Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Toasted Sesame Pretzel Toffee Bark

I love love love baking, it's my stress relief, and belly filler. I would assume, if you are perusing food blogs, that you love to bake too? Christmas time can add a different type of stress, maybe even panic(?), for those who are kitchen challenged. I'm not going to give you a turkey tutorial, although, that might be a good future post!  But, I can give you an idea on how to fill you're cookies platters!  The ultimate way to get a tonne of cookies, without having to do all the work, it to plan a cookie exchange!

For the past five years, I have coerced my co-workers into joining me in a cookie exchange.  I send out an internal email, and post a sign-up sheet in the staff room where they can add their name, and what they choose to contribute.  We have to bake one dozen per person, and this year we each baked for eight dozen!  Eight dozen different kinds of cookies!  Well, not just cookies, there was fudge, toffee, palmiers, and even Oreo truffles!

This is how library ladies organize cookie exchanges....on a book truck! haha

The best part about a cookie exchange is the variety of treats that you end up with!  I like to package them up for Holiday gifts for the kid's teachers, our neighbours and for friends.  I'm usually still left with enough treats for my own family, and any holiday visitors, to enjoy over the holidays, too!

Kind of ironic, that I like to bake probably the most out of all my colleagues, and I choose the easiest thing to make.  I contributed Toasted Sesame Pretzel Toffee Bark, which you may already be familiar with under the name Christmas Crack, or Saltine Toffee, or something similar.  This recipe is truly addicting, and so so simple.  Get your gift giving on - Toffee Bark style!!

Toasted Sesame Pretzel Toffee Bark

1/4 - 1/2 cup sesame seeds
roughly 50 salted waffle pretzels (enough to cover your cookie sheet)
1 cups butter
1 cups packed brown sugar
pinch of salt (optional)
1 -11/2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips (approximately – I usually just keep adding until it seems like enough!)

Using a small pan, over medium -high heat, toast the sesame seeds, tossing or stirring, taking care not to burn, and set aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment, or foil,  this helps with clean-up after (and to make it easier to remove).   Line the prepared sheet with pretzels, placing them right together.
In a medium saucepan, bring the butter and brown sugar, and pinch of salt to a boil over medium-high heat. Let it bubble for 3 minutes, then remove from the heat and pour it evenly over the pretzels. Spread with spatula to fill any gaps.
Bake for about 8-10 minutes, until bubbling and deep golden in colour. Keep an eye on it for the last few minutes to make sure it doesn’t burn.
Remove from the oven, and then scatter chocolate chips over top while the caramel is still hot. Let sit for a few minutes, then spread chocolate out with a spatula or knife until smooth, and finally, scatter the toasted sesame seeds over the top.
Cool completely in the fridge, (or in the garage cold room) then break up into pieces using your hands.  I like there to be barks of all shapes and sizes, and prefer they aren't just squares - don't be a square, man!  Package up for gift giving, or get ready to get your will tested!

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Overnight Gingerbread Spice Cinnamon Buns

I'm already mentally getting ready for January, so it's no shocker that Christmas Day's breakfast is already planned too.  Can I share my exciting news with you?  We are going...on a cruise!!  I know! I know!  We are gonna relax, and read, and relax, and eat, and relax, and take naps, and explore tropical islands, and relax, and shop, and relax some more!! 
It's so super exciting it almost makes me want to skip Christmas, so we could get to vacation time faster. Almost.  

I usually make some kinda cinnamon rolls, whenever my folks come to town.  They are my dad's favourite, and I love experiment on him with new and different kinds, flavours, and techniques each time.  My dad is already preparing his sweet tooth for the Christmas visit.  And it seems rather ho-hum to make something so vanilla as regular ol' cinnamon buns on such a special occasion.  So this year I'm gonna take it up a notch with these festive gingerbread spiced cinnamon buns!

I don't know about you, but I like to enjoy watching the kids open their gifts, and stockings, and quality family time on Christmas morning.  The idea of making a big production of breakfast, then cleaning it up, and starting in on the preparation of the big feast, holds little appeal.  The beauty of this recipe in particular, is you can get it all ready a day or so in advance, and then just pop them into the oven Christmas Morning!  Stay in your jammies for as long as possible, and tuck into this super decadent and delicious Christmas morning treat!

