Monday, May 24, 2010

Lemon Bars with a Ginger Kick

I love the fresh bright flavour of lemon.  It is definitely the star of this recipe.  These lemon bars have three distinct layers-- a shortbread crust, gooey lemon filling and cake-like top. 

This dessert was a hit at a dinner party last week.  People wanted seconds and even took the leftovers home!  My twist on this recipe from Joy of Baking is adding candied ginger to the shortbread crust.  It adds a nice kick to the sweetness of the filling.  I added the ginger to the crust because I wasn't sure if it would affect the way the filling would set.

Ingredients

Crust
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup icing sugar
1 cup flour
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 cup candied ginger

Filling
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 tbsp lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
2 tbsp flour

Garnish
2 tbsp icing sugar (or to your taste)

Directions
1.  Heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Butter an 8x8 pan
3. For the shortbread crust, cream together butter and sugar. 
4. Add flour and mix until combined. 
5. Stir in candied ginger. 
6.  Press dough in to pan and bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.
7.  While the crust is cooling a little, prepare the filling.  Beat together eggs and sugar until smooth.
8.  Add in lemon juice, zest and flour.
9.  Pour over crust and bake for 25-30 minutes or until filling has set.  If it is getting very brown but is still quite wobbly, cover the pan with aluminum foil and continue baking.  The top layer will set while the middle will remain gooey.
10.  Let it cool before you dust the top with icing sugar.  Use a small strainer to dust the sugar on top of the bars before you cut and serve.  This dessert tastes good warm or cold but should be eaten the same day.

*Photographs by Kanchana Sundaram

Friday, May 21, 2010

Almond Apricot Biscotti

The best part of my coffee break is the snack that goes with it.  Biscotti, a twice baked cookie, is one of my favourite treats.  It looks so elegant and sophisticated no one would guess how easy it is to make.  The hardest part is slicing the cookies.

Biscotti, an Italian specialty, was originally served with wine.  Now it is a coffee shop staple.  I love dunking the crunchy cookie in my favourite tea or coffee so it softens up for the perfect bite.

Ingredients
2 1/3 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 1/4 cup whole almonds
1/3 cup chopped apricots (small dice)
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp orange zest (or lemon)
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract

Directions
1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Combine flour, baking powder, salt, zest, almonds and apricots in a bowl.
3. In another bowl, beat eggs, sugar and vanilla together.
4. Add flour mixture to egg mixture.  It will appear wet at first but should come together.  If not, add more flour.
5. Knead dough on a lightly floured board.  Split dough in half and form two logs.  They should be approximately 1-inch high and 3-inches long.  Sprinkle top with 1 tsp sugar.
6.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Let it cool for two hours. 
7. Slice logs into 1/4-inch pieces with a serrated knife.
8. Bake for 18 minutes.  Rotate pan and flip cookies over halfway through or until lightly golden. 

You can use your favourite dried fruit instead of apricots.  Candied ginger tastes wonderful in this recipe too.  Just add a quarter cup in addition to the apricots or replace them.

*Photographs by Kanchana Sundaram.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

English Toffee with Almonds

The first time I had English toffee was in Chicago a few summers ago.  I got it from the chocolate store in the basement of Macy's downtown Chicago which used to be the old flagship Marshall Field's building on State Street. 

English toffee is a crunchy caramel layer coated in chocolate and topped with nuts.  Almonds, pecans and walnuts are popular toppings.  The sweet toffee, dark chocolate and crunchy nuts pair together perfectly.

I tried making the toffee before but I couldn't get the right consistency.  It always ended up tasting like mysore paag (a classic South Indian sweet).  This time I found a new recipe that had the addition of corn syrup which I think helped get the right texture for the toffee.  It turned in to a beautiful golden brown colour and had the perfect crunchy hard crack stage.

A friend in Chicago loves toffee and has been asking me to make it for her for ages.  I think this is my best attempt yet so I hope she enjoys it!

