The Sweetest Crumb

Chocolate Caramel Thumbprints

With it being a hectic couple of weeks, Christmas coming up (4 days!) and all the baking and fundraising we did, I sadly don’t have time to post the recipes for all the cookies we made last week. I promise I will be posting them over time though, and if you have a specific one you want me to share just let me know. I figured for now I would pick one to share with everyone. It was really hard narrowing it down to just one. I ended up picking the chocolate caramel thumbprints. I’ve been making these for years from a recipe I got from a Holiday Cooking magazine and they’re one of my favourite cookies. This year, as part of our Christmas baking, we made 4 times the recipe – that’s how good they are! They’re loaded with everything that makes a cookie great – chocolate, nuts and caramel. I’ve had many people ask for the recipe so I’m sure you will love these!

chocolate caramel thumbprints ready to eat

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The Baking Tradition Continues

Our finished Christmas baking from a few years ago

Hello everyone!

I am getting so excited for Christmas (even though I have none of my shopping done). What could be better than spending time with the people you love, eating delicious foods and enjoying time outside in the snow (I love it when it snows those big fluffy snowflakes!). More than anything though, what makes me feel that Christmas is around the corner is baking with my best friend.

We have a tradition (for over 10 years now) of doing an insane amount of baking just before Christmas. We bake for about 5 full days, from about 8am until 11pm non-stop. There have been times where we’ve actually stayed up past 2am baking and decorating cookies. We book days off from work months in advance, have a huge ingredient list and a strict cookie baking schedule. We make about 25 different kinds of cookies, spend another day arranging plates of cookies and then hand them out to our closest friends. We love handing out the cookies and seeing how happy they make people. So that’s what I spent the majority of last week doing.

I had a great time picking up our ingredients at Superstore where I cleaned out their supply of butter and bonded with a stranger over the rising costs of butter!

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2012 Christmas Cookie Guide

Here is this year’s collection of Christmas cookies! Make sure you read about my annual baking tradition if you haven’t already. I will be posting recipes for these soon.

Brown Sugar Stamp Cookies
Chocolate Cherry Pockets
Chocolate Hazelnut Thins
Gingerbread Christmas Trees
Double Chocolate Biscotti with Ginger and Walnuts
Double Vanilla Meringues
Eggnog Thumbprints
Espresso Doilies
Yuletide Ginger Cookies
Gingerbread Houses
Lemon Glitter Balls
Lemon Window Panes
Chocolate Orange Macaroons
Matcha Green Tea Shortbread
Maple Leaf Cookies
Mexican Wedding Cookies
Spice Mice
Orange Cardamom Madeleines
Star of David Hazelnut Cookies
Swiss Walnut Cookies
Vanilla Sandwich Cookies with Ganache

Foraging For Tea

Good morning, everyone!

Green tea with sea-buckthorn berries and honey

I’ve been making a delicious sea-buckthorn berry green tea lately that I wanted to share with you! What’s sea-buckthorn, you ask? Well, you’ve likely never heard of it, so let me explain…

In a Ukrainian home, such as mine, sea-buckthorn berries are well-known. They are easy to find in Ukraine and, you might be surprised to learn, are fairly common in Alberta as well (the plants are resistant to frost). However, it seems few people here know of these tart orange berries. Even I have to admit, I had no idea what they were called in English and had to google a translation for the Russian word I know well. These small, bright coloured berries taste very acidic and tart. In Ukraine, they are known for having tremendous health benefits – a cup of tea with these berries and a spoonful of honey will soothe a scratchy throat. It also tastes delicious! You can get more info about these berries from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

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Got Cracked Macarons?

Macaron Eton Mess

If you’ve tried making macarons before, you probably know how finicky they can be. The smallest variation in temperature, a slight amount of under or over beating the egg whites, or using bowls which aren’t impeccably clean can result in cookies which are far from perfect.

Cracked macaron shells – often result from not piping out the batter into rounds immediately after it is ready

However, the good news is that while the product may look imperfect, the cookies will generally still taste delicious. As my friends know, I can be a perfectionist when it comes to baking and any cookies which I deem unacceptable for others to eat or see are classified as the “rejects” and generally do not leave my house – for fear that someone will see them or, god forbid, eat the second rate baking! However, I am also very against wasting food. Thus, since it is somewhat impractical for me to eat all of the imperfect macarons which have resulted during my experimentation with past recipes, I have come up with a delicious dessert which can be made with the left over macaron shells. (more…)

Lavender Gin Gimlets

It’s the weekend!

Lavender Gin Gimlets

I’ve had a rough couple weeks at work with tonnes of overtime and stress so I was extra excited that the weekend has finally come (even though it will still be filled with work and busy times). To celebrate the weekend, I thought I would share this delicious lavender gin cocktail I threw together quickly. It is so easy and refreshing – a great reward for a long work week!

I picked up the lavender syrup on a whim at an Italian grocery store here in Edmonton. I realized that I have a soft spot for anything lavender flavoured, especially cocktails, because they remind me of my best friend. On a trip to San Francisco with friends a few years ago, me and my bestie had drinks at our trendy hotel bar one night and chatted with the bartender who threw together some cocktails for us. I generally don’t like super sugary cocktails so he made me a lavender gimlet – a drink made with gin and lime juice. I loved it and now the drink reminds me of laughing with my bestie so I decided it would be the perfect cocktail to recreate.

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Cake and Snow Banks

Hi everyone!

I wasn’t going to blog again tonight but just had to share my night. I’ve been taking a cake decorating course at NAIT for the past couple weeks. The class is just an introduction course in decorating so I found that it briefly covered a variety of topics – since there are thousands of techniques in baking and we could only cover a handful of them in class. While I would have liked a bit more depth related to some topics, I still really enjoyed the class and walked away with a lot of new skills or ideas for things to try on my own. I will definitely be blogging about some of the recipes we made in the class in the coming weeks!

Vanilla Sponge Cake with Buttercream

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Perfect Pastry Cream

I love pastry cream and am always tempted to eat it in spoonfuls when I make it!  It has the most delicate, sweet flavour and tastes absolutely perfect when made with real vanilla bean. I try and always use vanilla bean instead of extract – it truly makes a difference! The pastry cream can be used in cakes or tarts, to fill eclairs and of course for macarons!

Vanilla bean – scored with seeds removed

Pastry cream is a custard (made through the process of cooking together cream or milk and egg or yolk) and can take a few tries before you feel comfortable with the process. The mixture should be heated over gentle heat – it may clump up or curdle if heated too quickly. If you are worried about heating it too quickly, you can use a double boiler to make sure the heating is slow and even. Generally the pastry cream begins to thicken at about 70°C and should not get higher than about 80°C. A few degrees can really make the difference between perfect custard and a clumpy ruined one so this is definitely not a dessert you leave heating on the stove and walk away. (more…)

Making Macarons

I thought it would be fitting to have my first post be about macarons since they are one of my favourite desserts. While the French have been making macarons for centuries, they have only become popular in Canada in the last few years. I became a little obsessed with them partially because they were one of the few things that I attempted numerous times and still did not get right. So naturally I decided that when I was in Paris this fall, it was a great opportunity to take a macaron course and learn from the experts how to perfect the cookie. The macaron recipe from the course is what I’m going to share.

There are two methods for making macaroons: the Italian and the French method. Both are used extensively by Parisian bakers and result in cookies which taste largely identical, but the Italian method yields more stable cookies. As macarons are very finicky, I opt for the more stable method. Regardless, macarons can be tricky to make and will likely require a few tries to perfect them. To help you succeed, read through the entire recipe and tips below before starting. (more…)