Facing My Fear

“Limits, like fear, are often an illusion.” – Michael Jordan

I once had a tragic happening in my kitchen that scarred me for life. Well. Okay. That’s me being overly dramatic but it was a baking fail that I’ve never forgotten or confronted, until now.

Many years ago (and that, actually, isn’t an exaggeration) I attempted to make bread. Not bread machine bread. Real bread. From scratch. I found a recipe for French bread in a long-forgotten cookbook borrowed from the library. It was, apparently, suitable for beginners and that was me!

I don’t remember the process but I do remember that the dough rose okay for the first proofing, almost no second rise, and the result was bread that would have only been suitable for anchoring a small boat. I was so put off by that failure that I never made anything using yeast again.

My personal opinion (or excuse, if you prefer) was that a person needed to have a certain touch to make bread, or pastry for that matter. Then I recently saw “Bake It Better : Sweet Buns & Breads” by Linda Collister on the new book display at the library.

I took a quick flick through. It’s divided into three sections: Easy Does It, Needs a Little Skill, and Up for a Challenge. I immediately saw a number of recipes in the easy section that I’d love to try. So, I took a deep breath, checked the book out and decided to face my fear!

I started off with something that was a bread but didn’t involve yeast: scones. I love scones (and prefer when it is pronounced so that it rhymes with “yawns”, thanks very much) and have a good recipe courtesy of my Mum. The Bake It Better recipe has just 6 ingredients and a basic method. I didn’t have any buttermilk so went with their recommended substitute of a milk and yogurt combination. The scones were fantastic! And just in case you think I’m dissing the family recipe, my Mum tried them as well and concurred. She loved them as much as I did. That recipe is going to become a standard in our home.

IMG_20190406_1955158Then it was time to try…yeast. I liked the look of the Devonshire Splits. They are small rolls with a soft crumb served split in half and filled with cream and jam. How could you not like the look of that? I followed the step-by-step instructions carefully and appreciated the images shared as well as advice on kneading. Imagine my surprise when the dough rose beautifully. I knocked it down with my knuckles, divided the dough, shaped it and, like magic, it rose again. I was ridiculously excited. I think my husband thought I was losing my mind (again). Fifteen minutes later and they were out of the oven and looked exactly like the photo in the book. They tasted divine even without the cream and jam. Soft crumb, lightly sweetened and truly, it was hard to eat just one!

With new found confidence I also made hot cross buns and a milk and honey loaf. Both recipes turned out really well. I was elated and amazed. I am now a happy baker of bread and am looking forward to the day when I graduate to “Needs a Little Skill” and “Up for a Challenge”!

I will note that one minor downfall of this little British cookbook is the measurements being listed in grams and millilitres. A previous borrower had actually penned the conversions to cups right in the margin, a practice we don’t support here at the library of course but unfortunately it does happen. My suggestion: just use an online converter on your favourite device. No pen required.

  • Sandi H.

Devonshire Splits

400 grams strong white bread flour plus extra for dusting
6 grams salt
1 tsp sugar
60 grams butter, at room temperature, diced small
1 – 7 gram sachet fast-action dried yeast
250 ml lukewarm milk
Vegetable oil for dusting
Icing sugar for dusting

To serve: clotted or whipped cream and raspberry jam or preserves

DIRECTIONS

Put the flour, salt and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add the pieces of butter and rub in with the tips of your fingers until the mixture looks like fine crumbs. Sprinkle the yeast into the bowl and thoroughly mix in. Make a well in the centre.

Pour the lukewarm milk into the flour mixture. Work in with your hands until you have a soft dough. If it feels at all dry or crumbly, add in milk (just a tablespoon at a time). If the dough sticks to your hands or the sides of the bowl, add more flour.

Rub a little oil on the worktop. Don’t sprinkle it with flour. Scrape out the dough and knead until very pliable and satiny smooth (10 minutes). Return the dough to bowl. Cover with clingfilm or a snap-on lid. Leave to rise on worktop for 60 minutes or until double in size.

Punch down to deflate dough. Lightly dust work service with flour. Knead once or twice. Divide dough into 12 equal portions. Cover with dry tea towel to rest for 5 minutes.

Shape into balls. Set out on lined baking sheet. Slip the sheet into an extra large plastic bag, trapping air inside but making sure that the plastic won’t touch the dough even when it rises again.

Leave the to rise for 45 minutes. The dough will double in size again.

Preheat oven to 425 F. Uncover the buns – they will now be touching – and bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until golden brown.

As soon as they are done, set the sheet on a wire rack and sift icing sugar over the top. Carefully slide the rolls onto the cooling rack. Cover them with a dry tea towel and let cool until barely warm.

