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?

 

cranberry mini cheesecakes

Thanksgiving.

The time of year that makes me think … pumpkin. cinnamon. brown sugar. butter. toasted pecans.

But this post isn’t about any of those things.

Not at all.

This year my Thanksgiving turkey will be accompanied by these.

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cranberry – orange – white chocolate chip cheesecakes.

Mother of pearl that’s a real mouthful.

Oh yeah … I also tossed quinoa into the mix … just cuz. (actually I had some left over and thought it would add a nice little nutty flavour to the cheesecake base).

There’s a couple of reasons why I decided to go this route.

1. I heart cranberries. And they are in season. Add zest and juice of an orange and you’re kinda in cranberry heaven (chinese five spice would be super amazing too!).

2. Mini cheesecakes take all of 20 minutes to bake.

3. These are best baked ahead of time … so if you’re cooking a turkey on Sunday … bake these on Saturday night. Cheesecake is best when it’s rested overnight. A make-ahead dessert is perfect for entertaining!

4. People are going to LOVE the creaminess of these cheesecakes. They aren’t too heavy either.

5. The cookie base that I use is simply MY personal preference … feel free to use graham crackers or even gingersnaps. Both would work.

Now I’ve gone from being the girl who *doesn’t really care for* and *never bakes* cheesecakes to … being really proud of my recipe. It’s actually become one of my *go to* recipes whenever I need to make something nice and quick. Plus … you don’t have to use cranberries. I’ve used the same base recipe and made peanut butter, roasted banana and chocolate cheesecakes. I’ve made mint oreo cheesecakes. Marbled cheesecakes. Lemon cheesecakes. Passionfruit cheesecakes.

It kinda looks like all I do is bake cheesecake!

I think once you try this recipe … you’ll understand why I keep going back. Simple and painless. And oh so delightful!

*bakers note … you should ALWAYS make your cheesecake filling when your ingredients are at room temperature.  So if you’re going to make the cookies – take the cheesecake filling ingredients out when you start on the cookies, and make the filling once you are baking the cookies … 3 hours later (this recipe requires the cookie batter chilling for 3 hours prior to baking).

Here’s my recipe.  Like I said … no worries if you decide not to make the cookies first … but they sure are good cookies.  And you get so many out of the batch that you’ll be able to nibble on one or two while making the cheesecakes :0)

cranberry – orange – white chocolate chip cheesecakes

orange – white chocolate chip cookies

*adapted from Baked Elements

ingredients:

2 1/4 c. flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

1 c. butter, room temperature

1 c. firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 c. white sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 tbsp orange juice

about 2 c. white chocolate chips

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In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda.  Set aside.

Grab your stand mixer and paddle attachment.  Beat the butter and sugars together on medium speed – you want to let this go for about 5 minutes: smooth, creamy and pale is the goal.  Scrape down the sides (and the bottom of the bowl!) … this is uber important.  Otherwise you might end up with air pockets of sugar when you bake your cookies.

Add the eggs, one at a time, again scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition.  At this point, your batter is looking pretty darn fluffy.  Perfect!  Add the vanilla and orange juice.  Beat until just incorporated.

Add half the flour mixture and beat for 15 seconds.  You’ll see what I mean … the flour will be just mixing in … add the remaining flour and beat until incorporated.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Once you’re ready to bake …

Heat your oven to 350 F.  Line a couple cookies sheets with parchment paper.  You can make these cookies whatever size you like … mine were about 2 tbsp large – and so I baked them for 12 minutes.

You’ll know they’re ready because … well … you’ll smell them.  Mother of pearl!  They smell good!  But as a visual guide – the tops of the cookies should be slightly golden and a little puffed.  Remove from the oven, allow to sit on the cookie sheet for a further 5 minutes and then cool completely on a wire rack.

Watch out!  These cookies spread.  So don’t place them too closely together on the cookie sheet.

Once they are all baked … grab a couple to nibble on … and set the rest aside.  It’s time to start making your cheesecake filling.

mini cranberry cheesecakes

ingredients:

cranberry purée:

1 package cranberries, fresh or frozen

1 orange, zest & juice

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the cranberries with the zest and juice of a large orange.  Bring the ingredients to a boil … the cranberries will start to pop.  Decrease the heat and allow everything to simmer.  Once the cranberries start to break apart and thickens … remove from heat and purée in your food processor.  Set aside.

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cheesecake filling:

*bakers note:  you should get 24 cupcake sized cheesecakes out of this recipe.  If you would like to opt for half the recipe – I use 1 egg and 1 egg yolk, halving the rest of the ingredients.  It works like a charm.

two 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, room temperature

3/4 c. sugar

3 eggs, room temperature

1 egg yolk, room temperature

1 1/2 c. sour cream, room temperature

2 tsp vanilla

good pinch of salt

Grab that food processor … that’s the secret to a super airy cheesecake.

In the bowl of your food processor, pulse the cream cheese and sugar until smooth.  This shouldn’t take very long.  Then add the eggs and egg yolk, one at a time.  Pulse and scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Add the sour cream, vanilla and salt.  Pulse again until completely incorporated.  Set aside.

base:

2 dozen orange white chocolate chip cookies (see recipe above)

1/2 c. cooked quinoa (optional) (I used extra quinoa that had been toasted, then cooked in a vanilla pod, cinnamon stick broth – as per my carob chip almond butter quinoa cookie recipe)

1/2 c. butter, melted

Grab your food processor.  Yes … you need it again!

