Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Vanilla Bean Caramel Apples

As the days get shorter and the nights get colder, I'm finally getting used to fall. I've equipped myself with some comfy sweaters, some chunky scarves and a wicked pair of black leather booties. I'm set. Since the weather here has confined me to the indoors for the most part, my kitchen has been put to good use in the last few weeks. Thanksgiving came and went, Halloween slipped right past and now suddenly everything is Christmas! I am nowhere near ready for that. So to keep the fall spirit going, the next few recipes are going to be filled with everything I love about fall baking. Christmas cookies can wait!

Caramel apples used to be one of my biggest weaknesses. Every trip to the fair warranted a candy apple, no questions asked. In recent years, spending time with my cousin Sam, who is practically my sister, meant that every time we passed a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory meant we were getting caramel apples. As of late, my caramel sweet tooth has faded, but these sweet treats are a healthier (and tastier, if I do say so myself) little blast from the past that makes for a fun fall afternoon with friends. The caramel in this recipe can be (and will be!) used for many other recipes and treats to come, but this small batch makes 2-4 apples. The addition of the vanilla bean makes for a more mature adult caramel, as the seeds pop and give the caramel texture and flavour that generic corn syrup and vanilla extract can't really compete with. So call up your friends and make sure to have them bring a boat load of toppings to create fun crunchy apples! Happy Caramel Appleing :) 

Special Equipment needed * Candy Thermometer

Paleo Caramel

(Covers 2-4 apples)

3/4 cup coconut sugar
5 tbs coconut milk (not just the cream, but thick is ok)
1 1/2 tbs  grass fed butter
1 tsp Himalayan Pink Salt
3 tbs honey
Vanilla bean, split and scraped

In a small sauce pan, mix all ingredients. Place over medium-high heat and stir until mixture is bubbling and boiling. Reduce head to medium and attach candy thermometer. Let sit, stirring occasionally, until the caramel reaches 240 degrees. Remove from heat and pour into a small glass bowl.  

If using immediately, let the mixture cool until the bubbles have settled and the caramel has thickened. Roll apples in caramel and extra goodies if so desired. Let set on parchment paper. 

If using caramel later, caramel keeps uncovered at room temp for 2 days.  To reheat, place the glass bowl in a saucepan filled partially with water over low-medium heat. Caramel will soften in a few minutes, making for easy apple dipping. 

*Optional topping combos*

English Toffee - Chopped slivered almonds, chopped dark chocolate 
Tiger - Dip in dark chocolate, then swirl white chocolate on top
Coco-Caramel - Tip bottom of caramel apple in shredded coconut,  roll sides in chocolate shavings

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Sweetened condensed milk {paleo & vegan}

I wish I could say I was a fall girl. I'm not a fan of the legendary Pumpkin Spice Latte, I don't care for cranberry sauce and I honestly hate wearing pants. I am a beach loving, flip flop wearing, bathing suit and dresses kind of girl.  For me, fall is saved by chunky scarves and sweaters, crunchy leaves and the sudden demand for baking anything and everything that is rich, intensely flavourful and sweet. I'm all for that.

Since it happens to be that time of year again, I figured I would share a simple staple in my fall baking supplies; condensed milk. As a kid, I was one of the weird ones who loved sweetened condensed milk. Licking the back of an Eagle Brand lid was heavenly. Gross, I know, but there was something delicious about it back then. Now I won't touch the stuff, so I figured I would try my hand at making my own.  Condensed milk is useful for many fall and winter recipes, including pies and coconut macaroons. To date this recipe has worked wonders for pumpkin pie, pumpkin bars and coconut macaroons. Once chilled, it turns into a thick pudding, making it a good base for creme brulees or simply to be eaten on its own. It could easily take the place of yogurt in a recipe or simply be used to thicken a recipe that calls for milk or buttermilk. I've tried making it with coconut sugar and xylitol (for a friend who cannot use any other kind of sweetener in her baked goods) and both have worked just fine, although I prefer the caramel flavour that the coconut sugar lends to the milk. Keep this recipe in your back pocket when making your deliciously rich goodies this fall and feel free to let me know what else you're trying!

