Sunday, May 29, 2016

Twix shortbread bars

Chocolate, caramel and shortbread bars reminiscent of Twix candy - how can you go wrong with those 3 epic layers?

Am I reading my calendar correctly? Is it really May? Please don't tell me that this year is almost half over! There is still so much to do and not enough time for it all. Right?

And although I always make time to bake desserts on a weekly basis, there are some days where I don't have that much time to get it done.  One day I had a bunch of time and a whole pint of heavy cream so I made some caramel sauce (I gifted some to Addie's teacher). I was craving candy bars and wanted something caramel-y so I baked these Twix shortbread bars.

The crust layer was quick and easy to make and hardly took any time. Since I already had caramel sauce, I poured that on top of my crust and popped it in the refrigerator to cool. Then I melted some chocolate chips in the microwave and spread it on top of the caramel and allowed the chocolate to harden. That was it.

These shortbread bars were reminiscent of a Twix bar with the 3 distinct layers. While these didn't have the traditional crunch of a Twix bar, I didn't mind.

This was a super simple, no-fuss bar recipe that took very little effort. This month's What's Baking challenge also happens to be bar recipes so please take a minute to visit Nichole's blog and see what the other baking ladies created.

Twix shortbread barsCrust
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
Caramel filling
Chocolate topping
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
Directions
Preheat your oven to 300 degrees F. Generously grease a 9"x13" baking pan and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer, cream the butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Then add the salt, vanilla and powdered sugar until smooth. Turn the mixer to low and and slowly add the flour and mix until everything comes together.

Spread the batter into your prepared baking pan and bake in your preheated oven for about 35 minutes or until the edges start to turn golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool completely.

Pour the caramel on top of the cooled crust and place in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes or until the caramel has solidified.

In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the chocolate chips in the microwave in 30-second increments. Spread this on top of the caramel and put the pan back in the refrigerator until the chocolate has completely hardened.

Once the chocolate has hardened, remove the bars from the refrigerator to cut and serve (you may want to use a warm knife for easier cutting). Store leftover bars in an airtight container in the refrigerator. They will last at least a week.




Yield: One 9"x13" pan; about 20-24 bars

Source: Barely adapted from My Kitchen Escapades

Friday, May 27, 2016

Skating Fridays

Lessons From a Champion


I traveled to California this week for work and decided to bring my skates along. I found a rink that wasn't too far from my hotel so I decided to skate the early morning freestyle each day I was in town.

Before the trip, I was able to get in touch with some skating friends that I had met at previous competitions. One of them happened to be the former Gold Ladies (national) champion, whom I'd only met once before. She happily agreed to skate with me one morning. I was ecstatic - I was going to share the ice with her!

Watching her flow across the ice was mesmerizing. She made everything look effortless.

During our practice, I asked her for some advice on two elements that I was working on (and that she has pretty much mastered): a broken leg sit spin (or "side sit") and a split falling leaf. She gave me great tips on both elements that I will try to implement into my practices.

I told her about my skating goals, and this is what she said to me: "You can do it! Just train your heart out and set that intention - you can do ANYTHING you put your mind to. Put in the work and go after that goal until it's accomplished."

While I already knew these things to be true, it meant a lot coming from a former champion. I can't even describe in words how it feels to have her believe in me.

I hope to do her (and my coach) proud and achieve my goals, so that maybe one day, I can repay the favor to another skater.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Chocolate chunk cookies

Still looking for the perfect chocolate chip cookies? These ridiculously chewy cookies from Joanne Chang might be pretty close. By chilling the dough, your cookies will turn out with a richer flavor and chewier texture.

It's been way too long since I've made chocolate chip cookies. I was in one of those moods where I needed a classic chocolate chip cookie. But, I didn't want to repeat a previous recipe so I looked through some cookbooks until I found one I hadn't tried yet.

This particular recipe is from Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery. I've made her peanut butter cookies, banana bread, pumpkin apple spice muffins and lower sugar blueberry muffins. My family and I enjoyed all of those recipes, so I figured that chocolate chip cookies were next.

In full disclosure, I did not chill my dough for a full 24 hours as Chef Chang recommended. I was heading to a neighbor's house for a cookout and did not have time to start these the day before. I did chill them for a good 4 hours so the dough was nice and firm, so my flavors did not get a chance to fully develop.

Also, my pastry chef in-training (Addie) tried helping me in the kitchen. She flattened the dough balls, but I think she went a bit overboard because my cookies spread a lot while baking. Make sure that you only slightly flatten the dough ball before baking; otherwise, you will end up with a puddle of cookies like we did.

