that takes the cake

Donna is retiring.  She’s been working on the Hill for over 40 years.  43 to be exact.  13 years longer than I’ve been alive.  I was completely and utterly gobsmacked when I heard that.

IN-SANE. 

Obviously that calls for a celebration of sorts. 

And so we threw her a party.

Yesterday afternoon, everyone took the time to set aside their work, leave their cubicles, and gather around Donna as we all thanked her for her tremendous work and wished her the best for the future.

There were speeches.  There were presents.  Pictures were taken.

And then we ate.

I had been asked if I minded baking the cake.  Of course not!  I even got Emily to help me out with the decorating.   Vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream.  Exactly as Donna had requested (I figured it was best to check and make sure she got the cake she wanted).

*Donna likes going to the casino … and we wanted to make sure she got her royal flush!

I was then asked if I wouldn’t mind baking another little treat … or two (or four).  Done!

I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to make …. cranberry bliss barsBlack & white toffee bars?

That’s when I found this recipe.

To say that I was excited would be an understatement.  You see – when I was 12 years old, I was gifted my first recipe book.  It was an A to Z cookbook – with a recipe assigned to each letter of the alphabet (I remember that X was xylophone cake).  

My personal favourites to bake were the lemon squares and the espresso brownies.  They were … incredible.  I remember the lemon squares were mouth puckering tart, and that the espresso brownies tasted of a rich mocha … they made me feel so grown up.  I’ve since lost that book (if anyone knows which one I’m talking about … send me a quick email … I’d love to get another copy), but the memory of both those recipes sneak up on me from time to time.

These brownies brought me right back to my childhood.  Only this version is a little more grown-up.  I got to use my coffee liqueur – that ingredient wasn’t in my original recipe ;0)

If you’re looking for something to quickly whip up for the holidays – these squares … aren’t really what you are looking for.  Easy – yes.  Quick … well you need to include cooling time … so I’m not classifying these as labour intensive – simply as slightly time-consuming… but only slightly

These babies pack a real punch – full of mocha and chocolate.  Oh my my.  Delish!  Coffee and baked goods all in one bite (plus a little shot of coffee liqueur)

Made in two different stages – the brownie base, and then once cooled the espresso topping – these will make your coffee loving heart sing as they bake. 

triple espresso brownies

ingredients:

1/4 c. water

2 tbsp instant espresso powder

1 c. butter

1 1/2 c. semisweet chocolate chips

1 c. sugar

1/2 c. packed brown sugar

4 eggs, lightly beaten, room temperature

1 1/2 tsp vanilla

2 c. flour, sifted

1/2 c.  chopped toasted pecans

1/2 tsp salt

Preheat your oven to 350 F.  Line your rectangular baking pan with parchment paper (or foil), grease with nonstick spray and set aside.  Lining the pan with parchment paper or foil simply allows you to easily lift the entire pan of brownies out and cleanly cut them – not necessary if you are fine with just cutting them straight out of the pan :0)

In a medium saucepan, combine the water with espresso powder.  Add the butter and the chocolate chips.  Heat and stir over low heat until the mixture is smooth. 

Remove the saucepan from heat and whisk in the sugars, vanilla and eggs – whisking the entire time so that the eggs don’t curdle.

Grab your wooden spoon and stir in the flour, pecans and salt.  Spread the batter evenly in the pan.

Bake for 20 – 25 minutes (middle rack, and until a toothpick comes out clean).  Cool in the pan on a wire rack.  Do not remove the brownies from the pan yet.

Step two: making the frosting.

espresso frosting

ingredients:

3 c. powdered sugar, sifted

1/4 c. butter, softened

2 tbsp boiling water

2 tbsp coffee liqueur or 2 tsp espresso powder

1/2 tsp vanilla

Place the powdered sugar in the bowl of your stand-mixer.  Add the butter, boiling water, coffee liqueur (or espresso powder), and 1/2 tsp vanilla.

Beat on low-speed until combined (use your paddle attachment), then increase the speed – allowing the batter to get fluffy and smooth (if needed, add a little milk to loosen up the batter).

Spread oven the cooled brownies (while still in the pan). 

Sprinkle with some cocoa powder and then some chopped chocolate covered coffee beans. 

Allow these brownies to chill a little – either in the freezer for about 30 minutes or in the fridge (wrapped in plastic wrap).  This will make it much easier to cleanly cut them into pieces.

Lift the brownies out of the pan (the beauty of that parchment paper) and then cut into small cubes – you should be able to get about 60 squares.  Perfect little one-bite treats for any social gathering.  Especially one as memorable as Donna’s farewell.

elimination challenge: petit fours

You might remember that I admitted to being a shoe whore… I adore shoes – flats, boots, heels, point- toed, open-toed… any type of shoe can catch my eye at any time.  It can be slightly dangerous (trip to San Francisco… I came home with 5 new pairs of shoes… seriously)… but oh so much fun!

Which could explain why I LOVED participating in this week’s Top Chef Just Desserts online elimination challenge – it all started with a pair of shoes.

