Vanilla Cornmeal Wedges

Cookies, Bars and Biscotti

Yield: 32 cookies
Recipe: 99/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 26

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     Two weeks ago I realized that I had no dessert or snacks at home, so I decided to make these vanilla cornmeal wedges to have something to munch on. The result was a funny but sad turnout. As I went to take out the pan 20 minutes after putting it in the oven, I touched it and thought that it would benefit from several extra minutes of baking. I repeated this two times. Turns out that my oven died on me that very day! So the dessert that I had so lovingly prepared was just sitting in a broken oven that wouldn’t turn on. Quite sad indeed. It wasn’t fixed for another week, so last weekend I repeated the recipe to, finally, have a snack on hand. This recipe was easy to do (both times) and although simple these wedges taste very good. I used 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract as well as all the seeds from a vanilla bean, so not only were the wedges sprinkled with delicious black vanilla seeds everywhere, but the vanilla flavour was enhanced and very fitting with the shortbread. At first bite I was surprised by the crunch of the cornmeal, as I had never baked with cornmeal and didn’t know what to expect. However, after eating many of these wedges I came to appreciated this little surprise crunch in every bite. This is a simple, fast yet satisfying recipe!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract *
  • 1/3 cup cornmeal
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1  2/3  cups all-purpose flour

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two 9-inch removable-bottom fluted tart pans and set the pans in a baking tray.
  2. Using a hand or stand mixer, beat the butter for 2 minutes.
  3. Add the sugar and beat for another 2 minutes.
  4. Stir in the vanilla (either paste, extract and/or beans).
  5. Stir in the cornmeal, cornstarch and salt. Mix until well blended.
  6. Add the flour in two additions, blending well between each.
  7. Divide the dough between the two pans, then press the dough using floured fingers so that it covers the bottom of the pans. Cut each pan of dough into 16 wedges.     Note: the dough will be soft.
  8. Bake for about 20 minutes, until just the edges of the shortbread begin to brown. Remove the pans from the oven and while still warm, cut each pan of shortbread into 16 wedges again. Cool completely in the pan before serving or storing.

* I supplemented 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract with the seeds of a vanilla bean. Simply scrape them in the batter prior to baking.

Valerie

Tangy Lemon Walnut Squares

Cookies, Bars and Biscotti

Yield: one 8-inch square pan, about 20 squares
Recipe: 84/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 58

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      Lemon desserts are not my favorite thing on the planet, but when one cannot eat chocolate one has to adapt. I made these bars mostly because walnuts are involved and they are easy to share, which is a bonus and makes it easy to bring to work! Perhaps I was a bit biased to start with, but I was not a big fan of this recipe. I found that the base was much to thick compared to the lemon layer, which made for a more dense and nutty bar. If I must redo this recipe I would halve the walnut base and double the lemon layer, which in my opinion is meant to be the star ingredient in this recipe. However, since my colleagues seem to like these lemon walnut bars, perhaps it is just a personal preference. Let me know if you try them!

Ingredients for base:

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup coarsely chopped walnut pieces
  • ⅓ cup icing sugar
  • ½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup cold unsalted butter, cut in pieces

Ingredients for lemon layer:

  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup white corn syrup
  • ½ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • Icing sugar, for dusting

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper so that the paper comes up the sides.
  2. For the base, combine the flour and walnut pieces in a food processor. Pulse until the walnut pieces are finely ground.
  3. Add the icing sugar, lemon zest and salt and pulse.
  4. Add the cold butter and pulse until the mixture is a rough, crumbly texture. Pour the crumb mixture into the prepared pan and press down, pushing the crumbs slightly up the edges of the pan (about ¼ inch). Bake for 25 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool before filling.
  5. For the lemon layer, whisk together the eggs and corn syrup until smooth.
  6. In a small bowl, whisk the lemon juice and cornstarch together. Stir in the zest and baking powder, and quickly whisk this into the egg mixture. Pour the filling over the cooled crust.
  7. Bake for about 25 minutes, until set with just a little jiggle in the centre. Cool to room temperature before removing from the pan, then slice and dust with icing sugar

Valerie

Caramel Walnut Shortbread Squares

Cookies, Bars and Biscotti

Yield: one 8-inch square pan, about 25 squares
Recipe: 83/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 62

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     These past two weeks have been very tough for me. My friends and I made a (very stupid, in retrospect) bet about who could go on the longest without their favorite food. Mine, of course, was chocolate. Why did I agree to this ridiculous bet? I still wonder… daily. In any case, I have had no form of chocolate in over two weeks! That includes hot chocolate, chocolate milk, chocolate bars, chocolate desserts and even cocoa powder. It hurts. All that to say that last night I desperately needed to bake something that did not contain chocolate and could satisfy my sweet tooth.

