Saturday, 14 December 2013

New Baking Ingredients! Happy dayz for me!

Look what the Santa-fairy brought me this week!

While I've used the disposable piping bags and the vanilla bean paste before, I've never had quite so much at one time until now. Im really looking forward to getting into those fruit pastes and seeing what awesome things I can make with them! They're no Boiron (a very high quality fresh fruit paste company), but I'm excited to take them for a test spin. 

Watch this space for awesome baked goodness from these products!

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

2013 Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap - My Matches!

I had some DELICIOUS cookies from my three matches; so much so that I had to make a separate post about how awesome they were! I even took some beautiful pictures of my three packages and their contents, so that I could share their goodness with everyone (as well as the bloggers doing that themselves!)

First up: some delicious Lavender Shortbread from food blogger Food Mamma: her cookies were that gorgeous pale beige colour that denotes a perfectly-baked shortbread cookie.

The packaging itself was adorably hilarious; these cookies were so small, they fit into a business card box(!), which was then covered in brown paper and shipped off. In fact, the package was so tiny, if it weren't for the "2013 Food Blogger" stamp on the address label, I wouldn't have been sure if they were cookies!  I'm happy to report that they arrived in near-perfect condition, as you can see from the picture!

Second up: some of the most delicious Chai Shortbread Rounds I've ever eaten in my life, from food and lifestyle blogger Baking, Butter, and Happiness. The tea was actually *in* the shortbread itself, but ground so finely that there was little discernable grittiness, and definitely no overt tannin bitterness that comes from a strong black tea.

They were the smallest cookies I had received, each being the size of a twonie (that's a Canadian two dollar coin for all you non-Canuck readers!), but the packaging was sufficient to keep them from being destroyed in transit (thank goodness!)

Last, but by no means least, were a vibrant and rich Triple Ginger Cookie from food blogger Noms For The Poor (what a GREAT name!) These soft and chewy cookies packed quite a punch, with their triple-threat ingredients of crystallized ginger, ground ginger, and grated fresh ginger!

They came packed in a little metal cookie tin, and were in perfect condition when they arrived at my door.  Good thing too, as they were G-O-N-E within a very few hours at my office, and so many colleagues came up to me to tell me how awesome tasting they were! I'll practically guarantee you can scare away ANY sore throat after eating one of these cookies.

All in all, I was so pleased with my haul at this year's Food Blogger Cookie Swap; I'll be sure to participate next year, it too early to start researching the Next Great Cookie Recipe now?

Many thanks to all who participated this year, and Cheers from The Birdhouse!

The 2013 Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap!

Whew! It's finally time to unveil my cookies for the 2013 Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap!

One of my recipients self-identified as gluten-free, so I needed to find a recipe was either already gluten-free, or could be altered to accommodate this allergy. Happily, cookies are quite forgiving when using alternate baking flours, and there are some pretty good commercial GF flours on the market now, so it is no longer strictly necessary to spend an entire paycheque on buying various bags of GF flours and playing mix-and-match.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, not at all!  In fact, I'll be doing some more research on making my own GF flour for any future commissions.

However, I felt it was important that this cookie recipe be as accessible as possible for anyone who wanted to recreate it, and so I went with a well-trusted GF flour that seems to be available in at least the large grocery stores and health food stores in the mid-to-major cities across North America.

I looked through a LOT of cookie recipes, both mine and others', to research ideas and techniques for an awesome cookie that would fit the bill. In fact, I developed a couple of different recipes before I decided that the recipe below was my favourite. I've made changes so it can be either GF or not, depending on your preference/needs; just sub out the gluten free flour 1:1 with all-purpose flour.

Gluten Free White Chocolate Cranberry Macadamia Cookies

Yield: about 36 small cookie, 24 medium cookies

Prep Time: 15 minutes | Bake Time: 8 minutes

Note: all ingredients are presumed to be at room temperature
  • 1¼ cups gluten free flour (I used Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Flour)
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • ¾ cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract (Tahitian vanilla is best if you have it)
  • ½ cup white chocolate chips
  • ½ cup dried cranberries, chopped
  • ½ cup macadamia nuts, finely chopped

Assemble your ingredients mise en place style.
Prepare two baking pans with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
In a medium sized bowl, whisk GF flour, baking soda, and salt. 

With mixer at medium speed, beat butter and both sugars until light and fluffy.
Beat in egg and vanilla until well combined. 

 Reduce speed to low and stir in flour mixture until just combined. 
 With a wooden spoon, stir in white chocolate baking chips, cranberries and macadamia nuts. 
Chill dough in fridge, covered, for a minimum of 20 minutes. 
At this time, start the preheat of your oven to 375˚F.
Scoop teaspoon-sized quantities of chilled dough and gently roll into balls; place on prepared baking pans about 2” apart. Lightly press each dough ball down with the smooth, flat bottom of a clean glass that has been dipped in white sugar.

 Bake until golden around edges, 10 to 12 minutes, rotating the pans and switching them between the upper and lower oven racks halfway through baking. 
Remove and let cool on pans for a few minutes before transferring cookies to wire racks to cool completely; store tightly covered. Keeps for 5-7 days.

These cookies tend to taste better the next day after baking. Like they'll last that long!

Good luck, and please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns about this recipe, or any cool tips for gluten free baking!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year! A month of Christmas baking posts!

