Chocolate Hazelnut Buttercream

Yield: about 2 ½ cups buttercream
Recipe: 119/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 170

    For New Year’s Eve I offered to bring a dessert for our hosts since they were taking care of everything else. I wanted to make a beautiful-looking cake that would be tasty as well, and this is the chocolate hazelnut* buttercream required for the recipe. This is a more involved buttercream that requires more steps than simply whipping eggs with sugar and butter, but I enjoyed making it and the flavour was delicious. I did find however that it was too salty*, so I would recommend using ¼ teaspoon of salt instead. This may have something to do with the fact that I used whisky instead of the sweeter Frangelico liqueur or brandy though, so if using those you may want to start with ¼ teaspoon, taste it and add more salt if necessary.

Ingredients:

  • 3 oz (90 g) semisweet chocolate
  • 2 oz (60 g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 5 egg yolks
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons Frangelico or brandy *
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon salt *

Directions:

  1. In a glass or metal bowl, melt together the semisweet and bittersweet chocolate over a pot of barely simmering water, stirring until melted. Set aside. Note: If using a substitute for bittersweet chocolate, add the sugar and/or cocoa powder in this bowl.
  2. Using a hand or stand mixer ideally, mix the egg yolks with ¼ cup of sugar until they are pale and have doubled in volume, about 3 minutes.
  3. In a small saucepot, bring the remaining ¼ cup of sugar, water and lemon juice to a boil over high heat, and cook uncovered, occasionally brushing down the sides of the pot with water, until it reaches a temperature of 238°F (114°C).
  4. While beating at slow speed, carefully pour the hot sugar down the side of the bowl with the yolks. Once all of the sugar has been added, increase the speed to high and beat until cool, about 6 minutes.
  5. Beat in the melted chocolate, then beat in the butter a few pieces at a time.
  6. Beat in the Frangelico or brandy *, the vanilla and the salt.
  7. Use the buttercream at room temperature. It can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated. If doing so, just pull it out of the refrigerator to warm it up to room temperature and beat until it is smooth and spreadable.

* Notes:

  • I did not have bittersweet chocolate so used instead unsweetened chocolate. Semisweet chocolate could also be used as a substitute, provided that you add the appropriate amount of sugar and/or cocoa powder to compensate.
  • Frangelico is a hazelnut liqueur. Since I possessed neither Frangelico nor brandy, I used whisky instead. I do think it enhanced the flavor of the buttercream without being too much, but just keep in mind that if you do not use Frangelico it is no longer a chocolate hazelnut buttercream, but just a brandy- or whisky-flavored chocolate buttercream. Still tasty, but not quite the same I imagine.
  • I used the suggested ½ teaspoon of salt but the buttercream was too salty. Not so salty as to make it inedible, but almost. I would decrease this amount to ¼ teaspoon. I do however wonder if the choice of alcohol would affect the saltiness of the buttercream. Please keep this in mind when adding the salt at the very last step of making the buttercream.

Valerie

Very Fruity Mini Whiskey Fruitcakes

Yield: 12 mini fruitcakes
Recipe: 118/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 249

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    My dad is a lover of Scotch and maybe even more so of fruitcake, especially during Christmas. Since I got him a bottle of Scotch for Christmas, I thought that these little whisky fruitcakes would be a very appropriate afternoon or evening snack to go with it. I made only half of the recipe because, frankly, I didn’t have that much whisky on hand, and the result came out even better than I expected. My dad loved them, and so did I.