Uncover and gently pull the buns apart. When ready to serve, slice each ¾ of the way across. Spread with jam and cream. Serve immediately.

It’s Genius

I recently borrowed Food 52’s latest cookbook, Genius Desserts : 100 recipes that will change the way you bake. After reading it through and trying 3 different recipes, I can’t say it has changed the way I bake BUT the recipes are certainly genius. Each one was awesome and I’ve already made a list of others that I want to try out.

Food52 is an award-winning kitchen and home brand. Established almost 10 years ago, their mandate is to help followers “…eat thoughtfully and live joyfully.” They have an extensive team behind the scenes led by CEO and Co-Founder, Amanda Hesser. She herself has written a few books including Cooking for Mr. Latte : A Food Lover’s Courtship, with Recipes, The Cook and the Gardener, and The Essential New York Times Cookbook. The Food52 website won a James Beard award and with over 4 million followers on social media, I think I am not alone in being pleased with the look of their books and online presence as well as being very satisfied with the recipe results.

The content shared in print and online by Food 52 is a mix of food, cooking, design, culture, and travel. The recipes shared are from talented home cooks as well as celebrity chefs like Nigella Lawson, Jacques Pépin, and Madhur Jaffrey.

food 52 004The first recipes I tried were for cookies: Dorie Greenspan & Pierre Herme’s “World Peace Cookies” and Julia Moskin’s “Peanut Butter Sandies”. I decided to bring them to the library for staff to taste test. While both plates emptied quickly, the World Peace Cookies were the hands down winners. Comments included “Those chocolate cookies are the best!”, “Nice texture and not over-the-top chocolatey.” and “The World Peace cookie was very good. I didn’t find it too sweet and the addition of chocolate chips was a pleasant surprise.” That recipe is a keeper!

Next up was “One Step, No Churn Coffee Ice Cream” by a favourite of mine, Nigella Lawson. I do have a Pampered Chef Ice Cream Maker (which is amazing, btw) but I was intrigued by this no-frills recipe. There are just 4 ingredients and the only equipment needed is an electric mixer and a freezer. Basically, you just beat the ingredients together until airy, place the mixture in a container with an airtight lid and freeze overnight. The resulting ice cream is SUPER rich and decadent which means you don’t need to eat very much to be satisfied. I’d definitely try this again with some other flavours.

I have plans to make the Guinness Stout Ginger Cake next although I will be skipping the Parsley Cake on the page that precedes it. Parsley Cake aside, there are plenty just begging to be tried: Pistachio Millionaire’s Shortbread with Coriander Butterscotch, Weird & Wonderful Banana Cake (which sounds just that!) and Butterscotch Budino to name but three.

Embrace your inner genius. Borrow this book. Give the recipes a whirl. You won’t be disappointed.

  • Sandi H.

P.S. after writing this post I did make the Stout Spice Gingerbread and it was out of this world. It’s going to become a staple in our household.

World Peace Cookies

1 ¼ c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ c plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 c. packed light brown sugar
¼ c. granulated sugar
½ tsp. fine sea salt
1 tsp. vanilla
¾ c mini chocolate chips

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more. Turn off the mixer.

Pour in the dry ingredients and mix at low speed just until flour is mixed in.  Stir in chocolate chips.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 ½  inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking — let it warm just enough so that you can slice the log into rounds and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)

Preheat oven to 325F. Grease baking sheets. Remove dough from fridge. Using a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. The rounds are likely to crack as you’re cutting them — don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.

Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won’t look done, nor will they be firm, but that’s just the way they should be.

Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.

Celebrating Mothers

Mother’s Day is May 12th. You could just go out and celebrate your mother or mother-like figure with books this year (and I have such a good suggestion for you) but why not give them what they really really want… what every parent wants – the gift of spending time together!

With my last few Mother’s Day celebrations we realized that was what we liked best about the day. It didn’t matter where we got together or what we did – it was the amount of time that we were able to spend together that really meant the most. The library is the first place to come to for valuable tools you can use to make the most of your time to be together and possibly find extra time in your day.

Your first step is not wasting your time on cleaning and tidying. Why would you? Stop spending hours on things that don’t matter so that you can hang out with your Mom and relax. In a recent shipment of books we received several copies of a gem of a book from Reader’s Digest called Home Hacks which contains all the tips you need to make home care faster and easier. Just flipping through this book made me feel energized and ready to attack several home projects that had been languishing for months – papers that needed to be filed and a guest room that needs to be more guest room and less storage space. Reader’s Digest Home Hacks is so comprehensive that they include sections which suggest when you can “save time”, use an “insider’s hack” and “save money”. I am also a big fan of the paragraphs when their editors tell the truth and say that there is no way around it and you simply have to call in an expert to fix a particular problem. It saves me the worry and time I might have spent researching something to know that I should have just called in a specialist in the first place.