      I thus present to you – caramel walnut shortbread squares. These little bars of heavenly gooeyness were an instant hit at work. They received an “honorable mention” from a few colleagues and definitely goes on my list of top desserts I have made from this cookbook (or ever, for that matter). The bite of the shortbread base actually makes the whole bar perfect. It supports the scrumptious gooey caramel and walnut topping. At first I thought that the walnut to surface area ratio was going to be too high. It is, I mean, there are a lot of walnuts on these bars, but they are best that way. If you want a sweet, gooey and satisfying dessert, definitely try these bars.

Ingredients for base:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup cool unsalted butter, cut in pieces

Ingredients for filling:

  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • ¼ cup whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup packed light brown sugar*
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups walnut halves**

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper so that the paper comes up the sides.
  2. Stir the flour, sugar and salt together.
  3. Cut in the butter until the mixture is a rough, crumbly texture. It should not come together as a dough. Press this mixture into the prepared pan and bake for about 15 minutes, just until the edges begin to brown. Cool while preparing the filling.
  4. Place the sugar, cream of tartar and water in a small saucepot and bring to a boil over high heat, uncovered and without stirring, occasionally brushing the sides of the pot with water until the sugar caramelizes to a rich amber color, about 4 minutes.
  5. Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in the cream and butter until it is blended and looks like caramel. Watch out for the steam! Note: if the sugar sticks to the whisk or pot, return the pot to low heat and stir evenly until evenly melted. Allow the caramel to cool for 10 minutes.
  6. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg, then whisk in the brown sugar and vanilla extract.
  7. Gently whisk in the caramel, then stir in the walnut pieces. Pour this mixture into the prepared pan over the base and spread the walnut pieces evenly. Bake for 20 minutes, until the edges are bubbling. Cool the squares to room temperature before slicing.

Notes from Valerie:

  • *  I had no more light brown sugar, so used dark brown sugar instead. Tasted great!
  • ** I used walnut pieces instead of walnut halves, since I had those on hand and evidently the taste        would not be altered.

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Valerie

Traditional Shortbread

Cookies, Bars and Biscotti

Yield: about 24 shortbread squares
Recipe: 65/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 25

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     I was way overdue to fill up my cookie tin with scrumptious cookies. I took the small snowstorm of this week as an opportunity to do just that. As such, I made these simple traditional shortbread cookies. They are easy to make and make the perfect buttery snack with coffee, tea or, as is my personal preference, hot chocolate. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup icing sugar, sifted
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2  1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup brown or white rice flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F and grease an 8-inch square pan.
  2. Using a hand or stand mixer, beat the butter for 2 minutes to make it light and fluffy.
  3. Add the icing sugar and sugar to the butter mixture and beat for another 2 minutes. Add the vanilla extract.
  4. In a separate bowl, sift and whisk together the flour, rice flour and salt. Add these to the wet ingredients and combine until evenly blended.
  5. Scrape the dough into the prepared pan and press it flat into the bottom of the pan with your fingers. Use a fork to dock the shortbread all the way through the dough at one inch intervals.
  6. Bake the shortbread for 25 minutes, until the outside edges have browned a little.
  7. Let the shortbread cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then cut it into 24 or 36 squares. Allow to col completely before lifting them out of the pan to store.

Notes from Anna:

  • When making shortbread, it is essential to beat the butter thoroughly before adding the sugar. Since there are no eggs or baking powder in these cookies, making the butter fluffy is essential to keep them tender and light.

Valerie

Chocolate Shortbread Meltaways

Cookies, Bars and Biscotti

Yield: about 6 dozen small cookies
Recipe: 56/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 27

Chocolate cookies

   It was a false alarm. A couple of weeks ago when I thought my replacement oven was working fine I was mistaken. However, this time is the real deal. I now have an actually new, functioning oven that does not overheat and burn my food. Yay!! To celebrate I spent a whole day in the kitchen just baking away, such fun! First up I made these chocolate shortbread cookies. This recipe makes a lot and they can serve as perfect little late-night snacks. They melt on the tongue and have that desired chocolate taste. Easy-breezy recipe! 

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup icing sugar, sifted
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1  1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Using a hand or stand mixer, cream together the butter and icing sugar until smooth and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the vanilla extract.
  4. Add in the flour, cocoa powder, cornstarch and salt. Mix well until evenly incorporated.
  5. Spoon the cookie dough (it will be soft, this is normal) into a large piping bag fitted with a large plain tip, and pipe 1-inch “kisses” onto the baking trays. Make sure to leave a 1-inch space between each cookie.
  6. Bake the cookies for 11-13 minutes, until they lift away easily from the parchment paper without sticking. Let the cookies cool completely on the tray before removing.

Note:

  • I spooned the whole dough mixture into the piping bag since I had a large one. However, I found it quite difficult to pipe the dough when the bag was filled – it took a lot of muscle! To prevent this, only fill the bag halfway and then repeat with the rest of the dough. You will have much less difficulty piping the cookies.

Valerie