Despite our mistakes, these cookies were awesome and ones I'd recommend you try. The cookies that didn't spread too much tasted the best. The perimeters of the cookies were nice and crisp, and the middles were soft and chewy, which is the way I prefer my chocolate chip cookies. I would have liked a slightly thicker cookie, but that was probably from my daughter smushing down on the dough too much. The two of us had a blast making these together and will most likely try another recipe soon.

Chocolate chunk cookies
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chunks
Directions
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer, cream the butter and sugars together on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs until well incorporated. Then add the vanilla.

In a separate medium sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Turn your mixer down to low and slowly add the dry ingredients to the mixer. Mix until everything just comes together. Turn the mixer off and fold in the chocolate chunks by hand using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon.

Cover the bowl and refrigerate for several hours and up to overnight.

Once the dough has chilled completely, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon mats.

Portion out about 1/4 cup of dough and roll into a ball. Place on your prepared baking sheet and flatten slightly. Repeat with remaining dough and make sure that you leave at least 3 inches in between each cookie. These cookies will really spread.

Bake in your preheated oven for 15-18 minutes or until the edges turn golden brown and middle looks slightly underdone. Turn off the oven and remove the pans from the oven and allow to cool. Let the cookies cool slightly before transferring to a wire rack.

Cookies should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature and will last for at least a week. They can also be frozen and thawed.

Yield: About 24 cookies

Source: Slightly adapted from Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe


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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Hot cross buns

Hot cross buns are a staple in Australia and New Zealand. Make these soft and fluffy Easter favorites easily at home!

I started playing the flute in 4th grade and chose this instrument because I liked how shiny it looked. One of the first songs that I learned how to play was "Hot Cross Buns." Of course, I never knew what a hot cross bun was but was content knowing that I was pretty good at playing the 3-note song.

Fast forward to 2008 when my husband and I went to Australia and New Zealand on vacation. We visited a local grocery store and saw that hot cross buns were everywhere (in both countries). I remembered the little song that I played on my flute and knew that we had to buy some and try it.

The hot cross buns that we bought were super soft, fluffy and sweet. We ate the entire pack pretty quickly and I vowed to recreate them sometime. An embarrassing 8 years later, here I am. My friend Kylee posted these on her blog recently, and it sparked my memory to finally bake them.

In full disclosure, my hot cross buns didn't bake up with the perfect distinct white cross on them. In fact, my crosses were barely visible. So for hot cross bun purists, stop reading here and ignore what I'm going to say next:  I decided to make a white powdered sugar glaze and piped crosses with it. I know the piped glaze isn't on a traditional hot cross bun, but I couldn't stand the fact that my hot cross buns had no visible crosses on them.

These hot cross buns were super soft, fluffy, sweet and melt-in-your mouth good. You can certainly eat them plain like I did or split them in half and add your favorite fruit spread or a simple pat of butter. After eating these hot cross buns, I now have a strong desire to go back to Australia and New Zealand. Sigh.

Hot cross buns
Dough
  • 1 Tablespoon instant (rapid rise) yeast
  • 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups (15oz) bread flour
  • ½ cup (5oz) whole wheat flour
  • 2 Tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 egg (lightly beaten)
  • 1 and ¼ cups warm water
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 Tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 cup raisins
"Cross" paste
  • 1/8 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 cup water
Glaze
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp water
Directions
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, mix together the yeast, sugar, salt, flours and butter. Add the egg and mix well. Slowly drizzle in the water until a smooth dough forms. Add the cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, brown sugar and raisins and continue to mix until the dough is soft and elastic, but not sticky. If the dough is too sticky, add a little bit of flour at a time. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover and allow to double or triple in volume (at least 1 hour).

Punch the dough down and generously grease a 9"x13" baking pan. Divide the dough into 12-16 equal parts and roll each portion of dough into a ball. Place it in your prepared baking pan. It's fine to get the dough touch each other.

Mix up the paste by combining the flour and water together. Stir until smooth. I put my paste in a measuring cup and poured it onto the dough balls, but you can transfer it to a zip-top bag and snip off the corner and pipe on the crosses.

Allow the dough to rest and rise for at least another 30 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Bake the buns in your preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until the tops turn golden brown.

Once you take the buns out of the oven, make the glaze. Combine the sugar and water and lightly brush the tops of each bun with the glaze. Allow to cool slightly before serving. If the crosses aren't prominent enough for you (mine were barely visible), simply mix up a simple glaze of powdered sugar, vanilla and milk and pipe on crosses on the cooled buns. I know hot cross bun purists won't like me for giving you this option, but it definitely makes a better presentation.