    I thought while putting the mixture in the pan that it seemed very dense and fruit-packed and did not ressemble the floury texture of store-bought fruitcake. Fortunately, that was true and probably by design. I had to taste one of the mini loaves for good measure (I cannot, after all, give a fruitcake to my dad without knowing if it is acceptable!), and was very pleasantly surprised by the result. I am a new-found appreciator of dried fruits, and these mini fruitcakes are truly delicious. Packed with flavour, various textures that make it very enjoyable to eat and with different colours that make it festive, it is the perfect holiday dessert or snack. You can definitely taste the whisky, but not so much so that it overshadows the flavour of the fruits. This was a lovely recipe to make, and I will definitely do it again. I strongly recommend this recipe for anyone who loves dried fruits or fruitcake in general. As a bonus, the mini loaves look adorable and make a nice gift that can be wrapped individually.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups raisins
  • 1 cup chopped pitted dates
  • 1 cup chopped dried apricots
  • 1 cup chopped dried figs
  • 1 cup chopped dried cranberries
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 cup pecan halves
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup whisky, plus extra for brushing
  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 whole orange
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, stir together the raisins, dates, apricots, figs, cranberries, almonds, pecans, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg. Add in the whisky and mix well. Cover and let sit for at least 4 hours, up to a day. Mix once in a while to make sure that all the fruits are soaking in the whisky.
  2. Preheat the oven to 300°F and grease twelve mini loaf pans (2 ¼ x 4 x 1 ¼-inch).
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt over the fruit mixture and stir until incorporated.
  4. Cut the orange into quarters, remove the seeds and purée in a food processor with the brown sugar.
  5. Add the eggs and vanilla extract to the food processor and blend until homogenous. Pour over the fruits and stil well until blended.
  6. Spoon and pack the batter into the prepared pans. Bake for 40 minutes, until a tester inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Brush the fruitcakes with a little whisky while in the tins, then cool completely.
  7. Remove the cakes from the tins and brush two more times with whisky before wrapping to store. The cake should sit for 5 days before eating, and can store for up to 4 weeks.

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Valerie

Maple Raisin Scones

Yield: 8 large scones
Recipe: 117/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 260

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    The main reason why I decided to do these scones was because I had almond milk in my fridge, a rare event, and thought it was the perfect opportunity use it for a recipe. I must admit that I had serious doubts about how good this recipe would be. Not because I don’t like scones, I love scones, but I thought the texture of the raisins would be very strange in a fluffy crunchy scone. I am a texture person, after all. I was wrong! This dessert took no time at all to make and was delicious! The raisins actually provided a nice texture to the scones and added some sweetness without being overwhelming. Delicious! Who would’ve thought to put raisins in scones?! Anna Olson, that’s who. Great idea. I cannot recommend these scones enough. Easy, tasty, not too sweet and dairy- and egg-free!

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup + 1 tablespoon almond or soy milk
  • ½ cup + 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ½ cup raisins

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger and salt.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the ¾ cup of almond or soy milk, ½ cup of maple syrup and vegetable oil.
  4. Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in the mixed liquids. Stir the mixture with a spatula until it becomes too hard to do, then turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface, add the raisins on top of the dough and knead it until it just comes together.
  5. Shape the dough into a disc of about 8 inches in diameter and cut into 8 wedges. Place the scones onto the prepared baking tray, leaving two inches between them.
  6. Stir together the remaining tablespoon of almond or soy milk and maple syrup, and use to brush the tops of the scones.
  7. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the tops of the scones are golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Valerie

Green Tea Ginger Crème Caramel

Yield: 6 individual crème caramels
Recipe: 116/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 197

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     Last weekend I had several egg yolks leftover from making Swiss buttercream for a birthday cake, so I decided to take the opportunity to make this crème caramel recipe to use them up. It was an interesting dessert to make and not too complicated. I really enjoyed making the caramel, letting it harden and topping it with the egg and green tea-infused milk mixture. These little green tea ginger crème caramel were pretty and very flavourful. The green tea flavour really came through and was just perfect, and I suspect that the strength of this flavour could really be dampened or heightened based on how long the green tea soaks in the milk. My mixture was set to medium-low so it took longer to get to a simmer and thus infused for longer. I did not detect the ginger flavour that much, but that is probably because I forgot to buy fresh ginger and used ground ginger instead. I used ¼ teaspoon to substitute the 2 teaspoons of fresh ginger, but I guess it was not sufficient. I would thus strongly advise to use fresh ginger for this recipe, if you have it!