On last week’s episode, the cheftestants selected a pair of shoes each, and then were asked to do the following:

1.  design an edible dress.  Yes that’s right an edible dress.

2.  create 2 different petit fours that would become the “accessories” to the dress and shoes.

Awesome eh?  Super creative and super fun (I’m actually re-watching the episode as I write this entry).

The online challenge requires us only to create the petit fours – no edible dress for me (thank goodness… holy heck that would have been insane)… and I decided to try two new recipes.

I was inspired by my new Michael Kors: I bought them in San Francisco… they have 4 inch heels.  Oh how I heart these shoes. 

Pretty slammin’ eh? (Marianne… thanks for convincing me to buy them!)

They deserved good accessories.  Done and Done!

I started with turnovers.  Not just any turnover… apple peach rum turnover.  Yes… puff pastry, apples, peaches and a nice hit of Sailor Jerrys rum.  Delish!

I was hemming and hawing over what I should make next… and became inspired by the thought of truffles: dark chocolate espresso truffles.  My little yin and yang of baking – the freshness of the turnovers – light and airy vs. the rich, decadent truffles… soooo goooood.

apple peach rum turnovers

ingredients:

quick puff pastry (thawed in the fridge overnight)

2 apples

2 peaches

2 tbsp white sugar

2 tsp ground cinnamon

pinch of salt

1/4 c. water

1/4 c. sailor jerrys rum

1 egg and pinch of salt, creates an egg wash

coarse white sugar, to sprinkle

Peel, core and dice your apples and peaches (FYI – you end up with too much compote – but it’s so good… I just ate spoonfuls of it the following day – it’s already all gone!).

 

In a medium saucepan, combine the diced apples and peaches, water, sugar, cinnamon and salt; bring to a boil, cover and allow to simmer for about 4 minutes.

Remove the lid and continue to cook the fruit for about 15 minutes – adding the rum as the mixture thickens.  Stir (not continuously, but often enough) in order to prevent the mixture from sticking to the bottom of the saucepan and burning.  Once thick and the liquid has evaporated, remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the filling to cool.  Refrigerate until cold.

Remove your puff pastry from the fridge, and roll it out on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  You want the pastry to be slightly thicker than 1/8-inch.  Place the cookie sheet in your freezer and allow the pastry to get firm, but not hard (not frozen).  AtOnce firm, use a round cookie cutter and cut out disks – I was able to get 9 disks out of my sheet of puff pastry.  Pull away the trimmings and return the puff pastry to the fridge.

At this point, your filling should be cold.  Preheat your oven to 425 F.

Make your egg wash by beating your egg and adding a pinch of salt.  That’s it.  Super easy eh?

Place 1 tsp of the cold apple peach filling slightly off centre on each of the puff pastry disks. 

Brush the opposite half of the disk with egg wash, fold the puff pastry over and seal – gently press on the edges and then grab a fork and press again, making it all pretty :0)

Brush the turnovers with egg wash, sprinkle each turnover with your coarse sugar. 

Place your cookie sheet in the oven and bake for about 15 minutes – until golden brown (it seems my oven cooks slightly faster than I thought… so really watch your oven).

These are actually best served at room temperature, the following day – it allows the flavours to really come through in the filling.

In terms of the challenge; these turnovers are considered a cute little clutch (purse).  Adorable non?

dark chocolate espresso truffles

ingredients:

9 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 c. heavy cream

1/4 c. honey

1 tsp espresso powder

cocoa powder, to roll in

Place the coarsely chopped chocolate in a large heat-proof bowl.  Grab a fine-mesh strainer, set both aside.

In a medium saucepan, stir together the cream, honey and espresso powder:  allow the mixture to just get to a boil.  That’ll take no time :0)

Remove the saucepan from heat, and pour the cream through the strainer right on top of the chocolate.  Let all of that just sit together for 2 minutes; that’s right… don’t stir anything … yet.

Now… gently stir the mixture (centre outward) until it is smooth and shiny. 

Cover the entire bowl in plastic wrap – ensuring that the plastic touches the surface of the chocolate mixture.  Refrigerate for 5 hours or until firm.  (I made mine the night before).

When you’re ready to shape the truffles, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Scoop out the ganache with a small teaspoon, drop onto the parchment paper in balls (well… almost balls, they aren’t perfect).  Once completed, place the cookie sheet in the freezer for at least 1 hour.

Time to roll the truffles!

Ok, grab some cocoa powder, sift it nicely and place it in a bowl.  Roll the truffle around in the cocoa powder, gently tap any excess powder off the ball and place back on your cookie sheet.  I had to do this in batches – since my little ganache balls got pretty soft at one point; I threw the cookie sheet with the un-rolled truffles back into the freezer and allowed them to “harden” again.

I seem to have done something wrong… or maybe this has happened to you too? You see… my truffles look good, taste gobsmacking amazing (rich dark chocolate + honey + espresso = deliciousness), but they umm…. aren’t hard.  They are still soft and gooey – even after spending the night in the freezer (airtight tupperware, pieces of wax paper between the layers).  I wonder what happened there… ???

