Wednesday 31 October 2012

Halloween Spiced Sugar Cookies

I have never quite got the hang of decorating sugar cookies. I think that I am really just too impatient for the detail-oriented work and the amount of time it takes (including drying time!) to complete. But, this Halloween I really wanted to make good use of my Halloween cookie cutters and give sugar cookies another try. I think they are a great way to celebrate holidays and they are also my guy's favorite cookie-so many reasons to try again!

I decided to add pumpkin pie spice to my favorite sugar cookie recipe to make them even more Halloweeny. It was a perfect flavor and I think that the decorations even came out well. Now I can't wait until the next holiday themed sugar cookies!!

Pumpkin Spice Sugar Cookies
For the cookies (makes approx 2 dozen cookies):
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 ½ tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
For the royal icing:4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 tbsp. meringue powder
5 tbsp. water

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and confectioners' sugar on medium-high speed until smooth, 1-2 minutes.  Beat in the egg, vanilla extract, and the seeds scraped from the vanilla bean.  Mix in the flour, spices, and salt on low speed until just incorporated.  Form the dough into a ball and wrap with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate until chilled and firm, at least 1-2 hours. 

Preheat the oven to 375˚ F and line baking sheets with parchment paper.  Roll the dough out on a well floured surface to about ¼-inch thickness.  Cut with cookie cutters as desired and transfer to the prepared baking sheets.  Bake 8-10 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through baking, until fully cooked but not at all browned.  Allow to cool on the baking sheet 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. 
To make the royal icing: Combine all icing ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on a low speed until the sheen has disappeared and the icing has a matte appearance (about 7-10 minutes). Transfer the contents of the mixing bowl to an air-tight container.  Add water a very small amount at a time and stir by hand until fully incorporated. Continue until the icing has reached a consistency appropriate for piping. Tint the icing with gel colors as desired. Using a pastry bag, pipe around the edges of each cookie. Let stand so the icing will set. Keep the leftover icing covered at all times when not in use so that it does not begin to harden. If you are keeping the icing overnight, cover it with plastic wrap and press this onto the surface of the icing to prevent the icing from hardening.
Once all the cookies have been edged, transfer some of the remaining icing to a separate container. Thin out by incorporating a small amount of water at a time, until the icing drips off the spoon easily when lifted and then smooths in with that still in the bowl. Once the icing has reached the correct consistency, transfer it to a squeeze bottle (or a plastic bag with a hole in one corner), and flood the area surrounded by the piping on each cookie. If it does not completely spread to the edges, use a toothpick to spread it. Allow to set overnight. Be sure to leave the cookies uncovered overnight so that the icing sets properly. They will not go stale.
When the icing has hardened, use the remaining icing to decorate the cookies with details as desired.

Cookie recipe adapted from Annie's Eats. Icing recipe from Annie's Eats who has a wonderful royal icing tutorial.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Award-Winning Bacon Pecan Pie

I am spending the evening relaxing after 3 days of very intense work in my kitchen. Let's start at the beginning...I decided to enter a State Fair of Texas baking contest this year. I knew I wanted to enter my pecan pie recipe but I felt like I needed to somehow make it more exciting and unique. My colleague suggested adding bacon to it....brillant! And there just happened to be a dessert class in the bacon category of the contest-perfect!

The next step: to determine the best way of incorporating bacon into the pecan pie. I approached this with an almost scientific discipline and spent the days building up to the competition trying a variety of methods and techniques for producing the best bacon pecan pie. I dreamt about bacon pecan pie, our house constantly smelled like bacon, and my poor guy has had to endure endless conversations on the topic. I finally decided on the best way to incorporate the bacon-sprinkling it on doesn't sound that ground-breaking, but trust me, it is the best way. After one final test run, I was ready for the big day.

The alarm woke me up at 6:30am and I began baking. By 9:30am, I was at the State Fair with my pie and my friends and family were there to cheer me on. The competition itself was one of the tensest experiences of my life. Watching the judges taste and evaluate my baking was kind of nerve-racking. Finally, they announced the winners-I came third!! Whilst I was really hoping for at least second, I was extremely happy, excited, and relieved to get a ribbon.

Overall, I was really happy with how this pie turned out. The combination of flavors is reminiscent of breakfast...a really gooey, yummy breakfast. It is suprisingly delicious and certainly not just for the State Fair competition.

Bacon Pecan Pie

1 ¼ cup plain flour
1 Tbsp sugar
¼ tsp salt
8 Tbsp cold butter, cut into small pieces
3 Tbsp (or more) of very cold water

¾ cup sugar
¾ cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 ¼ tsp vanilla
¼ tsp salt
1 cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans *
1 cup toasted pecan halves*
16 oz thin smoked bacon
* Pecans can be toasted on a baking sheet for 15 minutes in a 350*F oven.