   Although I did like the flavour a lot, the texture of a crème caramel or flan is something that I do not enjoy. It is for the same reason that I do not like jello. It is not quite liquid but not solid either, and the mushy feeling as I eat it does not sit well with me. But that is more of a personal preference rather than something negative about the dessert. My boyfriend who has no such problem over textures really enjoyed this dessert. I must also say that I really struggled to get the crème caramel out of the ramekin, especially the caramel part, so I would advise making sure that you grease the sides of the ramekin really well. I still don’t know what the best trick would be to unmold the hardened caramel. If you like caramel, green tea, or both, I strongly suggest making this lovely dessert, especially if you find yourself with an excess of egg yolks to use up.

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons water
  • ¾ cup + ⅓ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2 ½ cups milk
  • 2 bags green tea or 1 tablespoon loose green tea
  • 2 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 egg yolks
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. In a saucepot, bring the water, ¾ cup of the sugar and cream of tartar up to a boil. Boil over high heat without stirring, but occasionally brushing the sides of the pot with water until the sugar caramelizes and becomes a nice amber colour, about 3 minutes.
  3. Carefully pour the hot sugar into six 6-ounce (180 mL) ramekins and swirl to coat the bottom of the dishes. After the sugar has cooled, lightly grease the surface of the ramekins that is not coated with the caramel and place them into a larger pan that has sides that come up to at least the height of the ramekins.

  4. Heat the milk with the green tea and ginger until just below a simmer. Remove the tea bags, or, if using loose tea,  strain out the tea.
  5. In a bowl, whisk together the whole eggs, yolks, remaining ⅓ cup of sugar and the vanilla extract. While still whisking, slowly pour in the hot milk. Ladle this mixture into the ramekins.
  6. Pour boiling water around the ramekins and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the custards are set but still have a little jiggle in the centre. Remove the ramekins from the water after they have cooled for 10 minutes. Cool to room temperature, then chill until set, about 3 hours.
  7. To serve, run a knife or palette knife around the inside of each dish, place a plate over each and invert, watching out for the caramel syrup that may run out. Serve on their own or with fresh berries. The custards will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Valerie

Truffle-Centred Chocolate Cupcakes

Yield: 20 cupcakes
Recipe: 115/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 141

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    For years now, I have used the same recipe from Everyday Annie to make chocolate cupcakes or chocolate cakes, which is often. Those cakes are moist, very chocolaty and always a huge hit. They have never failed me and it is my go-to recipe when I need to make a tasty cake. I have never found a chocolate cake/cupcake recipe better than that one. Until now, perhaps. I had yet to make something stuffed with a truffle so was a bit doubtful about the mechanisms of such a feat, but I was very excited to try this recipe. It is a bit more involved than your normal cupcake recipe, but these are still very manageable and the benefit is tremendous. These cupcakes are scrumptious. Delectable. Heavenly. My friend and boyfriend had some first at a game night fresh out of the oven and frosted, and they were raving about them. They dared say that these were the best cupcakes that I had ever made. I thought, surely not. These guys are exaggerating. I had one and to my surprise and joy, they were not. These cupcakes are moist, chocolaty, with a nice soft chocolate truffle surprise in the middle. The frosting is just perfect. Not too sweet, not too rich, but a joy to make and an even better joy to spread and eat.

    I had some doubts regarding how the cupcakes would bake around and on top of the truffle, but they did so perfectly without any problems. It is however very important to not fill your cupcakes more than halfway. Also, I noticed after baking that my truffles were not in the center of the cupcake, but rather had sunk to the bottom (note: this did not impact the deliciousness factor of the truffle). It is possible that I had made them a bit too big as I only managed to make 18 instead of 20, so perhaps the extra little bit of weight was enough to drag the truffles down. To try to prevent this you should really aim to make 20 evenly-sized truffles and absolutely do not press them into the cupcakes at all when placing them (step 10).  I cannot emphasize this enough. Place the truffle as gently and delicately as possible on the top of the cupcake batter filled halfway. Apart from this, these cupcakes were simply perfect. They were so delicious that I did not feel the need to pimp them out at all, and decorating is actually my favorite part of baking! Do yourselves and your family, friends or colleagues a favour and make these cupcakes. Soon!