That’s ok… they still look good… and go well with my shoes :0)

a celebration of ‘hearts’

authors note:Thank you Paula (@ vanillabeanbaker) for helping me out with this project :0)  Adding the cocoa powder to your recipe was uber successful – thanks for sharing!

Anne: “Lynne… would you be able to make 8 dozen mini cupcakes for October 15th?”

me: “Sure – no problem.  What’s the occasion?”

Anne: “It’s the 2nd anniversary of my husbands heart attack, and I like to mark the day by sending something to all the doctors, nurses and volunteers at the Ottawa Heart Institute who saved his life.”

me: “Consider the cupcakes done!”

How flattered was I to be asked to bake Anne’s “thank you” gift!?  Pretty darn flattered! I loved the idea of thanking everyone who saved Hugh’s life and helped him with his recovery.  And I love how thoughtful Anne is to have started this tradition.  Amazing.

Since the cupcakes were going to the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, and were being gifted for saving a man after his heart attack; I knew without a doubt I wanted to include something heart shaped in my baking.  That’s when I realized, this would be the absolute perfect opportunity to bake my cookies and cream cupcakes – a cupcake base, rich, thick vanilla buttercream, topped by a sugar cookie – but not just any sugar cookie – a chocolate heart shaped sugar cookie.  AWESOME.

It actually didn’t take me very long to bake these babies; 1 batter of my super duper moist vanilla bean cupcakes ended up as 8 dozen mini cupcakes.  Half a batter of sugar cookie dough rolled out into 8 dozen mini heart shaped cookies… and finally 1 large batch of vanilla buttercream frosting was piped atop each cupcake – creating the perfect base for which to lie the cookies on.

Three simple steps.  And aren’t they just too darn cute?!!!


First things first – baking the cupcakes.  I decided to stick to a recipe I know stays moist; I was going to be delivering the cupcakes in the morning, and wanted to make sure that they would still be tasty throughout the day.  It was also super awesome that one batter resulted in 8 dozen mini cupcakes :0)

This recipe is actually based on the happy baker chick’s cupcake recipe… I kinda changed the flavour – but used the base as my basis.  It’s a really incredible recipe:  these cupcakes always turn out moist.  Always.

super duper moist vanilla bean cupcakes

ingredients:

2 c. sugar

2 c. flour

1 tsp baking powder

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 vanilla pod, seeded

2 eggs

3/4 c. vegetable oil

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 c. buttermilk

1 c. boiling water

Preheat your oven to 350 F and line your cupcake pan with liners – remember, this recipe will make you 8 dozen mini cupcakes, or 2.5 regular cupcakes.  Set aside.

In the bowl of your stand-mixer, combine the sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla seeds, and salt.  Turn off the mixer and add the eggs (both at once), oil, vanilla extract and buttermilk.  Beat everything together – increasing the speed to medium, combining everything really well – you want it to be smooth and silky.

Decrease the speed of your mixer and slowly add the boiling water (the mixer should be running).  It’ll look like you are drowning your batter… don’t worry… it’ll start to thicken up as you continue to beat it.  Once well blended, turn off your mixer.  I let it sit for about a minute – it continues to thicken, making it easier to scoop into the cupcake liners.

Bake for 12 minutes (if mini – 16 minutes if regular).  Remove from heat and cool on a wire rack.

Cupcakes done!

My second order of business was finding the best sugar cookie recipe I could.  That’s where The Vanilla Bean Baker comes in (if you’ve checked out her blog you’ll understand why I asked Paula for her assistance).  I emailed Paula for some advice – and she came through.  Our recommendation is that you use your favourite sugar cookie recipe.  I added an additional 3/4 c. dark cocoa powder to the recipe – it produced a not too sweet cookie; the perfect balance to the sweet vanilla bean cupcake and buttercream.

Cookies done!

Finally, the third step was to whip up a fluffy vanilla buttercream.  Super easy recipe to boot!

sailor jerry’s vanilla buttercream

ingredients:

1/2 c. salted butter, room temperature, cut in cubes

5 c. powdered sugar, sifted

3 tsp of vanilla extract (I used my homemade extract – made with some sailor jerry’s rum…hence the name of my buttercream)

1 – 2 tbsp milk

In the bowl of your stand-mixer, beat together the butter and powdered sugar.  Increase the speed as the butter and sugar start to combine.  Add the vanilla, continue to beat (medium-high speed).  Slowly drizzle the milk into the buttercream – adding as needed.  Increase to about a 6 on your kitchenaid mixer – whipping everything for about 10 minutes… you want a super fluffy buttercream.

Buttercream done!

Time to assemble.

Grab your buttercream, place it in a piping bag with a large star tip (or whatever large tip you feel like using).  Pipe the buttercream atop each mini cupcake – the very best part of this… I was able to pipe with one hand!!! From being afraid of piping buttercream to only needing to use one hand… incredible!!! (yes… I was smiling broadly to myself as I piped 96 mini cupcakes).

Then pull out your heart shaped sugar cookies, placing them on top of each pillow of buttercream – gently pressing them in so that they stay put.

That’s it.  Simple eh?  But they look so good.  I hope everyone at the hospital hearts them as much as I do! :0)