Ingredients
1 cup butter
1 1/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp water
3 tbsp light corn syrup
3/4 cup chopped almonds
1 cup chopped chocolate or chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla

Directions
1. Toast the nuts until fragrant.  Set aside.
2. Put aluminum foil on a cookie sheet.  Spray with cooking oil.
3. In a large pan, melt butter with the sugar, water and corn syrup on low to medium heat. Mix together and wait for sugar to dissolve while continuously stirring.
4. The mixture will start bubbling and you need to keep stirring until it turns caramel brown. This will take about 10 minutes or so.  If you have a candy thermometer, bring the mixture to 300 degrees. It will be bubbling the whole time. You'll know it is ready when you start smelling the caramel flavour.
5. Once the mixture is the right colour, take it off the heat and add the vanilla.  Mix it in thoroughly.
6. Pour it on to the cookie sheet.  Sprinkle the chocolate pieces on top.  It will melt in the heat and you can use a spoon to spread it out. 
7. Sprinkle the toasted almonds on top so it sticks to the melted chocolate.  Once it has cooled you can break it into pieces and serve.

*Photographs by Kanchana Sundaram and Shankar Sundaram

Friday, May 14, 2010

Molten Lava Chocolate Cake

Warm chocolate cake with a gooey, melted centre, served with vanilla ice cream.  My favourite combination.  The contrast between the warm cake and cold ice cream is so pleasing.

I attempted this dessert today because a friend who is a total chocoholic came to visit my sister and Shankar.  This recipe, by Trish Magwood from Party Dish, is definitely a keeper.  I got it off the Food Network website which also lists a caramel sauce recipe that I didn't make. 

The original recipe calls for bittersweet chocolate.  I think that is probably the ideal thing to use.  I had a huge bar of Lindt milk chocolate I wanted to use so I tried it out.  It has more sugar than dark chocolate so I cut the amount of sugar I added.  The cake, while delicious, didn't have the intense chocolate flavour I was hoping for.  Next time I would also try adding some cinnamon or espresso to add more flavour.

Ingredients
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup butter plus extra for buttering ramekins
2 eggs
2 yolks
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
2 tbsp flour

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Generously butter and lightly flour six ramekins
3. Melt chocolate and butter over a double boiler (heat water in a pot and place bowl over it --not touching the water--with chocolate and butter).   Mix until smooth. Set aside.
4.  Beat eggs, yolks, sugar and salt together until pale yellow and light.
5. Quickly fold chocolate mixture into eggs with a spatula.
6. Fold in flour.  (I recommend sifting it in because I got clumps when I just dropped it in)
7. Pour 1/3 cup of batter into each ramekin.
8.  Bake for 8-9 minutes.  The sides of the cake should be set and the centre should be soft.
9. Let it sit for 1 minute before turning it on to a dessert plate.  Run a knife around the edge to help loosen it before inverting.

Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whip cream.  Add fresh fruit like strawberries or raspberries and a sprig of mint for garnish.  Enjoy!

*Photographs by Kanchana Sundaram

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Chewy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

My friend Maileen made these delicious oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and I had to get the recipe from her.  I love how these cookies remain chewy, even after a few days.
I had the pleasure of baking these cookies in my sister's awesome kitchen.  It has beautiful skylights that let in so much natural light.  She has a deck outside the kitchen that overlooks a lovely pond.  The view is very serene and calming.  The perfect place to enjoy some delicious baked goods.

Raisins or dried cranberries can be used instead of the chocolate chips if you want to make them healthier.  The original recipe had a cup of walnuts included as well.  Oatmeal has many health benefits and is a good source of protien.  It has cancer fighting properties, can lower bad cholesterol and contains vitamin E and iron.

I took the cookies to a housewarming party and they were a hit.  People liked how they had the perfect balance of sweetness.

Ingredients
1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups flour
3 cups oats (I used rolled oats)
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

Directions
1.  Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.
2. Cream together butter and sugars
3.  Beat in eggs
4.  Add vanilla, baking soda, salt and flour
5. Mix in oats and chocolate chips
6. Place heaping spoonfuls on to baking sheet.  Leave space between cookies because they will spread in the oven.
7. Bake for 12 minutes.  Transfer to a wire cooling rack 5 minutes after removing from oven.  Let it cool on the rack for about 1 hour.  The cookies taste better the more they cool.

Makes about 40 cookies.  Keep in air-tight container for a week.

These oatmeal cookies are the perfect snack in the afternoon with a glass of milk or cup of tea.  You could even eat them after a meal for dessert.  They are very satisfying but it's hard to just eat one.

*Photographs by Kanchana Sundaram
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