Ingredients for truffles:

Ingredients for cupcakes:

  • 2 oz (60 g) unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • ⅔ cup + ⅔ cup packed light brown sugar
  • ⅓ cup + ½ cup milk
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Ingredients for frosting:

  • 3 oz (90 g) unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups icing sugar, sifted, plus extra to adjust consistency if necessary

Directions:

  1. To prepare the truffles, heat the cream to a simmer and pour it over the chopped chocolate. Let it sit for a minute, then gently whisk to blend. Chill this mixture until set, about 2 hours.
  2. Spoon this ganache into 20 truffles, shaping them between your hands into 3/4-inch (2 cm) balls. Chill the truffles until ready to use.
  3. Preheat the over to 375°F and line 20 muffin cups with paper liners.
  4. For the cupcakes, melt the chocolate and butter together in a saucepot over low heat, making sure to stir once in a while.
  5. Stir in ⅔ cup of the brown sugar and ⅓ cup of the milk. Stir over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved.
    • Note: Don’t worry if the mixture does not look smooth. It will even out later.
  6. Pour this mixture into a bowl and whisk in the remaining ⅔ cup of brown sugar. Cool to room temperature.
  7. Whisk in the eggs one at a time, blending after each addition. Whisk in the vanilla extract.
  8. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. Add this to the chocolate mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the remaining ½ cup of milk, starting and ending with the flour. Whisk well after each addition.
  9. Pour the batter, which will be quite fluid, into the prepared muffin cups, filling to halfway.
  10. Gently place a truffle in the centre of each cupcake. Do not press it in, as it will settle and become completely enveloped but the batter as it bakes. Bake the cupcakes for about 20 minutes, until the cupcake springs back when gently pressed. Cool the cupcakes completely before frosting.
  11. For the frosting, stir the chocolate and butter in a saucepot over low heat until melted. Transfer this to a bowl and whisk in the sour cream and vanilla extract.
  12. Beat in the icing sugar until the mixture is smooth and spreadable, adding a touch more icing sugar if needed. Spread or pipe the frosting onto each cupcake.

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Notes from Anna:

  • “For a cupcake to be a cupcake, it really needs frosting” – Anna Olson. I couldn’t agree more with this statement. For me, frosting is what makes the difference between a cupcake and a muffin.
  • The cupcakes should be stored at room temperature in an airtight container and will keep for up to 2 days. Do not refrigerate. 
  • If consumed within 24 hours of baking, the truffle filling will be soft and almost fluid. After a day, the truffle sets further, but it is still satisfyingly delicate.

Valerie

Portuguese Custard Tarts

Yield: 12 tarts
Recipe: 114/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 102

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    Not one to waste egg yolks that I had leftover from making a Swiss buttercream, I decided to finally try making this lovely recipe for Portuguese custard tarts, also called natas here in Quebec. This recipe was actually a little bit more challenging to make. I found it quite interesting to add softened butter to the top of a rolled out pie dough to ultimately convert it to a flaky dough once baked. Pretty ingenious! This recipe is a bit more time consuming than your average cookies or tart, but I much enjoyed the process, especially rolling out the 12 littles pieces of dough individually and filling them with custard. A word to the wise, because of all the added butter, when rolling out the individual dough pieces they will become soft very quickly, so make sure that you flour the surface that you are rolling on and the you don’t overwork the dough!