Sweetened Condensed Coconut Milk {paleo & vegan}

1 can Arroy-D Coconut Milk (Do not use light coconut milk or coconut cream)
2-8 tbs coconut sugar, or other sweetener like honey, maple syrup etc, depending on sweetness. (Note: if using Xylitol, use 1-2 tbs as it is extremely sweet. It also thickens faster)
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped, do not discard pod

In a small pot, mix all ingredients, including the scraped vanilla bean.

Bring mixture to a boil and let bubble for 20-30 seconds. Reduce heat to low. Mixture should be bubbling slightly, but not quite at a simmer.

Leave on low for 1-2 hours, stirring occasionally and scraping down the sides as needed.  Mixture will reduce to half or even less of original amount.  Remove from heat when desired thickness is achieved. (1 hour = runny when cold, 2- 3 hours = thick pudding when cold) Discard vanilla bean.

Transfer to glass bowl or jar and refrigerate. Enjoy as is or use as a replacement for traditional sweetened condensed milk.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Autopiloting and a tasty case of identity crisis {Chewy Chocolate Pecan Brownie Cookies}

Do you ever find yourself on autopilot? We all do it in some way, shape or form. For some, it's doing a repetitive motion at work or school without even having to think about it. For others, we do it when we drive. You know, when you start at point A and suddenly find yourself at point B with no real recollection of how you got there. Scary stuff eh? For me, I turn my autopilot on when I drive and bake. Double threat right there. I constantly find myself driving to work and arriving without remembering much of the drive. Sometimes, when I am supposed to be driving to one of the pools that I work at, I find myself instead en route for the gym, my boyfriend's house or another pool. It's pretty dangerous when you think about it!

As for my autopilot baking adventures, I'd say they can be pretty dangerous too. Take this weekend for example; it was Thanksgiving and I had lots of work to do for the dinner we were going to host. I was making three pie crusts; two gluten free hazelnut sablee crusts and one regular old fashioned wheat. What did I make instead? The fantastically tasty and confused recipe I am about to share with you. I swear it started off innocently enough; one minute I was making pie dough, the next I looked down and I had made brownie cookie dough in my food processor. Oops. My bad.

Even though my unconscious desire to bake cookies ran rampant, everything else turned out great, including the dinner and delicious pies that I topped with some homemade salted caramelized hazelnuts. All other delicious meals aside, these accidental delights are the real winner of my baking adventures this weekend.  After a couple recipe tests to ensure their awesomeness, I can't quite decide what they are. They're fudgy and chewy like a brownie, yet hold together and melt down as they bake as cookies tend to do. The addition of the pecan crumbs simply adds another level of mystery to the tasty problem at hand. Quite the identity crisis don't you think? Taste them for yourself and then call them what you want, but these cookie/brownie treats are bite-sized examples of autopiloting adventures at their finest!

Chewy Chocolate Pecan Brownie Cookies

Makes 12

1 cup slivered almonds
2 tbs almond flour (use 1 tbs less for even chewier cookies)
2 tbs arrowroot powder
1 tbs honey
3 tbs coconut sugar
1/4 cup dark 70% chocolate, melted and cooled
1 1/2 tbs butter
1/4 cup cocoa powder + 1tbs
1 egg
1/2 tsp Soda 
pinch of Salt
1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped
Dark chocolate pieces, or round drops of couverture, for decorating 

In a food processor, pulse pecans until they are very small crumbs. Set aside. (or chop them, and then stubbornly refuse to give up, like I did the first time)

Place slivered almonds in food processor and blend until they turn into butter, 5-8 min. 

Melt chocolate double boiler style while almonds are processing. 
Once almonds have turned to butter, add honey and pulse, then add the butter and chocolate then pulse to combine. Add the rest of the ingredients, minus the dark chocolate pieces, and pulse until just combined and dough ball forms.

Transfer to small bowl and place in fridge or freezer for at least 20 min. Preheat oven to 350 while you wait.
When ready, roll out your dough into 12 even balls and roll each one in the pecans to coat. 

