classic shortbread

shortbread

I know. It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. Far too long. All I can say is that I have two dogs that seem to have taken over my life.

Larry & Mila aka "the bears"

Larry & Mila aka “the bears”

Aren’t they just the cutest?

So as you can see – my snuggle bears keep me busy. But don’t worry. I haven’t abandoned my baking. Far from it!

Right now I am elbow deep in decadent holiday baking classes at The Urban Element. Every Saturday and Sunday I get to “teach” 16 individuals. People of all ages and varying comfort levels in the kitchen and with baking. Together, we bake close to 1800 cookies and squares. Everyone goes home with 8 dozen baked goods … all in a 5 hour time frame. It’s fun. It’s crazy. It is a little tiring (since I do still have my day job) – but boy do I LOVE it. I heart how enthusiastic everyone is. It’s the kind of day that brings good people, positive attitudes, and a lot of laughs and tasty treats.

I’m so lucky to be able to do this again this year.

When we came up with the baking list for this year we decided to include shortbread. Originally I think I thought we would roll it out or make it a slice cookie. But then I picked up a Donna Hay cookbook. That’s right. This recipe is all in thanks to Donna Hay.

Donna Hay's shortbread

Her picture of her shortbread was so pretty that I knew I needed to try it.

And then the recipe itself was so simple that it was a no brainer.

Honestly. You add all the ingredients to a food processor. Process it together. At first you’ll think nothing is happening and then all of a sudden the dough will gather together… and it’ll be done. Simple perfection.

classic shortbread

Do you think you’re ready to give it a try?

I think you are.

PS. this is so user-friendly you don’t even need a mixing bowl. I mean you can use one if you want … but honestly, I just place everything into my food processor bowl and go. You’ll have hardly any dishes to do … doesn’t that sound like the absolute perfect holiday cookie recipe?

You can click here to watch me demonstrate this on CTV Ottawa Morning Live Friday December 5th, 2014.

classic shortbread

ingredients:

250 g cold butter, cubed

1 1/2 cup flour

1 cup icing sugar

1/2 cup tapioca flour

1 tsp vanilla

butter

dry ingredients

In the bowl of your food processor, using your metal blade, place the butter, flour, icing sugar, tapioca flour and vanilla. Place the lid on your food processor and turn it on. You don’t need to pulse it. Just turn it on and let it go.

Right now you’re probably seeing just a lot of dry ingredients go around and around … and you’re thinking “should I stop it and use a spatula to mix it up?”. Don’t. It’ll come together. Give it a couple of minutes.

Now you are seeing it gather into a ball of dough. See it? It’s pretty perfect isn’t it.

Turn it out onto your counter and knead it all together. No flour required. Just knead it into one ball.

press the dough into your pan

Press the dough into your ready pan (I use basic PAM spray first). I decided this recipe was the perfect opportunity to use my loose bottom rectangular tart pan. I’d get pretty fluted edges that would add to the look of my shortbread. Add the skewered holes to the shortbread and I think mine could pass for Walkers Shortbread. If you don’t have the pan, line a rectangular pan with parchment paper and then press the dough on top. It’s the same idea … only it’s fun to have the pretty edges.

Once it’s been pressed along the base and into the sides and edges of your pan, allow your dough to rest in the fridge for 15 minutes.

This is a great time to turn your oven to 350 F in order to heat it.

When you’re ready to take it out of the fridge (after its resting time) the fun starts. At least I think it’s pretty fun.

creating the "walker" shortbread

Cut your shortbread. If using a rectangular pan you will likely want to cut the dough in half and then cut slices into that. I’m able to get 24 cookies in my 14 x 5 inch tart pan. You can use a round pan too! I simply encourage you to also place a round cookie cutter in the middle. That means your tips won’t ever break off – and you end up with an extra round shortbread cookie!

before baking

Use a skewer to pierce holes into your shortbread. This creates a really pretty effect.

Now you’re ready to bake it for 35 minutes. I always bake it on my upper-middle rack. I haven’t had to worry about the bottom not being cooked enough and it gets my top a little golden brown as well.

When the time is up … remove the pan from the oven.

after baking

And re-cut all those cookies you already cut out. If you do it while it’s still hot, you don’t end up with brittle edges. If my holes aren’t as pronounced I will re-skewer the holes too. But that might be a little OCD.

Now for the reason why I really love the loose bottomed pan.

removing the side of the pan

Rather than allow the cookies to cool in the pan, I’m able to simply slip the sides off the pan and allow the cookies to cool on on a wire rack (they are still sitting on the loose bottom). I leave the cookies for a few minutes because they are very delicate – but I find that without the sides on the tart pan, it doesn’t over-bake the sides of the shortbread.

allow to cool

Allow the shortbread to cool and then gently remove them from the base.

shortbread

You end up with little sticks of cookies. I like that they are quite thick – but not dry. They have a crunch on the outside, yet they still melt when you bite into them. A brilliantly lovely shortbread recipe.