    The taste of the tarts is very good and the custard itself is tasty and just right, not too eggy or creamy. However, it is evident that I did not roll out each of the 12 portions thin enough (I never know what 1/4 inch looks like and I am too lazy to take out a ruler and measure), because when baking them the dough almost doubled in size and is a bit too thick. As a result, my tarts don’t have the pretty overhangs to be expected based on the recipe and the dough-to-custard ratio is a bit too high. Nonetheless, they taste very good. If I do these again I would just make sure to roll them out thin enough so that I don’t have very thick tarts.

Ingredients:

  • 1 recipe Double-Crust Pie Dough, wrapped in one piece and chilled
  • 5 tablespoons + 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup half-and-half cream
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons +1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Pull the dough from the fridge 30 minutes before rolling. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the entire piece of pie dough into a rectangular shape that is about 20 inches by 12 inches long (50 x 30 cm), and 1/4 inch thick.
  2. Evenly spread 5 tablespoons of the softened room temperature butter over the surface of the dough, and roll up the pastry from the short end. Wrap and chill the dough while preparing the filling.
  3. Heat the cream and milk in a pot over medium heat to just below a simmer.
  4. In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch and vanilla extract.
  5. While whisking the egg mixture, slowly pour in the hot cream, then pour everything back in the pot. Whisk the custard constantly over medium heat until it thickens and just begins to bubble, about 4 minutes.
  6. Strain the custard into a bowl and stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. Place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Cool the custard on the counter at room temperature, then chill for 1½ hours.
  7. Preheat the oven to 375°F and lightly grease a 12-cup muffin tin.
  8. Remove the pastry from the fridge and cut 12 discs from the log. Roll out each portion on a lightly floured surface to 1/4 inch thickness. Trim with a 5-inch round cutter and press each portion into the muffin tin so that the edges of each tart shell are about 1/2 inch above the edge of the muffin cup.
  9. Spoon the chilled custard into each pastry.
  10. Bake the tarts for 35 to 45 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and the custard has browned on top somewhat. Cool the tarts in the tin before removing to serve at room temperature or chilled.

Valerie

Delectable Fudge Brownies

Yield: one 9×13 inch pan, about 24 brownies
Recipe: 113/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 53

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    There is one recipe in the book that I looked at and perused many times over the past two years. However, I could never bring myself to do it. Even though the title of the recipe sounds delicious, as soon as I came across one ingredient in the recipe, I couldn’t do it. That ingredient is… mayonnaise. I strongly dislike mayo, except in tuna sandwiches and crab salad, where it belongs, and could not fathom doing a dessert with mayonnaise! It was against my core beliefs. Mayo, in a brownie? Why? Thankfully, one weekend I decided to be brave and thought that was enough of being so judgemental about mayo and I tried this recipe. Now I regret postponing it for two years! These brownies are fantastic. I don’t often eat brownies, but I am quite certain that I have never had such scrumptious, fudgy, chocolatey, dense-but-not-too-dense, rich brownies.

    This recipe makes a lot of brownies, and that is a good thing because you will need it! I made this for a game night with friends and they were very much enjoyed and devoured. These would also be excellent with some nuts in them, such as walnuts or even pecans. What I particularly like about this recipe is that it is pretty much a one-pot recipe and does not generate many dirty dishes. Perfect! If you do or do not like mayo, does not matter. You must make these brownies – tonight. You will thank me, and Anna Olson, tomorrow.

Ingredients:

  • 4 oz (125 g) unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 2/3 cup boiling water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and line a 9×13 inch baking pan with parchment paper so that the paper hangs over the sides slightly.
  2. Place the chopped chocolate into a large bowl and pour the boiling water overtop. Let sit for one minute, then whisk to melt the chocolate.
  3. Whisk in the sugar, then add the mayonnaise and eggs, one at a time. Stir in the vanilla extract.
  4. With a wooden spoon or spatula, stir in the flour, cocoa and salt until evenly blended.
  5. Stir in the chocolate chips and mix well.
  6. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for about 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the brownies comes out clean. Cool to room temperature.

Valerie