Place on a parchment lined baking sheet with enough room for spreading. Place your thumb in the centre of each cookie and press lightly, creating an indent. 

Bake for 6-8 minutes, until cookies have spread and cracked on top, but are not fully cooked. Remove from heat. Immediately place dark chocolate chunks in the middle of each cookie, pressing down slightly. Once finished decorating, transfer cookies to a wire rack or cooler surface and let cool. 

Cookies keep covered and at room temperature for 3-4 days. 

Friday, 3 October 2014

Ferrero Rocher Cookies

I'm not going to be humble or quiet about this. I am incredibly proud (and astonished) that I went an entire month without eating chocolate. No cocoa powder, chocolate bars, chocolate cake, nothing. That being said, when I woke up this Wednesday after 4 straight weeks sans my number one love, I was more than a little giddy to put some cocoa in my bulletproof breakfast coffee. (We'll skip the story about how I quite literally fell to the floor after taking a bite of my favourite chocolate cake from Thierry in Vancouver.) I didn't do it for health reasons or for dietary reasons, I simply needed to make sure that I could survive without the stuff. It wasn't anywhere near as tough as I'd anticipated, but I definitely won't be taking another break anytime soon.

Spending a month without chocolate also meant I was baking without it too. I did succeed in making a batch of my mexican hot chocolate cookies without sampling any of the batter though! Quite proud over here, if you can't tell. In all honesty though I can bake without chocolate, no problem, but I can't be the only one who loves to taste and then re-taste my recipes. It's all about quality control in this house.

These little nuggets of deliciousness are fantastic just as the recipe calls for, but can also be modified to suit different levels of density, depending on how you like your cookies. These are soft, thick and slightly chewy, but omit 1 tbsp or both tablespoons of coconut flour to create a thinner, chewier version for yourself. Even if you haven't spent a month depriving yourself of the stuff that most baking dreams are made of, whip up a batch of these and give yourself a pat on the back anyways. You deserve it.

Ferrero Rocher Cookies

1 1/3 cup hazelnuts, divided.
1/4 cup dark chocolate, melted (min 60-70%, dairy free, filler free)
1 tbs cocoa (raw, not raw, whatever you like)
5 tbs coconut sugar
2 tbs honey
2 tbs grass-fed butter, melted
1-2 tbs coconut flour (depending on chewy factor)
Pinch Salt
1 tsp Soda
1 tsp Vanilla
1/4 tsp espresso granules or instant espresso

1 egg plus 1 yolk

dark chocolate pieces or disks of high quality couverture, for decorating. 

Preheat oven to 350.

While the oven is heating up, toast 1 heaping cup of hazelnuts until the skins have cracked open and they begin to look shiny. Remove from heat and let cool.

Placed room temperature toasted nuts in a food processor and blend until they turn to nut butter. Add in melted chocolate and espresso powder and pulse until combined. Measure to ensure you have about 1 cup of chocolate hazelnut butter. If not, add back some of the mixture, adding a few more nuts and blend. Chunks are ok.

Mix 1 cup of hazelnut butter, sugars, melted butter, egg and yolk and vanilla. Stir until combined.

Using a sifter, sift coconut flour (if using) and cocoa powder with soda and salt over wet ingredients. Fold in until combined.

Roll small 1 1/2 inch balls out onto parchment paper. Press down slightly with chocolate discs or pieces, then fold up sides to cover most of the chocolate. Chop up remaining hazelnuts into small pieces and sprinkle on top of chocolate pieces.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until puffed up and spread out. Let cool 2 minutes on tray, then transfer to racks to finish cooling.

***Side note!! If you want a real deal ferrero rocher experience, chop your hazelnuts really finely and spread on top. If you're feeling extra adventurous, caramelize them in a pan with homemade caramel: 1 tsp water, 2 tbs coconut sugar, let bubble for a few minutes, then toss in crushed toasted hazelnuts to coat, 1-2 min. Dry on parchment then break apart and spread on cookies***

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Brown Butter Rum Raisin Cookies

In the words of Julia Child, "with enough butter, anything is good". What she forgot to mention, was that with enough browned butter, everything is good! I hate to admit it, but fall is finally starting to creep in.  Granted, the weather here has been practically tropical (think 25-30 degrees!), but the leaves are starting to change and the nights are getting cool.  As a tea addict, my lemony summer teas are being swapped out for spicier cinnamon scented chai and licorice, and my cookies and cakes are about to get a whole lot more decadent!