We have changed it up a bit for the decadent holiday baking classes. Rather than a classic shortbread we bake orange cardamom shortbread. A beautiful, citrus and spicy buttery cookie – perfect for an afternoon tea break. Simply add 1/2 tsp of cardamom and the zest of one orange to your shortbread ingredients.

I’ve also swapped out the orange and the cardamom and made these with a chai spice mix. That just might be my absolute favourite version of this cookie. I’ll be making those for my own family this year … and likely dipping them in chocolate as well. Why not twist up a classic?

 

basic white bread

I’m the kind of girl who likes to make New Year’s Resolutions.

I know … you are probably wondering … why?

I like the feeling of starting the year with a bit of an action plan.  What can I do different?  Better?  How can I challenge myself?

Last year the Resolution was limiting my buying of books to 3 new ones per month – excluding anything I bought for book club reading.

The result?

I joined 3 more (virtual) book clubs … ones in which we normally read more than one book a month.  I didn’t really get the result I was aiming for – spending less money on books, and reading more from my already fully stocked bookcase … but I did sure read some good books!

This year my Resolution is all about making bread.

2014 - the year of bread

That’s right!  2014 IS GOING TO BE MY YEAR OF THE BREAD.  My goal is to finally get comfortable using yeast (oh how yeast has scared me away from recipes in the past), enjoy kneading the dough, and turn out a decent loaf.

So far … so good!

We’re three weeks into this New Year and I have been baking bread 2 to 3 times a week.  The same recipe mostly – but I’m finding myself encouraged that:

(1) each and every single loaf has turned out

(2) yeast isn’t as scary as I always assumed, and

(3) I’ve been able to bake a loaf first thing in the morning and slather a piece of warm bread in butter.

Life is pretty grand when you make your own bread.

My confidence is really all thanks James Morton, runner-up of BBC’s 2012 The Great British Bake Off (ps. my favourite show … tied with MasterChef Australia – both worthy of being downloaded & obsessed over).  James is actually a medical student at the University of Glasgow who loves to bake bread.  He competed on The Great British Bake Off, won hearts of viewers and then published a book: Brilliant Bread.

If you are considering bread making at home – go out and get this book.  Seriously.  James is able to make bread accessible to the home baker.  Nothing fancy.  Nothing crazy.  Just good bread.  The book is basically divided into three parts.

1.  No-knead bread.

2.  Kneaded bread.

3.  Fancy breads and things to impress.

I’m still enjoying section one.  I’m not kneading … I’m allowing the yeast to work in its own time.  Considering one of the things that has always scared me about bread making is the kneading aspect, this suits me just fine.

This recipe is the very first in his book.  I haven’t changed a single thing.  There’s no need to.  I can tell you that the first 2 times I used all-purpose flour, and have since switched to bread flour (or as the Brits say – “strong flour”)I like the texture that I get out of bread flour, but honestly, this recipe works just fine with all-purpose flour.

Bakers note:  The one thing I will recommend getting is a kitchen scale.  I have done my best to convert the amounts for you – however, the scale is more accurate. 

Join me in the mission of baking homemade bread.  Your kitchen will smell brilliant; you’ll impress the pants off your friends and family (and yourself!); and honestly … there’s nothing better than a fresh loaf of bread!

Basic White Bread

Ingredients:

500 g (3 cups less 3 tbsp) bread flour

10 g (1 ½ tsp) salt

7 g (1 packet or 1 ½ tsp) instant yeast

350 g (350 mL) tepid water

*tepid water = when you turn on the water to hot and cold, you shouldn’t be able to feel whether it’s hot or cold.

Grab a large glass bowl.  Add your flour.  Sprinkle the salt on one side of the bowl.  Sprinkle the yeast on the other side of the bowl.  You don’t want the salt and yeast to touch right off … since the salt can kill the yeast (thank you James for that bit of information)!

Rub the salt and yeast into the flour (on their respective sides).

Add the tepid water.  I used my hand to mix it into a ball of dough.  You might freak out slightly, thinking there isn’t enough water.  Don’t worry.  Keep mixing the dough together.  It’ll become a cohesive ball.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  Set in a warm place and allow it to sit for about 1 hour.  You’ll notice that the yeast starts to work – the dough should increase in size, and appear airier.  That’s good.

When ready, wet your hand slightly and use it to pull the dough away from the sides of the bowl and fold the dough in half.  Turn the bowl and continue folding over the dough until it appears smooth and the air has been removed.

the first rise

dough ready for a second rise

Cover with plastic wrap and allow it to rise in a warm place for another hour.  To be honest, I sometimes let it sit longer – my goal is to get the best rise out of it as possible.

 *baker notes: you can even place your bowl in the fridge and allow it to rise overnight between 10-12 hours – your bread will still bake beautifully! 

Once your dough has risen, use your hand to scrape the dough onto a floured surface.  This is the part where you do the most work: shape into a ball.

second rise & shaping

I’d explain the process of shaping into a ball… expect James’ book has such a wonderful visual.  I’ve included it.  All credit to Brilliant Bread and James Morton.

shaping & final prove

Once the dough is shaped, place it on your cookie sheet and set aside for another 40 to 60 minutes.  It’ll double in size and spring back to the touch.