To make the pastry: Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade attachment. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse sand and the largest butter pieces are no bigger than peas. Add the cold water a little at a time and pulse until the dough just comes together. You may require extra water. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough and line the pie tin. Trim the overhang even with the pie rim and crimp the edges decoratively. Refrigerate for 30min, until firm. 

Preheat oven to 375*F and position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Line the chilled pie with parchment paper and fill with pie weights. Bake until dough no longer looks wet, about 20mins. Remove the weights and parchment paper and continue to bake 10 minutes more until the crust is lightly golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. 

To make the bacon pieces: Lay the bacon strips onto a plate covered in multiple layers of paper towels. Microwave on high for approximately 13 minutes until very crispy. Dab the bacon with paper towels throughout the cooking process. Remove the bacon from the microwave and cut into very small pieces. Squeeze out any remaining excess grease with paper towels. 

To make the filling: Preheat the oven to 325*F. In a bowl, stir together the sugar, corn syrup, melted butter, eggs, vanilla, salt and pecans. Pour into the prebaked pastry shell and place pan on a baking sheet.  

Bake for 10 minutes and then remove the pie from the oven and sprinkle with the bacon pieces. Press them lightly into the filling. Return the pie to the oven and continue to bake for an additional 35-45 minutes until the center is slightly soft to the touch and the edges are set. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 30minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday 10 September 2012


I have been wanting to make meatballs for some time now. I finally had the chance to try this recipe for dinner tonight. They turned out suprisingly well!! They were also extremely quick and easy to make and were perfectly moist but not mushy at all. These will definitely become a main dinner for us!

Italian Meatballs (makes approx 20)


1 lb. ground lean sirloin
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp oregano
1 Tbsp fresh parsley
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 cup grated parmesan
Pasta sauce

Preheat the oven to 400*F. Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl by hand. Roll raw meatballs into about the size of a golf ball. Place in a shallow ovenproof dish, side by side. Bake for 20mins, turning half way.

Heat the sauce in a medium size saucepan. Once warmed, add the meatballs to the sauce and combine gently. Serve with pasta of your choice.

Recipe adapted from

Sunday 22 July 2012

Ice Cream Sandwiches

It's national ice cream month....but that's not why I'm making these. My guy is obsessed with ice's not that he likes it or even loves it-he adores it. It's the only sweet thing that he would happily eat everyday. Lately, we've tried a few different ice cream sandwich places. Some have been good, but to be honest they've all been a bit of a let down-hard cookies, store bought ice cream- those kinds of things. So, I decided that I needed to make ice cream sandwiches entirely from scratch. This also gave me the opportunity to try out what's meant to be the "best" chocolate chip cookie recipe ever. I have to say these cookies were very very good....but I wouldn't say they are better than the ones I normally make. However, the combination of the deliciously creamy vanilla ice cream and the chocolate chip packed chewy cookie is absolutely sublime.

Ice Cream Sanwiches

For the Vanilla Bean ice cream:
Yield: 1 quart
1 cup whole milk
¾ cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream, divided
Pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
6 large egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract
For the cookies:

Yield: 1 1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies.
2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or chips, at least 60 percent cacao content

To Make the Ice Cream:
Combine the milk, sugar, 1 cup of the cream, and the salt in a medium saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the pan and drop in the vanilla pod. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is warmed. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let the mixture steep for 30 minutes.  Pour the remaining cup of cream into a bowl and set a fine mesh sieve over the top. In a separate medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks until smooth.  Slowly pour the warm milk mixture into the bowl with the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Return the entire mixture to the saucepan and place over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan, until the mixture thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon. The mixture should reach 170˚-175˚ F.  Pour the custard through the mesh strainer into the bowl with the cream. Stir in the vanilla. Let cool slightly, then cover and refrigerate until completely chilled. Remove the vanilla bean before churning. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.
To Make the Cookies:
Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, approximately 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350*F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat.

Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt (if desired) and bake until edges are golden brown but the cookies are still soft, 12-18 minutes. Do not overbake.

Transfer the sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. This recipe makes more cookies than you need for the ice cream, so you will have some left over.....surely that's a good thing!

Ice cream recipe slightly adapted from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop
Cookie recipe slightly adapted from Jacques Torres

Monday 9 April 2012

Strawberry Cupcakes

This weekend, my guy's mom came to visit. I wanted to make something special for her. I remembered her ordering a strawberry cupcake once when we went to a bakery together, so I decided to search for some strawberry cake recipes. Coincidentally, my sister is also a major strawberry cake fan, and she has been trying to find a great recipe for some time. Once these cupcakes were made, I tested some out on her and they passed with flying colors. It's not often that my own cooking really impresses me; but these certainly did. The cakes had a definite strawberry flavour to them, and the frosting added an extra hint of strawberries, for an overall flavour that wasn't too overpowering-perfectly sweet and yummy. This will now be my go-to strawberry cake recipe-and my sister's search is finally over!