The next step in your plan for time saving is to pull together some simple meals and stay out of the kitchen. I used to call these easy meals “one pot meals” when our kids were small because I really didn’t like to wash dishes so using just one pot was fantastic. This works as a search term or you can also try one pan or one sheet when you are searching through the WPL catalogue. The key is to find a meal that is quick and delicious so that you get out of the kitchen and can just be cozy. Although it is possible to hang out and chat in the kitchen as well, so maybe speed isn’t the key for you and your Mom. You could always bake or cook something side by side? A gorgeous cookbook that came in with some spring books includes several clever options for chicken and a four-page spread for stuffed peppers. You will find something to suit every appetite with Betty Crocker Make It In One and it will be cooked in time for you to do something else like head out for dessert that someone else baked.

Now that you can care for your home more efficiently and cook up a super-quick meal, you will have so much more time to spend with the fam. How about going for a walk using a WPL pedometer kits which include a pedometer, tips for safe walking and a walking/cycling map of Waterloo. Or you could check out one of our museum passes – we have them for THEMUSEUM and the Region of Waterloo Museums – and plan a fabulous, free outing in our community. As the weather gets warmer these passes will be in high demand so you might have to place a hold but it will be so worth it and an absolute treat to look forward to. Plan to spend more time together.

And… if you just want to stay home and read (or possibly share a great book with someone) then a recent favourite of mine will absolutely beguile you. Steven Rowley is back with The Editor. He took the publishing world by storm in 2016 with his semi-autobiographical novel Lily and the Octopus and I was so excited to read this one. In The Editor his main character, James, has had the extreme good fortune of having his first novel selected for publication by a Jackie Kennedy Onassis. Meetings with Jackie! Just imagine. To make this even more special for James (if it is possible to have this become even more spectacular) his mother is an enormous Kennedy family fan and he knows she will be thrilled to hear his news. He hopes that working with her might smooth over some of the rough spots in their relationship. Mothers, right? The friendship and working relationship between Jackie and James is one half of this wonderful book and the other half is his relationship with his mother. It’s not as quirky as his first novel but leaves you with the sense that you have been right there beside the character every step of the way. And you will be thrilled you were there.

We really do have you covered with time saving hacks, recipes, suggestions for activities in the community and an absolutely wonderful book. If these don’t work for your Mother’s Day plans then go with flowers – my mother was partial to the smell of carnations. Enjoy your day!

— Penny M.

Perfection is Hard to Live Up To

I recently borrowed a book from the library called The Perfect Cake. It’s part of a series from America’s Test Kitchen which includes The Perfect Cookie, which I reviewed already. Four hundred pages of cake recipes, some simple, some rather more involved, and all looking divine in the many (many, many) photos.

Like other ATK books, The Perfect Cake starts out with some fundamental information on baking. Among other things there are handy tips on preparing the pan properly (nothing worse than baking a wonderful cake only to discover that you can NOT get it neatly out of the baking tin), checking for done-ness, types of frosting and advice on essential utensils and equipment for a baker’s kitchen. There is also a chapter on “Cake Building Blocks” which walks new bakers through basic ingredients.

As they say in the beginning of the book, “Like all baking, cake making is a science but it doesn’t have to be intimidating.” Personally I have always never found baking intimidating. Baking relaxes me, it brings back wonderful family memories and it makes me happy. A colleague once commented that they could tell when my stress level was up because I brought in lots of baked goods to work. Let me be clear, they weren’t complaining about being the recipients of home-baked goodies, they were just kindly concerned with my blood pressure. To me, the most stressful thing about baking is narrowing down what recipes I’m going to try next. That all being said, this cookbook did cause me some stress.

51v9Qmq53aL._SX260_The first couple of recipes I tried were very good. The Easy Chocolate Snack Cake was just that. One bowl + basic ingredients + simple instructions = Tasty Moist Chocolate Cake. I also made the Lemon Bundt Cake for my mother-in-law’s birthday. I hadn’t made a bundt cake in years (I can’t really say why) and this one have given me reason to make them more often. Very lemony and with a rich texture similar to a pound cake. It came out of the pan easily and, once cooled, I decorated it with the lemon buttermilk glaze and zest. Two thumbs up from the entire family.

I was thinking, “Wow. This book really IS about perfect cakes.” when things went south with the Strawberry Cupcake recipe. I was taking part in a bake sale in support of the local humane society. The recipe sounded wonderful, using the juice from actually strawberries (reduced to a syrup) for flavouring rather than cheating with artificial products.

