing on the cake’ when it comes to these scones. Chambord Liqueur is created using all natural ingredients. Black and red raspberries are blended before being steeped in Cognac to achieve a highly concentrated base. The mixture is then extracted and a second infusion captures the remaining flavors from the berries. The final step marries the berry infusion with Cognac and extracts of Madagascan vanilla, Moroccan citrus peel, honey and hints of fragrant herbs.
The total combination of scone and glaze is absolutely awesome!
Mango Scones w/ Chambord Glaze
Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, cardamom & lemon zest. With fingertips, cut in grated butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk, egg & vanilla; add to flour mixture. Fold in JUST until incorporated then carefully fold in mangos.
Place dough on parchment paper lined baking sheet. With lightly floured hands, pat dough into an 8-inch circle. Score into 8 or 12 wedges.
Bake 20 minutes or until golden & test done. Cover lightly with foil if over browning before finished baking. Remove from oven to a cooling rack. cool slightly before glazing.
In a small dish, combine glaze ingredients & drizzle over cooled scones. Decorate with raspberries & mango if desired.
Self-rising flour contains baking powder in a proportion that is perfect for most sponge cakes, cupcakes and scones. Some recipes may ask for a little additional baking powder to be added, particularly if the cake is made with an all-in-one method as omitting the creaming stage in the cake making means less air is incorporated into the batter during the mixing stage. Other times a small amount of baking soda is added if the ingredients include cocoa powder, yogurt or buttermilk.
- For 1 cup of self-rising flour use: 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder & 1/4 tsp salt. Multiply the amount as needed to create a larger amount.
Although we may change the way we celebrate Easter this year, we can still enjoy some great food. One of the special things about any holiday is the brunch that seems to come with it and Easter is no different. The word itself sounds like coziness.
The practice of creating special breads to celebrate holidays, harvests, religious rites and other occasions worldwide, dates back thousands of years. In some cases, breads aren’t symbolic as much as traditional, baked as a reminder of family, togetherness and celebration. They often contain warm spices like cinnamon or cardamom. Some have a touch of liqueur added to them while others are created in special shapes or have little surprises baked in them.
Cardamom may not get the acclaim of cinnamon, nor does it pop up in recipes as often as ginger, but its flavor pairing capabilities are extensive. This is a flavor that you may love or hate, but for me it is very addictive. Warm, subtly spicy, exotically aromatic, a flavor that transforms both sweet and savory recipes into heavenly dishes.
With some simple snipping and shaping, this cardamom sweet dough turns into adorable bunnies for Easter brunch. Edible table décor!
Cardamom Lime Easter 'Bunnies'
In a small bowl, whisk together yeast , 1 tsp sugar & lukewarm milk. Set aside until yeast mixture begins to form a frothy foam, about 5 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, remaining sugar & salt. Add yeast mixture, melted butter & egg. Knead until dough comes together in a ball & no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. Transfer dough to a greased bowl & cover with a tea towel. Set aside in a draft free place until dough doubles in size, about an 1 hour.
In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, lime zest, cardamom & butter. Mix well. Set aside.
In a small bowl, beat together cream cheese, butter & lime juice. Add powdered sugar & mix until glaze consistency. Set aside until buns are baked.
Assemble & Bake
Turn dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide in half; roll each half into a rectangle about 12x10-inches. Sprinkle filling evenly over one of the rectangles. Place the second sheet of pastry on top. Lay a piece of plastic wrap over the pastry & lightly roll with a rolling pin.
With a pizza cutter cut 14 strips. You will use 12 of the strips for 'bunnies' & 2 strips for their tails. To form bunnies, overlap one end of strip over the other to form a loop; bring the end that's underneath up over the top end, letting one end extend on each side to make ears.
Place the shaped 'bunnies' on a parchment lined baking sheet, leaving about 2-3-inches between them as they will expand a bit. Cut each of the remaining strips into 6 equal pieces. Roll each into a ball & place it in the loop to form the tail. Loosely cover the 'bunnies' & let them rise for about 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Brush bunnies with egg wash & bake for about 15 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven & allow to cool slightly on a cooling rack.
While still slightly warm, brush bunnies with glaze. Sprinkle with lime zest & top tails with whites candies.