This recipe came about for two reasons; one, I had a deep desire to satisfy my usual baking hankerings. Reason two, I had to challenge myself to not use any chocolate! As a chocoholic I am proud to say that I haven't had a piece of deliciously dark chocolate or chocolate in any of its wonderful forms, in two weeks! Quite the accomplishment for me, although I know I can keep going!

These cookies are great for just about any occasion, as most cookies are in my books, but the brown butter makes them just that much more special.

Browning the butter with your vanilla bean makes all the difference, not to mention it makes your house smell better than any Bath and Bodyworks candle ever could! The addition of soaking your raisins in a little bit of rum lends a depth to these caramel coloured cookies and pairs very well with the brown butter. (Don't worry, the alcohol burns off when you cook it) If you haven't browned butter before, not to worry! It's a simple procedure that requires just a touch of effort on your part. Enjoy this batch with some tea and a cozy sweater by a fire or if you're on the west coast, while you're soaking up this gorgeous September sunshine!

Brown Butter Rum Raisin Cookies

Makes 12-16

1/4 salted grass-fed butter
1/2 vanilla bean
1/2 cup coconut sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 egg 
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp soda 
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup oat flour
1/4 cup almond flour
1 1/2 tbs coconut flour
1 cup oats
1/4 cup finely shredded coconut
1/2 cup raisins
1 tbs rum (I used Malibu Black)
1 tbs Galliano (Or 2 tbs dark rum if you have it on hand)
1 tbs hot water (or more rum!!)

In a small bowl, mix rum, Galliano and water. Add raisins and let soak for 20 minutes or, if desired, cook raisins in a saucepan until warm for 3-5 minutes to plump them up. (Or microwave them if you must)

In a saucepan (frying pan works too) over low-medium heat, melt your butter with your vanilla bean that has been sliced down the middle and squeezed. Leave the pod in the pan as your brown your butter. Using a spatula, gently swirl your butter as it begins to bubble. The butter will begin to brown and let off a nutty vanilla scent. The butter is finished when the colour has deepened and the nutty vanilla scent is apparent, 5 minutes for me. Discard pod. 

In a medium bowl, mix your brown butter, coconut sugar and maple syrup together until smooth, like a very soft caramel. Let cool for a few minutes.

In a separate bowl, combine oats, oat flour, almond flour, soda, salt and baking powder. 

Add egg to sugar mixture and mix until combined. Add extra vanilla extract if desired. 

Add dry mixture to wet mixture by folding it in with a spatula. This recipe is a lot more fun by hand! 

Fold in raisins, along with any remaining liquor that wasn't soaked up. 

Fold in shredded coconut and gauge to see if any further dry ingredients are necessary. 

Transfer bowl to freezer or fridge to harden. 

Once hardened, bake at 350 for 8 - 10 minutes, or until golden brown on the top. Remove from oven and let cool on sheet. These cookies should be very chewy and slightly undercooked when removed from the heat. 

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Ultimate Go-to Grain-Free Chocolate Brownies

Brownies were never my favourite treat. They were either a little too sweet, too cakey or too crumbly. Of course one bite brownies and those amazing batches of brownies that that one talented mom always used to bring to the bake sales were an exception. We all had one of those, am I right?

Needless to say, whenever I tried making brownies I didn't really care for them. I always had terrible results;  not enough chocolate flavour, too crumbly, you name it, I did it. Brownies just weren't my game. This gluten-free version however, is a game changer. The brownie itself is best right out of the fridge since it gives it a fudgy texture, but it keeps a little crumble just the way I like it. I love the addition of the chocolate chunks, which add a deep dark chocolate taste to the finished product.