I followed the recipe and everything seemed to be going well although the batter was very thin. I triple-checked the recipe quantities and then noticed in the recipe there was a special notation the “…mixture will look soupy”. Fair enough. I divided the batter evenly into the cupcake liners and popped it in the oven for the recommended 15 to 20 minutes.

Nothing happened. No rise. Nothing. When removed from the oven, the cupcakes were flat and with a texture that resembled a sodden sponge. I took a tiny taste and, to be frank, spit it out. And there went my cupcakes, into my green compost bin. Major fail. And on the night before a charity bake sale!

A few bad words and a deep breath later and I quickly whipped up a Hot Milk Cake. This old school recipe used to be in every community cookbook and is one my Mum has used for many years. A short while later I had a baker’s dozen of light, fluffy, vanilla cupcakes. I topped my cupcakes with a strawberry mousse and was able to sell them the following day…and help my colleagues raise over $300 for the KW Humane Society!

In spite of the cupcake fail, I’m still impressed by this cookbook, especially given how delicious the snack and bundt cakes were. I certainly won’t be buying The Perfect Cake but it’s worth a borrow. Just go with your gut instinct if something looks a bit off because it might be time for some improv!

– Sandi H.

Dorothy’s Hot Milk Cake

½ c milk
1 tbsp butter
2 eggs
¾ c sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 c all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 350F.

In small saucepan, melt butter in milk. Set aside off heat.

In mixing bowl, beat eggs until thick. Add sugar & vanilla and beat again.

Alternate adding the milk mixture and the dry ingredients, mixing to combine.

Divide between 2 – 8” round cake tins (greased) or 12 cupcake liners. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the cake passes the toothpick test.

Cool for 5 minutes in the pan before removing to a rack to cool completely before decorating.

Oven to Table

I love a good cookbook and the library is the perfect place to ‘test drive’ a new cookbook!

In order to be a ‘must have’ in my kitchen a cookbook needs to be loaded with recipes that I can make for my family – recipes that fit our tastes, are doable, use ingredients I can find in my local food store and don’t leave me elbow deep in sudsy water all evening.  With Oven to Table, Jan Scott gives readers 100 easy to make, tasty recipes, complete with beautiful and enticing colour photos, that use only one pot, dish or pan.

Scott’s writing style is approachable as she describes different pans, required utensils, foods to keep stocked in your kitchen and her tenets for ensure successful one-pot cooking. She clearly identifies vegetarian, gluten-free, kid-friendly and make-ahead dishes as well as those that are better suited when you have more time and don’t have to quickly feed your small humans before shuttling them to evening activities.

I made a few of the recipes in the book and all were fantastic. They included:

  • Smokey Corn and Cheddar Chowder with a side of Honey, Thyme and Cheddar Skillet Cornbread
  • Goat Cheese and Dill Hash Brown Quiche
  • Roasted Red Onion Party Dip

Overall, this is an impressive cookbook that I look forward to using often. One pot/pan recipes speak to the mom in me who doesn’t want to spend a lot of time cleaning up after a meal. I love cooking but washing dishes? Not so much. With its enticing colour pictures and clear instructions, this cookbook will inspire home cooks to whip up these delicious one-pot dishes for the important family meal.

— Laurie P.

NOTE:  I’ll be discussing this cookbook (and several more – including my favourite fiction and nonfiction reads) in my upcoming Books and Baking program on Monday, May 13th at 2:00pm at the John M. Harper Branch. Registration for this free program opens online May 6th.

Sweeet!

Let’s play word association. It will be easy. I promise. I say “Redpath”. You say? That’s right. Sugar! The Canada Sugar Refinery was founded in 1854 by John Redpath, a Scottish stonemason, but the business only took on his name in the late 1880s. Orphaned at an early age, Redpath was raised by other family members. By 13 he was an apprentice stonemason and by 20 he had decided to emigrate to Canada.

A hard working, ambitious man, Redpath was able to start his own construction business just 2 years after arriving in Montreal. His company was instrumental in the building of a number of iconic structures in Montreal including the Notre-Dame Basilica. After his death in 1869, two of his sons and a son-in-law took over the business and, in 1880, John Redpath’s signature became the logo for the business…a logo that is used even today.

A1xg9Ud9C0LI absolutely loved The Redpath Canadian Bake Book, from the interesting family history to the tempting photos and wonderful recipes. It was so difficult to pick just one or two to try…so I picked three!

I started out making a half batch of the Soft Oatmeal Cookies. What you might find surprising from a Redpath recipe is that they weren’t particularly sweet. Instead the cookies were nicely spiced and, as promised, soft and chewy. They disappeared almost as soon as I set them on the cooling rack. I also made the Buttery Shortbread on a day when I felt like baking but was lacking in eggs and a couple other key ingredients. The shortbread was delicious, more soft than crunchy, and we absolutely could not stop at just one.