- If you prefer your bunnies to be a bit more plump, instead of making 12, just make 8 or 10.
Baking Christmas cookies is a customary activity of the season around the world. The tradition itself, can be sourced all the way back to the monasteries of the Middle Ages, when monks baked different sweets and breads in observance of this anticipated religious season.
Germany being a religious country, often the baking begins at the start of Advent (November 29th/20), or around the time of St. Nickolas Day and continues in preparation for Christmas. Many families still observe recipe traditions that go back several generations.
Germany’s ‘Weihnachtsplatzchen‘ is actually an umbrella term referring to authentic German Christmas biscuits more broadly and it encapsulates a number of festive treats. An all time favorite, the ‘melt-in-your-mouth’ cookie being one of them.
Twelve years ago (2008), Oreo cookies were all but unknown to Germany. The beloved black (or deep brown) and white, twistable sandwich cookies have been a staple in North American pantries for a century, but now have made inroads in Europe.
These German Oreo (melt-in-your-mouth) Shortbread cookies are a unique spin on the classic version.
German Oreo Shortbread Cookies
In a bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, Oreo crumbs (or cookies) & cardamom. Set aside.
In a large bowl, cream butter with powdered sugar; add vanilla & mix well. Add Oreo/flour mixture; mix only enough to blend. DO NOT overmix.
Between two sheets of parchment paper, roll dough into a 12-inch circle. Crimp edges by pressing edge of pastry with finger & then pinching together.
Using a 3-inch round cookie cutter, cut a circle in the center of dough. Cut round into 12-14 wedges, from circle to outer edges. Prick shortbread in a pattern with a fork. Slide a cookie sheet under the parchment that the cookie round is on & refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Remove from refrigerator & decorate if you wish. Bake for about 18-22 minutes. When baked, recut wedges if necessary & cool on a wire rack before storing in an airtight container.
Nothing says spring more than the zesty, fresh flavor of lemons. Just to kick it up a notch, I decided to make some limoncello desserts.
Limoncello, (pronounced lee-mon-CHAY-low) the Italian lemon liqueur, is known for its refreshing sweet and tangy flavor. It is made from lemon rinds, alcohol and sugar. Although, traditionally served as an after dinner drink, it is a wonderful ingredient to use in cooking and baking.
Limoncello origins are disputed. Some say it was created by monks or nuns while others credit the wealthy Amalfi Coast families or even local townsfolk. In any case, its roots are in Southern Italy, primarily along Italy’s Amalfi Coast and the Sorrentine Peninsula known for their meticulous lemon cultivation. These lemons are considered the finest lemons for making limoncello. Prized for their yellow rinds, intense fragrance, juicy flesh and balanced acid.
Some years ago, while travelling in Italy, Brion & I tasted athentic limoncello in the town of Sorrento. As we walked through the quaint artisan shops packed together onto a maze of medieval alleys, we came accross one that sold liqueurs & confectionery. One of the treats that they made were limoncello sugar coated almonds … to die for!
Today’s little cakes use limoncello not only in the cake but the frosting and glaze as well. Definitely gives them some spring zing!
Limoncello Mini Cakes
Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly butter & flour 4 mini bundt pans.
In a small bowl, cream butter & sugar; add egg & mix well. Fold in the flour then add milk & limoncello; beat well. Spoon mixture into the bundt pans & bake for 18 minutes or until they test done. Allow to cool.
Cream Cheese Frosting
In a small bowl, beat together butter, cream cheese & limoncello (if using). Add powdered sugar & mix until smooth.
In a small saucepan, whisk together sugar, lemon zest & egg. Cook until sugar dissolves & the mixture turns light in color, about 2 minutes. Stir in limoncello & cook for about 5 minutes or until mixture thinly coats the back of a spoon, stirring constantly with a whisk. Remove from heat & whisk in butter. Cover with plastic wrap & cool before using.
Place cakes on a serving plate. Fill the center indentation from the bundt pan with glaze as well as glazing the tops. Place frosting in a piping bag with a tip that has a small hole. Pipe frosting to look like lemon slices.
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.
Hazelnut Liqueur Shortbread Cookies
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.