Overnight Gingerbread Spice Cinnamon Buns


2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast 
3/4 cup milk, warmed (I used 2% and nuked it for about 30 seconds)
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

Gingerbread Spice Filling

6 Tablespoons butter, softened
1 Tablespoon molasses
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 Tablespoons flour

Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

1/2 cup cream cheese, softened
2 Tablespoons butter, softened
2 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon maple extract

Place milk in a microwave safe measuring cup. Heat for 30-45 seconds in the microwave, add yeast and stir, allow the yeast to activate by setting aside for a few minutes.
Cream together the sugar, butter, and egg, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Pour in the milk/yeast mixture and give it a few pulses.  Replace the paddle with the dough hook attachment and add the flour, and salt, mixing on low speed until the dough forms a ball in the center of the bowl.
Using a large stainless steel bowl,  grease with cooking spray or butter, and place the dough ball in it. Cover the bowl kitchen towel or plastic wrap, find a warm spot, and let the dough sit for 2-4 hours, or until it doubles in size.
My house is super cold in the winter, but my oven has a warming spot, I usually turn that on low, or keep it on the oven while I'm doing other baking!
Make your filling by mixing together butter, brown sugar, flour, and spices until it forms a paste, and set aside.  Grease a 9” pan, pie plate or baking dish with butter or spray oil, and set aside.
Once the dough is risen, roll it out on a lightly floured surface into a large rectangle, about 12” by 9”. Spread the filling as evenly as possible over the rectangle all the way to the edges.
Roll the dough up tightly from the long end, and slice it into 9 equal rounds. Place the rolls into the prepared baking dish.
At this point, you can let them rise for about 30 minutes to 1 hour until they are swelling up in the pan and bake for 20-25 minutes.
Or!  You can cover with plastic wrap and stick in the refrigerator overnight until ready to bake for a wintery morning treat or Christmas Day!  When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees.
If the rolls have been in the refrigerator, remove them and let them warm up while the oven is preheating.  Remove the plastic wrap and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until they are golden brown.
While they bake, make your Maple Cream Cheese frosting!
Using a hand held or standup mixer, cream together the cream cheese, butter, and maple syrup.  Add in the cinnamon, vanilla and maple extracts, and finally, the icing sugar.  Mix until smooth with a thick, but spreadable, consistency. 
Remove the rolls from the oven, and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before frosting, and devouring serving!

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Low Fat Chocolate Crackle Cookies

The problem with running a real life kinda blog, is that sometimes things don't always come together in the most attractive and cohesive ways.  Take, for example these Chocolate Crackle cookies I'm sharing with you today.  They are in fact leftovers from a Christmas Craft Fair I was part of last weekend.  I made them the day before the sale, so they'd be nice and fresh, and then packed them up all nice and pretty.
My sales at the craft fair went pretty well, despite the weather being horrible.  The day of the fair the temperature was -25 without the wind, and the roads were ice rinks, making sales a little sluggish.  I'm pretty sure I managed to at least break even(?).  Because the craft fair was in our community, I had the chance to hang with my family, putting my kids to work at the table, and catch up with friends and neighbours as well.  All in all, it was a really great day, and got me in the Christmas spirit.

I still brought home a fair bit of baking, including these Chocolate Crackle cookies, much to my Son's delight...these are his favourite cookies of all time!
But the real life reality is that, most of the sugar has worn off, making them not as photogenic, as they once were, but now I'm also SLAMMED with other real life responsibilities.  I have no time to take pics of anything else.  The voices in my head tell me it's okay though, because these cookies, regardless of their appearance, still taste fantastic, and are a year-round favourite for my family.

There are as many different versions of this recipe, as there are names for the cookie:  Chocolate Crackles, Chocolate Crinkles, etcetera, etcetera.  I prefer the Chocolava recipe from Julie's One Smart Cookie Cookbook.  Not only is her recipe delicious and  reminesent of a fudgy brownie, but it has about one quarter of the fat from any other recipe I've found.  For the sale I chose to rename them, thinking that a crackle was more Christmas-y than Chocolava, but you can call them any name you wish!
I always make them at Christmas time, I like to think the crackled icing-sugar dusted exterior is somewhat festive, or at least reflective of a good dusting of  A fast,easy, and tasty recipe that is almost guilt-free, making them the perfect for a hostess gift or for giving to your neighbours or co-workers, or sharing with your family this Christmas!

Low Fat Chocolate Crackle Cookies
Recipe adapted from: One Smart Cookie Chocolava cookies, Page 65

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 large eggs
2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 - 1/2 cup icing sugar, for rolling

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Spray a large cookie sheet with oil, or line with parchemnt and set aside.
In a large bowl, add the butter, and both the sugars and mix until creamy. Next add the eggs and vanilla, mix to combine.  Then add the the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt, all at once until the dough just comes together.  It may still seem too dry, but it does come together, especially if you use your hands to bring it together - like magic!
Place a few heaping spoonfuls of icing sugar into a shallow dish. Roll dough into balls and roll the balls in icing sugar to coat.
Place them about 2” apart on the prepared cookie sheet, and bake for 12–14 minutes, until just set around the edges but still soft in the middle. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.