First – pulse the cookies until they resemble a fine crumb.  Then, add the cooked quinoa and the melted butter and pulse until it all comes together.  Add the butter slowly … you don’t want the cookie base to be too oily … you want the crumbs to stick together, but not leak butter.

Remove the base from the food processor and grab your muffin tins.  Line the bottom of cupcake liners with this mixture (about 1 large tablespoon worth) and set aside.

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I find the best way to pour this into the muffin tins is either to put it in a measuring cup with a lip … or in a squeeze bottle.  Pour (or squeeze) the filling on-top of the orange – white chocolate chip cookie base … fill them pretty much right up to the top!  Then grab the cranberry purée and spoon about 1 tsp into the middle of each cheesecake.  You can use a toothpick to spread it out … or just leave it as is.

Bake in a 350 F oven for 20 minutes.  You’ll know they are ready when you gently shake the muffin pan and the cheesecakes don’t move in the centre.  Also … they will be nice and puffed in the middle.  Remove from heat and allow to cool in the muffin tin on a wire rack.

The middle might sink a little at this point.  Don’t worry about it!  Top with some fresh berries … or some toasted pecans.  I promise no one will mind.

cranberry – orange chocolate soufflé cake

So I really really really heart this recipe.
Not just a little. A whole heck of alot.

Enough to make it twice … in the course of 4 days … once on Friday and again last night.  Enough to make it on television (check it out on ctv ottawa morning live)

It’s delicious. Heck … it’s ab-so-lute-ly pos-i-tive-ly delightful!

Tart cranberries poached in an orange, cinnamon, allspice simple syrup and soaked overnight … piled high on top of a bed of chocolate whipped cream and supported by a moist, rich, sinfully delicious dark chocolate – orange soufflé cake.

Mother of pearl.

Who wouldn’t love that combo? 

I do promise that the soufflé cake is easy to make (I’d never made a soufflé before … and knowing that it was supposed to sink in the centre certainly relieved me of any stress) … but you do need to plan ahead when making this.

1.  The cranberries need to poach in the simple syrup overnight.  The longer they sit … the better they get.

2.  The egg yolks and egg whites need to be at room temperature … so pull those out before you start on the soufflé.

3.  You also don’t want to bake the cake too much in advance of serving it … I found the recipe in bon appétit’s desserts cookbook and they recommended only baking it 6 hours ahead of serving …

Those three points don’t seem too challenging do they?  Nah.

You can do this.  Plus … once you make it … you’ll probably want to make it again and again.  Heck … I’m already thinking about attempting this cake as mini soufflé cakes in cupcake liners.

poached cranberries
ingredients:
2 1/2 c. sugar
1 c. water
3 c. cranberries
1 orange, zest only
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp allspice

chocolate orange soufflé cake
ingredients:
10 ounces dark (semi-sweet) chocolate, chopped
10 tbsp butter (1/2 c. + 2 tbsp)
7 large eggs, separated, room temperature
1 c. + 1 tbsp sugar
1/3 c. freshly squeezed orange juice
zest of 1 large orange

chocolate whipped cream
ingredients:
3 ounces semi-sweet dark chocolate, chopped
1 c. heavy cream, cold

The night before:

In a medium saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a boil over medium – high heat; stirring initially so that the sugar dissolves. Once at a boil, add the cranberries, orange zest, cinnamon and allspice. Stir well and allow to simmer for about 2 minutes – you’ll hear the cranberries start to pop.

Remove from heat and allow to sit in the spiced syrup overnight.

Day of:

Drain the cranberries before using – discard the syrup, you won’t be needing it again.  I also let my cranberries sit in the strainer until I was ready to use them … remember to keep the strainer over a bowl since more of the liquid will drain (and you don’t want to make a mess all over your counter) ;0)

Preheat your oven to 350 F and generously spray the base and sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Set aside.

In a double boiler, melt the butter and chocolate – stirring from time to time. Remove from heat.

In the bowl of your stand-mixer, using your whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks and 3/4 c. + 1 tbsp of sugar until light and creamy – about 3 minutes (beat at a high speed). Once the yolks have paled (they should resemble the colour of butter), reduce the speed of the mixer and slowly add the orange juice and zest. Beat until incorporated.

Turn off the mixer and fold in the melted chocolate mixture using a spatula.

Once fully combined, pour the chocolate – egg yolk mixture into a large mixing bowl. Set aside.

Clean the bowl of your stand-mixer and the whisk attachment. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form (medium-high speed). Slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar to the egg whites, increasing the speed so that stiff peaks form. You still want the egg whites to be glossy – so don’t over beat them.

Gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate – egg yolk mixture using a spatula. The batter should be quite airy.

Bake for about 45 minutes – you’ll notice that the top of the cake has formed a crust … but you might not be sure about the centre. DON’T stick a tester into the centre … gently shake the pan … ensuring that no batter splashes around. The centre will be moist.

Now you’ll take out the highest chocolate cake … don’t be disappointed when the centre drops.  It’s all good. That’s what the chocolate whipped topping and poached cranberries will disguise.

Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Just before serving:

In a double boiler melt the chocolate (or in a microwave).  Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

In the bowl of your stand-mixer, using your whisk attachment, beat the heavy cream until thick and creamy.  Fold in the melted chocolate … you’re beautiful white whipped cream becomes rich and chocolately in mere moments.  De-lish!

Remove the side from the springform pan.  Spoon the chocolate-whipped cream over the top – especially over the fallen centre.

Spoon the cranberries on top of the chocolate-whipped cream.

There you have it.  A beautiful, rich, insanely wonderful dessert.  Like I said … I absolutely heart this cake.  I think you will too.