The star of the 3 recipes though was the Chocolate Genoise Cake. I’ve never made a Genoise and this might be partially due to the fact that they have a reputation as being very difficult to make successfully. Get it right and you will have an airy, moist sponge cake. Get it wrong and you will end up with a flat, dense, inedible pancake of a cake.
I followed their instructions exactly and… Oh. My. Goodness. Rich but light, just as tasty without the frosting as with, and the smell…well, I just wish devices offered scratch and sniff!

If you’re looking for a wonderful variety of dessert recipes (and bonus, it’s a Canadian book!) then the Redpath Canadian Bake Book is a must…to borrow or to buy.

— Sandi H.

Redpath Chocolate Genoise Cake

4 large eggs at room temperature
2/3 c granulated sugar
½ c cake and pastry flour
1/3 c unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ tsp salt
3 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp vanilla
Frosting
2 ½ tbsp butter, softened
2 tbsp whole milk
1 ¼ c icing sugar, sifted
1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

Preheat over to 350F. Great 1 – 8” round baking pan. Set aside.

In large bowl and using an electric mixer on high speed, beat the eggs and sugar until the mixture is pale and thick and falls in ribbons when the beaters are lifted, about 8 minutes. (note: it took me 11 minutes with an electric hand mixer)

Sift the flour, cocoa powder and salt into the egg mixture. Very gently fold in the flour mixture until combined. Slowly fold in the melted butter and vanilla.

Scrape batter into prepared pan. Bake until the cake springs back when lightly pressed, about 20 minutes.

Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 to 10 minutes. Then, run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Turn out onto the wire rack and let cool completely.

For the frosting, in a small microwave-proof bowl combine butter and milk. Microwave on medium power until butter melts, about 30 seconds. In a medium bowl whisk together icing sugar and cocoa powder. Stir in the melted butter mixture and whisk until smooth.

Once the cake has cooled, spread the frost over the top of the cake Let stand 10 to 15 minute or until the icing has set before serving.

Note: the cake can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days

Daisy Cakes

I have always love daisies. They are one of my favourite flowers. Actually, any flower resembling a daisy is a favourite. I love the word, the cheerful vibe, the happy look. I even named my cat Daisy. So a book called “Daisy Cakes Bakes” absolutely had to make its way into my hands.

The story behind Daisy Cakes rests with Kim Nelson. Raised in the South, Nelson grew up eating homemade food created with fresh ingredients from their own land. Eggs from the family’s chickens, veg from their own garden, hand-churned butter, and so on. However, knowing that not everyone enjoyed baking as much as she did, Nelson had an idea.

In 2011, she applied to be on the American TV show, Shark Tank. Nelson made her presentation and secured a $50,000 investment from “shark” and real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran. Her idea? Continue to bake her family’s tried-and-true recipes using locally sourced ingredients and then deliver them fresh to homes across the country.

In the first year Daisy Cakes sold more than 25,000 cakes in every state. As her business grew (and encountered a few big bumps along the way) Nelson said that everything, ingredients, baking tins, labels etc. still came from domestic sources. Before “Shark Tank”, the Daisy Cake annual sales were $27,000. By 2017, the number had grown to $5 million. Now that’s impressive…but is the new Daisy Cakes Bakes cookbook as impressive?

The book is nicely designed with inviting images and short, personal stories about each recipe. There are handy tips like “Freezing the cake layers make them much easier to frost. I usually freeze them for 2 to 3 hours, uncovered on a sheet pan. Spreading the frosting over the frozen layers keeps the crumbs out.”

I decided to make a cookie and, of course, a cake recipe. I originally had borrowed the book in the winter so made a partial batch of Nelson’s Gingerbread Cookies to compare with mine. I have a wonderful recipe I have used for years and thought I’d do a “cookie-off”. While the Daisy Cakes cookies were good, mine definitely won the blind taste testing as voted by family and friends.

91Dmq6jxAYLThe second recipe I tried was “Your Signature Coffee Cake”. Coffee Cakes sound a bit retro but they are just wonderful if not too dry or loaded with way-too-much streusel topping. The cake smelled wonderful baking away with its blueberry & strawberry filling. I chose not to do a topping or glaze but probably would do if it was for guests as it is rather plain looking. The Daisy Cakes recipe made one very moist and tasty, can’t-stop-at-one slice cake.