With 20 minutes remaining in the final prove; turn your oven to 410 F (210 C).  You might think this is too high a heat.  It’s not.

When you’re just about ready to plop that loaf into the oven, grab a serrated knife and score the top of your bread.

Place your tray on a low rack in your oven and bake for 40 minutes.  This will create a beautiful golden crust that has a real crunch.  It’s pretty spectacular.

perfect basic white bread

You’ll know the bread is ready when you pull it out, turn it over, and knock on the base.  If it sounds hallow (or if your dog barks at the sound because he thinks someone’s knocking at the door), then you know – your bread is done!

Allow the loaf to cool on a wire rack.  If you cut into it right away you might think it’s a little doughy … so just be patient and allow it to cool slightly.

perfect bread

This recipe has NEVER failed me.  It’s the kind of thing that is building my confidence in becoming a bread baker.  I can’t wait to get tucked into the tea loaf recipe this weekend.  But until then … I’m happy to slather a slice of this loaf with butter and honey. That combo is never a bad idea :0)

butter and honey

ottawa cookie jam 2013

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Wouldn’t it be GREAT if there was an event in Ottawa that celebrated the cookie?

A place where you could find a plethora of cookies … some thin and crunchy, others thick and chewy. Chalk full of chocolate-chips or intensely spiced. Cookies of every shape, size, texture. Basically … wouldn’t it be amazing if you could go to one place and find just about every kind of cookie you could dream of?

Each and every one of them would obviously ALSO be home baked.

Thanks to the organizers of Ottawa Cookie Jam, we are about to have just that … an event where cookies are the star.

Actually … that’s a lie.

Ottawa Cookie Jam is all about eating cookies AND helping a great cause: In From the Cold, a programme run by the Parkdale United Church.

It doesn’t get much better than eating cookies for a good cause does it?

This isn’t just your run-of-the-mill basement of a church cookie sale though. There’s also a commpetition going on … there will be judges, there will be categories to enter … and proceeds go to a great cause.

Here’s the thing. Whether you decide to participate as a baker or simply as a taster and supporter of a good cause, you NEED TO REGISTER. The organizers need to know how many people are baking and attending.

In case you’re wondering, Ottawa Cookie Jam takes place Saturday, October 5th between 1 pm and 4 pm at the Parkdale United Church.

Will I see you there?????

Now … since this is a baking blog … and I’m promoting a cookie event … I wanted to do my part. I decided to take the classic oatmeal raisin cookie and … well turn it upside down. I opted for chocolate chips, oats and coconut. The result: A thick and chewy cookie with a kick of cinnamon. It’s pretty awesome.

It’s kind of the perfect cookie for this time of year. Hint hint … I think you should make a batch. Seriously.

*bakers note: you might find the measurements slightly strange … the original base of this recipe is from Thomas Keller. He prefers to weigh his ingredients, so this is my attempt at converting the measurements.

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oatmeal, coconut, chocolate-chip cookies
ingredients:

1 c. flour
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c. + 3 1/2 tbsp. brown sugar
1/4 c. + 1 1/2 tsp. sugar
3/4 c. butter, room temperature
1 large egg
1 1/4 tsp vanilla paste
2 c. oats
1/2 c. flaked coconut
1/2 c. chocolate-chips

In the bowl of your stand-mixer, using your paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium speed, until it is the consistency of mayonnaise (about 5 to 7 minutes). Add the sugars and mix for a further 3-4 minutes, until fluffy.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add the egg and vanilla paste, mixing on low until combined, about 15-30 seconds. The mixture might look a little curdled – no big deal. You would rather that than over-mixing.

Meanwhile, combine the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl, whisking together.

Add the dry ingredients to the butter, sugar, egg mixture in 2 additions; mixing on low speed for 15 to 30 seconds each time. Scrape the bottom of the bowl to incorporate.

Add the oats, and count to ten with the mixer on medium – low speed.

Add in the flaked coconut and chocolate-chips. Again count to 10 with the mixer on medium-low speed.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.

*bakers note: If you chill for 30 minutes, the result is a thin, crunchy cookie. If you chill for longer than 30 minutes – say overnight, then you end up with thicker, chewy cookies. It’s up to you.
Also – the original recipe actually makes 6 x 4-inch cookies (quite large). I actually opted to bake 16 2-inch cookies. Again, it’s up to you.

Heat the oven to 325 F. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.

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Whatever size of cookie you decide to bake, make sure you don’t allow the dough to touch while baking … especially if you are baking after only allowing the cookie dough to rest for 30 minutes – these spread.

If you are making the larger cookies, bake them fro 21 to 23 minutes, reversing the tray position halfway through the baking time.

If you opt for the smaller cookies, bake 18 minutes. Again … reversing the tray position halfway through the baking time.

Remove from the oven, allow to cool on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes and then remove from the cookie sheet and cool completely on a wire rack.

Or you know … grab a glass of milk and dunk right it. They are so good freshly out of the oven.

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