I've been holding off on listening to Christmas music, talking about the holidays at any length, or buying anything even close to a present, and I've refrained from searching out those pesky boxes and bins in the storage room that contain decorations, festive wrapping paper, and whatnot.  Even though the frenzied Christmas retail festivities seem to start earlier every year, I decided I would hold off until the actual month of December to start whipping myself up into the holiday spirit, so I could really enjoy it this year!

2012 kind of blew chunks for me in the "holiday spirit" department; not having a steady income at the end of the year, and various health and life concerns occurring to various friends and family members (including myself) tended to dampen what little happyfuntimes I had.  However, this year I am determined to be cheerful and jolly and kind and generous and civil, and most especially, to Get Mah Bake On when it comes to seasonal holiday recipes!

To that end, I have compiled a sort of wishlist of "Christmassy" baking recipes I would like to make, photograph, blog about, and then give the baked product away (so that the Hubster and I don't end up with diabetes or cholesterol-induced heart failure by January 1). This is a living document, as the saying goes, so it may change substantially as I encounter new, awesome recipes; I also make no promises that what is on this list below will actually be made, but I do promise to try my best among all of my other work, family, and social obligations to make as many of these as possible. If fortunate, I may be able to bake off more than one recipe at a time, if there are similar ones or I have a baking order that involves one of the goods below, which means I may be able to blog about multiple recipes in one post.

Please have a look at my draft list below, and reply in the comments re any particular recipe you really want me to attempt. Maybe it's your favourite cookie/candy/cake/dessert ever, or maybe you've never made it yourself and want to know how it's done. As always, leaving me comments on my posts makes me super-happy, and I'm sure that there are angels who will earn their wings if you reply...

...though I'm not completely certain about that last part...

And of course, each post will have the recipe included along with the pictures.
What can I say?  I'm a giver.

Chocolate Toffee (candy)

Christmas Fudge (candy)

Christmas Haystacks (cookie)

Cranberry Fudge (candy)

Cranberry Nut Tartlets (pastry)

Double Chocolate Peppermint Cookies (cookie)

Eggnog Cheesecake (custard/cake)

Eggnog Truffles (candy)

Festive Creme Brulee (custard)

Gingerbread Cookies/House (cookie)

Ho Ho Snowballs (cookie)

Holiday Sticky Buns (bread)

Nut Brittle (candy)

Orange-Chocolate Bread Pudding (bread)

Peppermint Patties (candy)

Raspberry White Chocolate Cheesecake (custard/cake)

Santa's Whiskers (cookie)

Scottish Butter Tablet (candy)

Spicy Cinnamon Snaps (cookie)

Stained Glass Sugar Cookies (cookie)

German Stollen (bread)

Swirled Peppermint Bark (candy)

Toffee Butter Crunch (candy)

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Out and About: Day at the OOAK (One of a Kind Christmas Craft Show and Sale)

Whew!!! What a lot of people at the OOAK today! Granted, my friend and I usually go the second week it's open, when the hubbub has died down some, and so there aren't lines literally out the door, snaking down the length of the football field-sized hall, and around the corner to the very end of the building, but whatchagonnado? We decided to get there right on time, and so we were committed to our course of action.

Happily, once the clock hit 10AM, the lines moved pretty quickly into the building, and off we went!  It was nice to have a bit of money to spend this year at the show, as opposed to other lean years when scraping together enough to buy the tickets to get on was an effort.  I wanted to make sure to spend it at the booths, too, as these artists and artisans work really hard at their craft and deserve support.

I only bought four things today, as I didn't have much money, but I'm pretty darn pleased with my choices regardless. I bought a rock maple set of toaster tongs from the booth Imagine Wood for our toaster oven. The Hubster likes his toast and doesn't like to burn his fings...what can I say?

We used to have a great bamboo set from The Pampered Chef that was over a decade old, but then *someone* (cough cough Erinyth) stuck our venerable tongs on the handle of the toaster oven a few months ago, which promptly cracked the poor tongs in two the next time the toaster was opened. Hot glue and swearing just wasn't keeping them together anymore, so it was time to retire them for a new, stronger set!

The second purchase was my beautiful recycled silk scarf from a new artisan booth called Sinate Creations. I *knew* as soon as I saw it that it had to be mine...this scarf is so light and soft on my skin, and it's in my favourite colours (known as "everycolour"!).

I kind of imagine it's what a 1970's LSD flashback might look like.

My third purchase will remain a secret for the time being, as it's a gift for my newest baby nephew, and I know his mummy sometimes reads this blog (Hi sis! Captain Shriekypants will have a coolio Christmas gift from Aunty Loonybin and Uncle Grumpasaur this year!), but my fourth and final purchase, if you know me at all, just *had* to be a food item!

I know, "colour me shocked".

There are several food vendors at the OOAK I tend to go back to every year; I'm a big fan of the various sauces and marinades, Christmas puddings with the best warm vanilla hard sauce I've ever had, crazy hummus from the Greek place, and a whole host of chocolate places (mmm, Tickleberries!). But, if I only have enough money for one food item, the one I invariably will purchase something from is The Milsean Shoppe.  They make simply the best chocolate covered toffee ever ever EVER! Their Demerara Butter Crunch bar will have you weep with joy. There are five different butter crunch bar flavours available: Original, White Chocolate/Almond, Dark Chocolate/Almond, Milk Chocolate/Hazelnut, and Maple Syrup/White Chocolate/Hazelnut. They have a bunch of other items too, but those bars are the ones that melt my heart (and increase my sugar consumption by a factor of a lot). There are few candy bars for which I will happily pay a premium price; this is one of them.

I still have two bars, must resist urge to

Ah, Shuzbut.