There are quite a few other recipes I’d like to try including the Scotland Orange Cake (although the fact that it takes 9 eggs is a bit off putting), Butter Brickle Cookies (partly just because of the name) and Miss Geraldine’s Italian Cream Cake because the photo looks delectable. Overall, I’d say don’t bother ordering a Daisy Cakes cake (they don’t ship to Canada anyway) just bake it yourself with Kim Nelson’s easy-to-follow recipes. Two whisks up!

  • Sandi H.

Your Signature Coffee Cake

Cake Batter

½ c butter or margarine, room temperature
1 ½ c sugar
2 large eggs
1 c whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 c all purpose flour
¾ tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder

Filling

2 c. fresh blueberries (I used frozen mixed berries)
¼ c brown sugar
1 tblsp fresh lemon juice (my idea…and it was nice!
Zest of 1 lemon

Glaze (optional)

1 ½ c icing sugar
1tblsp whole milk
2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Directions

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease 1 – 8 x 8” baking pan. Set aside.

Beat butter and sugar on high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add in eggs and beat on high for 1 minute. Beat in milk and vanilla.

Add in dry ingredients, on low or stirring in by hand. Combine just until ingredient are all blended together. Set aside.

In food processor or blending combine filling ingredients.

To assemble cake, put 1/3 of batter in pan. Spread evenly. Add 2/3 of the filling. Spread evenly over batter. Top with the rest of the batter.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out with just a few crumbs on it.

Serving: when the cake is cool, mix the ingredients of the glaze together and pour over the top of the cake. Let sit before serving with some of the fruit filling on the side.

The Perfect Cookie

Gingerbread. No, peanut butter. No, oatmeal. No, shortbread. Okay. Really there are so many “perfect” cookies out there. I’ve hardly ever met a cookie I didn’t like and my waistline is proof of that. But seriously, I take cookies seriously and am actually quite picky when it comes to what cookies (and cookie recipes!) that I would score a perfect 10.

Do you chase perfect recipes? For some things, I do. It took me years, after coming oh-so-close on a number of occasions, to find what I felt was the “perfect” brownie recipe. Same with gingerbread cookies, oatmeal chocolate chip and shortbread. Peanut butter was easy as a neighbour shared an awesome recipe with my Mum back in the early 70s and it is the PB cookie every other is measured by…and usually are found wanting.

Recently America’s Test Kitchen came out with a 400+ page book dedicated to cookies, brownies and bars. Drop cookies. Sandwich cookies. No bakes. Gluten free. You get the idea. If it’s a cookie, it’s in The Perfect Cookie.

As is usual with ATK books, it starts out with a few chapters to help readers prepare to make those perfect cookies properly. Mixing, baking and cooling methods. A list of “essential” equipment. I put “essential” in quotes as I have been baking a variety of cookies for more years than I want to tally up and have never needed to invest in a stand mixer or food processor to have success. The rest of the items on the list though I agree with, all necessities for a happy baking experience. They also offer insight into selecting and storing ingredients and even cookie troubleshooting. These people take cookies seriously too which means we should be a match made in heaven.

The very first recipe in the book is The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie. As they say, it’s “…the most iconic American treat.” While chocolate chip cookies aren’t my #1 favourite, a chewy one with just the right balance of chips to cookie dough are pretty darn irresistible. I decided to give this recipe plus the Trail Mix Cookies a try.

For the chocolate chip cookies, the method was a little unusual, melting and browning the butter instead of just creaming it with the sugar. The dough came together quickly and they looked good coming out of the oven. As for the trail mix cookies, they were chock-a-block with oats, whole wheat flour, dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, pecans and chocolate chips. When baking, they smelled heavenly and looked wonderful, holding their shape.

Instead of asking my husband to be the taste tester (as is tradition) I instead tested the cookies on the Waterloo Wolves Major Midget AAA Hockey Team. These 16 & 17 years old players train and play hard and when they leave the ice, are HUNGRY. That doesn’t mean that they are devoid of tastebuds.

So, can you guess the results? The team was presented with 24 of each cookie. At the end, there were 7 chocolate chip cookies left…and ZERO trail mix. The trail mix cookies easily beat out the “Perfect” chocolate chip cookies.

I did try both myself (of course I did!) and I have to agree with the players. The chocolate chip cookies are definitely good. Would I say they are perfect; the best I’ve ever had? No. Just a good, run-of-the-mill homebaked chocolate chip. The trail mix cookies though had great chew, wonderful flavour and were filling. That recipe will definitely be made in our household again in the future.

Flipping through The Perfect Cookie, I did see lots of recipes to try including Noche Buena Sandwich Cookies with decadent dulce de leche, Key Lime Bars, Applesauce Cookies and Gingerbread Brownies. If the beautiful photos are anything to go by, they should be pretty tasty.