Strawberry Cupcakes
Makes 12 Cupcakes

1 1/4 cups plus 2 Tbsp plain flour
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
7/8 cup (1 cup minus 2 Tbsp) sugar
1 1/2 oz. strawberry gelatin
8 Tbsp butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup sweetened strawberry puree*
*To make the strawberry puree, process partially thawed frozen strawberries with a little sugar in a blender or food processor until smooth. If using sweetened strawberries, no additional sugar is necessary.

For the Frosting:
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature but still firm
1/8-1/4 tsp salt
3 1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
4 Tbsp strawberry puree**
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
**To make the strawberry puree, process fresh strawberries in a blender or food processor. Strain the liquid for a little bit to ensure that the puree is not too watery. Use 4 Tbsp of the thicker puree.


Preheat the oven to 350*F. Line a cupcake pan with cupcake papers.

To make the cupcakes, in a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt; whisk to blend. Combine the sugar, strawberry gelatin and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium-high speed for 3-5mins until fluffy. Beat the eggs into the sugar mixture one at a time, mixing well after each. With the mixer on low, add half the dry ingredients and mix just until incorporated. Blend in the milk and vanilla. Add in the remaining dry ingredients, mixing until just incorporated. Blend in the strawberry puree.

Fill cupcake papers 3/4 full and place in the oven. Immediately turn the temperature down to 325*F and bake for 25mins, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack.

To make the frosting, beat the butter and salt in an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until light and fluffy (4-5min).

Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the powdered sugar. Beat until well combined. Add the vanilla and strawberry puree and mix to combine. Do not over mix. The frosting should be thick. Overmixing will produce a runny frosting. Frost the fully cooled cupcakes.

Cake recipe adapted from Annie's Eats; Frosting recipe adapted from Sprinkles

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Millionaire's Shortbread

Millionaire's Shortbread is a really yummy English cookie. Lately, I have been particularly missing London so I thought a British sweet might soothe some of my homesickness. This recipe is partly my own creation and partly from the supremely English cookbook by Peyton and Byrne. These turned out very well. My sister even declared them the best thing I have ever baked!

Millionaire's Shortbread

For the shortbread:
3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup cold butter, diced

Caramel Layer:
300g butter, diced
140g sugar
75g golden syrup
397g sweetened condensed milk

Chocolate Layer:
250g good-quality plain chocolate
10g butter

Preheat the oven to 325*F. Line a 9x13 in baking pan with parchment paper.

Sift the flour and salt together. Beat the butter and sugar on medium-high speed for 3-5mins until fluffy. Add the flour mixture and combine on low speed until a dough forms. Using parchment paper, press the dough into the baking pan. Chill in the freezer for 20min. Remove the top layer of parchment and bake for 5 min. Turn the oven down to 300*F and continue to bake for 15-20min, until lightly golden. Remove from oven and cool completely.

For the caramel layer, combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Stir over a low heat until the butter melts. Simmer gently for 20mins until the mixture reaches 240*F. Pour over the cold shortbread in an even layer and leave to cool.

Heat the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water. Once the chocolate has melted, stir in the butter until it melts. Pour over the caramel layer, spreading evenly with a palette knife. Leave to set and then cut into squares with a sharp knife. Wipe the knife after each cut to ensure clean cuts. They will keep in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Caramel Recipe adapted from British Baking by Peyton & Byrne

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Gooey Apple Pie

This is it. This is the gooey apple pie recipe I have been searching for. I love those gooey apple pies you get in retro diners where the waitresses wear aprons and call everyone "Darlin" or "Sugar". I've tried many times, in vain, to recreate that gooeyness in my homemade pies. Finally, with this recipe, I had success. I even added some conrstarch to the original recipe to ensure maximum gooeyness. Unfortunately, I took these pictures the day after I made the pie, so they don't adequately convey the consistency of the pie filling. You will just have to make it for yourself to see how good it is.

Gooey Apple Pie

1 recipe for pastry for a 9-in double crust pie I used this pastry recipe)
1/2 cup butter
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
6-7 Braeburn apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1 1/2 tsp apple pie spice

Preheat the oven to 350*F. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Stir in the flour to form a paste. Add a little bit of the sugars and spices and bring to the boil. Reduce the temperature and let simmer. Gradually add the water, as needed, to prevent the syrup from drying out.

Place the bottom crust in your pie dish and brush with egg whites. Mix 3/4 of the syrup with the apples and then fill the crust with apples, mounded slightly. Cover with pastry and brush with the remaining syrup.

Bake 55-60mins, until the apples are soft. If the apples are not soft, lower the temperature to 250*F, place the pie on the bottom rack and bake for an additional 20mins. (You may need to cover the top of the pie in foil to prevent it browning too much).

Let cool completely before serving.

Recipe adapted from Allrecipes