The best part about this recipe is that it makes the perfect base to build on. Want to add nuts? Go for it. Add some fresh seasonal fruit? Why not. Switch up the icing or omit it altogether? You bet. Play around with this recipe and make it your own.

Ultimate Grain-Free Chocolate Brownies

Makes 14-18 brownies

7 tbs coconut flour
9 tbs grass-fed butter, melted
7 tbs cocoa (raw or roasted, but roasted gives deeper flavour)
5 tbs raw unpasteurized honey 
5 tbs coconut palm sugar
1/2 tsp salt if using unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla
3 eggs

1/2 -2/3 cup dark chocolate chips (soy-free)

Optional add ins:

1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup cherries or other seasonal fruit
1 tsp instant espresso powder (to deepen chocolate flavour)

Decadent Chocolate Icing
4 tbs grass-fed butter, softened
2/3 cup chocolate chips, melted
5 - 6 tbs cocoa
3 tbs raw unpasteurized honey

1 tbs vanilla whey protein - optional


Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9x9 in glass dish with coconut oil or butter. (I use a pie dish, which works just as well)  Mix together melted butter, sugar and honey in a medium bowl. Stir until combined. Add eggs and vanilla and stir until blended. Sift cocoa and coconut flour into bowl and mix until just combined. Add in chocolate chips and other optional items if using. Bake on middle rack for approximately 12-15 minutes or until middle is set. Let it cool.

To make the icing, combine room temperature butter with all other ingredients in a medium bowl. Whisk together until you reach a glossy finish.

Frost brownies and place in fridge to set.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Salted Cashew Butter Cookies

Do you ever eat something so much that you need to stop and take a step back? You build up the courage to tell whatever food it is that you need some space, some time apart to see other delicious foods. Now don't get me wrong, it's not like you don't love it anymore, you just realize that the two of you are getting on a little too well and you just don't want to ruin it. You're simply being rational and want to keep your delectable relationship going for as long as possible. I feel ya. For me it was cashews. It started off in complete innocence, a handful of bulk nuts here and there. But I got carried away, as I tend to do when I obsess over certain foods. I had to pull back on the cashews for a while, see other nuts and such. I'm good now, I can have a cashew or two and be done with it. Pistachios however, those wonderful little things, are a different story.

My favourite thing to do with cashews is to make them into butter. Almond butter and sun butter have nothing on cashew butter, which tastes like the most incredible cookie dough you can imagine.  It's an easy butter to make since cashews are a softer nut. If you can make it past the butter phase without eating half the jar, you can transform said nut butter into a magical cookie. This cookie is a salty sweet chewy piece of heaven. The addition of sea salt makes you wonder if there's caramel in the cookie and the hazelnuts give it just enough crunch to balance the chewy texture. I do suggest making the butter from scratch, but store bought butter will work if you're in a pinch. 

Make sure to share these guys or you may find yourself as cashew crazed as I once was!

Cashew Butter

2 cups raw organic cashews
1 - 2 tbs coconut oil
2 tbs honey 
pinch of salt
vanilla (optional)

Set oven to 300 and lightly toast your cashews for 8-10 minutes. This eliminates any mold growing on your cashews ( a common thing for cashews) and gives them a delicious flavour.  Let cool. 

Process in a food processor or Vitamix until the nuts turn from chunks to crumbs to a paste. 8-12 minutes depending on your machine. Add remaining ingredients and process until thick and creamy. If you want a smoother, runny butter, add more coconut oil.  The thicker the butter the better for the cookies. 

Makes about 2 cups

Salted Cashew Butter Cookies

Makes 12 cookies

1 cup cashew butter
3/4 cup palm sugar 
1 tsp honey
1 tsp soda
1 egg, room temp
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 tsp vanilla powder or 1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (soy free)
1/3 cup chopped hazelnuts
Sea salt for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 325. Blend all ingredients except chocolate and hazelnuts in a medium size bowl until well combined. Fold in chocolate and hazelnuts.  Mixture may be slightly oily. Roll into 1 inch balls and lay on a tray covered in parchment paper. Sprinkle each cookie with a little salt. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until cookies are flat and slightly brown on the bottom. Remove from oven and let cool on tray.