If you’re looking for a good (I won’t say perfect though, because that result is up to the baker) cookie recipe, this is definitely a book worth borrowing.

– Sandi H.

Trail Mix Cookies

1 c old fashioned rolled oats
½ c whole wheat flour
¼ c all purpose flour
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp baking soda
5 tblsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla
1 c brown sugar, packed
½ c dried cherries, dried cranberries or raisins
¼ c toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds
¼ c chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare baking sheets.

In medium bowl combine oats, flours, salt, cinnamon and soda. Set aside.

Whisk butter, egg and vanilla together in large bowl. Stir in sugar until smooth. Add in oat mixture, stirring until just combined then stir in fruit, seeds and chips.

Working with 1 tblsp of dough at a time, roll into balls. Place on baking sheets 2” apart.

Bake for 12 to 16 minutes or until edges are set but centres are soft and puffy.

Remove from oven. Let cool on baking sheet 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Pizza & Murder!

Pizza 911

9781459728073On a cold winter’s day there is nothing better to do than to curl up with a good mystery and a hot slice of pizza. Put the two together and you get Pizza 911.

A coworker of mine discovered this gem sometime ago. It actually became something of a joke amongst the WPL staff. It just looked so ridiculous. We’ve seen our fair share of odd books here at the library but this one was right at the top. Pizza 911. Complete with a cover showing a pizza cutter covered in blood. But then one day, I had nothing to read, so I thought…..why not?

Well let me tell you, this book had us all fooled. Pizza 911 a great read. Seriously. It’s a clever, fast-paced mystery about Vancouver-based crime journalist Hakeem Jinnah who is struggling to keep his status as a front page reporter. He gets a tip about a ghastly murder – a body was found inside a pizza oven. Desperate to get the scoop on the murder before anyone else, Jinnah follows the clues to a biker bar where a rage-fueled brawl erupts. Satisfied that he’s on the right trail, the mystery leads Jinnah all the way to Africa.

Jinnah is an unscrupulous, egotistical, self-centered jerk but somehow author Donald Huaka makes him very likable. He mixes in the right amount of humour with Jinnah. I found myself laughing at his egocentric outbursts and cunning journalistic tactics. You can’t help but root for him when the pieces of the mystery start to fall into place. His world of tabloid journalism is so accurately described, right down to the adrenaline addicted reporters eager to stab each other in the back for a lead, to the no-nonsense editor nicknamed “Frosty.”

I guess I learned my lesson. Don’t judge a book by cover – or its title. I enjoyed every minute of this story and I was happy to find out that reporter Hakeem Jinnah appears in another novel: She Demons.

If you need a fun, quick read, give Pizza 911 a try. Then check out Joe Beddia’s Pizza Camp and learn how to make some real gourmet pizza.

Pizza Camp

31305588Joe Beddia didn’t plan on owning a pizzeria but that’s where he ended up. Food was a big part of his childhood and he still remembers the taste of Argento’s cheese pizza from when he was a kid. Beddia studied hotel, restaurant and institutional management in school, which led him to working in numerous pizzerias. Finally, he opened his own pizza shop, Pizzeria Beddia, in 2013. A few years later, Bon Appetit voted it the “Best Pizza in America.” Beddia has now shared some of his best recipes in Pizza Camp.

Pizza Camp is unlike any cookbook I’ve ever read. It is part recipes, part artwork and part memoir. The beginning of the book starts off with very basic instructions, including a diagram of how to set up your cooking space with ”stainless steel bowl” and “cheese grater” labeled for clarity. The recipes are organized from basic pizza to composed pizza – with every kind of pizza you’d ever want. This includes: pistachio pesto, fennel and sausage, as well as breakfast pizza, just to name a few.

The pictures in the book aren’t just your typical shots of ingredients and perfectly baked food. There are street shots, food inspired landmarks and a section of just dogs eating pizza. Dozens of anecdotes are intermixed with the recipes, often detailing what inspired a particular pizza creation. For example, the creation of marinara and anchovy pizza is quite a story:

“Some drunk guy invented this pizza. He came into the shop and ordered, ‘Hold the mozzarella cheese, add garlic and anchovy. The grated cheese is ok, too, but no mozzarella.’ And then didn’t come back to pick it up. That forced me to eat it and I discovered how great this pizza is. “

Even if you don’t use any of the recipes, Pizza Camp is so full of interesting stories that it reads like a regular book. There is plenty of Beddia’s personality sprinkled in the pages which makes for a light and enjoyable read.

— Lesley L.