Leftover buns should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature. They can also be frozen and thawed.

Yield: About 12-16 rolls

Source: Barely adapted from Kylee Cooks

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Friday, May 20, 2016

Skating Fridays

The Camera Doesn't Lie 


I've come to love and appreciate the power of video in figure skating. Sometimes it's hard to understand what my coach is trying to correct until I can see my mistake on video. I often try to video myself doing elements so I can go frame-by-frame and see what is going on.

My rink also has a webcam where the owner likes to "spy" on occasion. Unbeknownst to me, these videos are recorded on a hard drive in case something happens.

We had a recent situation at the rink where a skater was in a sit spin and a young kid ran into the skater, causing the skater to fall. The child told his mother (who didn't witness the event) and also happened to get a cut on his leg.  The mother made up a story about how the skater was doing a camel spin and intentionally kicked the young child. She screamed at the assistant skating director and mentioned legal action and lawsuits.

Meanwhile, this incident was all caught on video. The skating director saw the footage and realized that the mother had no grounds for a complaint or a lawsuit. In fact, the mother was lucky that the skater wasn't injured. The kid was being reckless and should not have been out on the practice session in the first place. The skating director talked to the mother and explained the situation.

So the lesson learned from this week... video is a powerful tool, and it doesn't lie. Plus, you never know who is watching.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Shortcut buttermilk pie

This super simple, shortcut buttermilk pie is just about as easy as it gets. This cakey-custard-like dessert only requires 6 ingredients and a blender!

Do you ever have one of those days where you wish you had more time? I secretly want another day of the week so I can fully rest.

I recently had one of those days where it was just go, go, go and no time to think. I still wanted some dessert (duh) but didn't have much free time to make it. Enter this super simple, shortcut buttermilk pie.

Essentially, you throw everything into a blender and bake it. No fussy pie crusts, no mixing, no creaming, no time-consuming steps. Just blend and bake. Simple enough, right? And to make things even simpler, you use some store-bought pancake/biscuit mix. See, I told you this would be easy.

The resulting pie is a bit cake-like and a little bit custard-y. You can certainly decorate the top with some powdered sugar, cocoa powder or a combination of the two. Or ice cream. With sprinkles. Or...

Shortcut buttermilk pie
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup store-bought pancake/biscuit mix
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease a standard pie pan and set aside.

In a blender, pulse all of the ingredients together until smooth. Pour into your prepared pie pan and bake in your preheated oven for 30-40 minutes. The top should become golden, and the center may be a bit jiggly. The pie will solidify more as it cools.

Store any leftovers, covered, in the refrigerator. It will last several days.

Yield: One 9" pie; about 8 servings

Source: Slightly adapted from Food Network

Sunday, May 15, 2016

One bowl flourless fudge brownies

These decadent and thick brownies are dense, rich and taste just like fudge - and also happen to be flourless! They are almost guaranteed to melt in your mouth!
It was Teacher Appreciation Week at school and of course I wanted to bake something for Addie's kindergarten teacher. The challenge was that her teacher and her family had a few allergies we needed to be aware of.

I'm usually a brownie type of girl when it comes to gifting baked goods but since our teacher's husband had a gluten allergies, I couldn't bake any of my favorite brownies. I still made the homemade salted caramel sauce for our teacher but had to bake a flourless brownie. I've tried a few to date but wanted to make sure the brownies were super fudge-y and not a tad bit dry.

My friend Ashley at Baker By Nature had the perfect recipe. Not only did it not use any flour, but it also did not contain any butter. These baked up as expected and tasted like a rich and creamy fudge when I taste tested a slice.

I hope that Addie's teacher and her husband enjoy these brownies. If you need to bake any gluten-free desserts, this is definitely a winning recipe.

One bowl flourless fudge brownies
  • 12 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons milk of choice
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar 
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Directions
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. Generously grease or line a standard 8"x8" baking pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, place the chopped chocolate and coconut oil. Heat it up in the microwave in 30 second increments until both the chocolate and oil have melted. Mix well with a spatula. Then add in the milk and sugar and mix until everything is well incorporated.

Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, and mix well. Then add the vanilla and fold in the cocoa powder. Mix until everything is just combined.

Transfer the batter to your prepared pan and bake in your preheated oven for 25-28 minutes. The center will still be slightly jiggy, and that is OK.

Allow the brownies to cool completely and then place in the refrigerator to set. Brownies should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator and should be served cold.

Yield: One 8"x8" pan; about 16 servings

Source: Barely adapted from Baker By Nature

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