Joe Beddia’s Marinara and Anchovy Pizza (14 inch to 16 inch)

1 ball of dough
1.5 cups tomato sauce
1 or 2 large cloves of garlic (or more, if you like) thinly sliced
2 pinches of Sicilian oregano
3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup or more grated hard cheese
6 to 8 anchovy fillets cut in half

Preheat the oven and pizza stone to 500°F or if possible, 550°F.

(To make the dough and the sauce there are great instructions in another section of the book)

Spread sauce on the dough. Add the garlic then the oregano and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Bake until well done. Just keep checking so you don’t burn it. Look for the cheese to color and the crust to turn a deep brown. This pizza normally cooks a minute or two faster than one with cheese. It will also be crispier. (Both good things.)

Sprinkle the grated hard cheese over the finished pie. Drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Cut the pizza. Lastly, arrange your anchovies so each slice has one anchovy, adding more if you like.

 

You Had Me at Profiteroles

Profiteroles. When a cookbook arrives at WPL all shiny and new, promoting 450 foolproof recipes AND it features a stunning cover image of beautiful pastries filled with ice cream and drizzled with chocolate well, who am I to resist? That book, even though it weighed a tonne, HAD to come home with me.

Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book is the latest in their series of comprehensive cookbooks. Cook’s Illustrated is a popular American bi-monthly magazine founded almost 40 years ago and known for its carefully tested recipes and very detailed instructions.

I must say the Baking Book is impressive. At the beginning there are 20 pages dedicated to giving absolute baking beginners key information on basic ingredients, the correct way to measure and kitchen equipment options. This is followed by 15 (yes, 15) chapters on everything from muffins to pizza, angel food cake to quiche.

Each recipe is accompanied by black and white method illustrations (which fans of the magazine will be well used to) as well as background info on the baked good. Most also have a beautiful colour photo. A feature I enjoyed was the alternatives/options listed beside the regular recipe just in case you’d like to switch things up a bit. The notes with answers to the “whys” of a recipe are interesting.

One thing I have to say I personally found very annoying is listing the measurement for butter/margarine in tablespoons. Who would measure out 24 tablespoons of butter? Why not just say 1 ½ cups? I’ve noticed this in a number of American cookbooks and, yes, it is a pet peeve of mine.

Anyhow, I tried two recipes from the Baking Book and no, not the profiteroles although I was tempted. The first was Classic Cream Scones with currants. My Mum has a wonderful recipe for sweet scones that has been a family favourite since the early 70s so this recipe was really going to be tested. It was an easy recipe and the dough came together quickly although I did have to add a bit more cream than listed to get the right consistency. Out of the oven they looked identical to the photo in the book. They were tasty and went very nicely with a cup of tea…but…my family’s recipe is safe. Mum, I still prefer your lighter, fluffier scones!

cooks illus 002The other recipe I tried were Thin & Crispy Oatmeal Cookies but I used one of the options offered and went with the oatmeal-coconut blend. Once again, the recipe was very easy. They did recommend using a stand mixer (as many new cookbooks do) but a wooden spoon worked just as well for me. I rolled the dough into balls and pressed to flatten to the advised thickness before baking. They smelled wonderful but didn’t really flatten or crisp up at all. The cookies had stayed thick and chewy and were really tasty. I would definitely make them again.

Will I be buying my own copy? No, but for a beginner baker Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book would be an excellent resource and most certainly worth borrowing from the library or buying from a favourite bookstore.

— Sandi H.

Thin & Crispy Oatmeal-Coconut Cookies

1 c. all-purpose flour
¾ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
14 tbsp (or ¾ c. plus 2 tbsp) unsalted butter, softened
1 c. granulated sugar
¼ c. light brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups oatmeal
1 ½ c. sweetened flaked coconut

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350F. Prepare baking sheet.
2. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
3. In standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter and sugars at medium-low speed until just combined, about 20 seconds. Increase speed to medium and continue to beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute longer. Scrape down bowl with rubber spatula.
4. Add egg and vanilla and beat on medium-low until fully incorporated, about 30 seconds. Scrape down bowl again.
5. With mixer running at low speed, add flour mixture until just incorporated and smooth, 10 seconds. With mixer still running on low, gradually add oats and coconut and mix until well-incorporated, 20 seconds.
6. Give dough final stir with rubber spatula to ensure that no flour pockets remain and ingredients are evenly distributed.
7. Divide dough into 24 equal portions, each about 2 tablespoons (I did smaller cookies…about 1 tbsp each), then roll between palms into balls. Place cookies on prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 2 1/2 inches apart, 8 dough balls per sheet. Using fingertips, gently press each dough ball to 3/4-inch thickness.
8. Bake until cookies are deep golden brown, edges are crisp, and centers yield to slight pressure when pressed, 13 – 16 minutes
9. Cool cookies a minute or two before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.