Holiday Sweets

This is coming a bit late but “Happy 2012!”  Above is a Vasilopita cake I made for New Year’s eve.  It is a traditional greek cake served to celebrate the new year.  The cake is baked with a coin in the batter.  The coin is meant to bring good luck to the person who finds it in their slice of cake.  I had lots of fun eating this cake at 1am on January 1, 2012 with a group of good friends.

I added some coconut to the batter and sprinkled on top of the cake to add some crunch.  The cake.  The cake turned out quite dense and heavy, but I love the tradition behind it.  It definitely needed the chocolate writing on top…at least for my sweet tooth, everything is better with chocolate!

Vasilopita Recipe

To continue with some Greek holiday traditions I tried making Melomakarona cookies to snack on over the holidays.

One important lesson that I learned from this baking experiment is that these cookies do not rise.  I ended up with twice the amount of cookies because I assumed rolled the cookies on the smaller side assuming they would expand in the oven.

After baking these cookies take a honey syrup bath to make them moist and sweet. The recipe called for soaking the cookies for 3 minutes.  I found after 3 minutes they had only moistened around the surface so I let the cookies soak in a shallow syrup bath for a couple hours while I went out for dinner, it did the trick.

Melomakarona recipe

Lastly for a bit of fun we baked and decorated some Ninjabread men with a classic gingerbread recipe.

I think next time I will try to add little shells on their backs to make Ninja turtle bread men.

Baklava

I recently went on a fabulous trip to Greece.  The air was warm and the ocean was so clear.  It was a wonderful escape and I hope to go back again many more times.  Whenever I travel I try to bring some special local ingredient home with me to continue the culinary journey.  Usually I pick up the spices used in the local cuisine but this time I weighed down my bag with 5 jars of honey.  The Greeks know what they are doing when it comes it honey, it must be the happy bees.

With the honey I purchased I decided to make my favourite Greek dessert: Baklava.  I love the nutty sweetness of baklava.  It always ends up becoming a mess on my plate and I feel akin to winnie the pooh licking my honey syrup drenched fingers after gobbling up a big piece.

I made mine per the recipe below with 4 thicker layers of nuts, I have since been advised that the true Greek method is to have multiple thin layers of nuts.  I will try that next time and let you know how they different methods compared.

Recipe:

  • 1 pound chopped mixed nuts (used almonds, walnuts and pistachios)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 (16 ounce) package phyllo dough
  • 1 cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Butter a 9×13 inch baking dish.
  2. Toss together cinnamon and nuts. Unroll phyllo and cut whole stack in half to fit the dish. Cover phyllo with a damp cloth while assembling the baklava, to keep it from drying out.
  3. Place two sheets of phyllo in the bottom of the prepared dish. Brush generously with butter. Sprinkle 2 to 3 tablespoons of the nut mixture on top. Repeat layers until all ingredients are used, ending with about 6 sheets of phyllo. Using a sharp knife, cut baklava (all the way through to the bottom of the dish) into four long rows, then (nine times) diagonally to make 36 diamond shapes.
  4. Bake in preheated oven 50 minutes, until golden and crisp.
  5. While baklava is baking, combine sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Stir in honey, vanilla and lemon zest, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes.
  6. Remove the baklava from the oven and immediately spoon the syrup over it. Let cool completely before serving. Store uncovered.
  7. Eat a large piece (maybe 2) then plan a pilgrimage to try some authentic Baklava in Greece….really they do it best. 😉

Apple Crumble

I love easy sweet comfort food that can warm you up on a cold day.  I woke up on saturday to a chilly apartment and a city drenched by rain.  I decided it was a day to curl up on the couch under a blanket but I needed the right snack to keep me company.  A big bowl of apples in my kitchen made my decision easy.  Warm apple crumble is a cozy blanket in itself, it can warm you through your tummy and your heart.  The apples, spices and oats are so comforting, I could not stop eating.  It turned into the perfect winter saturday.

Recipe:

6 apples
6 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons butter

Crumble:
4 teaspoons butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup rolled oats

Peel and slice apples into greased baking dish, add lemon juice to sliced apples to avoid browning. Combine sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over apples. Dot with two teaspoons of the butter. Blend the remaining four teaspoons of butter into brown sugar. Mix and add flour and rolled oats. Spoon mixture over apples. Bake at 350F for 15mins. Uncover and bake until crust is golden and apples are tender (approx. 35 minutes.)

Chocolate chip cheesecake

Recently my co-workers needed a bit of a pick me after the onset of winter.  We decided sweets were the answer in the form of a cheesecake taste test.

The competitors were Trees, Giovane and the Emerald cafe.  Trees advertises it’s cheesecake as the best in the city, however it turned out to be the least favourite in my office.  The winner by far was the smooth and creamy cheesecake at Giovane Cafe.  The results were no surprise, in my opinion Giovane Cafe can do no wrong.  Every thing they make is delicious and delectable.

Once I had cheesecake on my brain…or more accurately my taste buds I had to have more.  The taste test was based on good ol’ New York style cheesecake, but I needed more.  More chocolate to be exact.  I went for a simple chocolate chip cheesecake with gram cracker crust.

I like making cheesecake in little ramekins so I don’t have to fuss with making the crust absolutely perfect.  Cheesecake is a great desert for entertaining or just a snack because it is super quick to make, the hard part is letting it cool and set after baking, I always want to dive right in.

Crust:

2 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted

Filling:

1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
Dash of salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs

1 cup of chocolate chips

Directions:

1. Combine graham cracker crumbs and butter, press into buttered 8 inch pie plate to form crust on bottom and sides.

2. In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Gradually add in lemon juice, 1/2 cup sugar, milk, salt and vanilla.

3. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in chocolate chips. Pour filling into crust.

4. Bake at 325 degrees F for 25 to 30 minutes or until set.

5.  Chill for 2 hours or more before serving.

Fruit Tarts

I saw this recipe on one of Jamie Oliver’s cooking shows recently.  It is super easy and came out tasting very sweet and yummy.  A nice post lunch treat.  I think I will have to make these again next summer for a picnic, they seem like the perfect snack for lying in the sun on a plaid blanket.

The recipe uses jam as the fruit filling.  I decided I wanted more texture and more fruit chunks so I mixed in some frozen berries.  This was a bit of a waste of time as it all turned to mush in the oven anyway, but it did provide more of a mixed berry flavour.

The filling is easily recognized as jam when you taste them so it would be hard to play these off as anything fancy.  For personal consumption however they are a nice simple sweet treat.

Recipe:

Mix together: 1 egg, 100g of ground almonds, a smidge of vanilla bean paste, 100g butter, 90g of sugar & grated zest of one orange.

You can make your own pastry shells, Jamie and I both went for store bought.

Layer jam and almond mixture twice starting with jam on the bottom and end with a topping of almond mixture. Then pop them in the oven for 15-18 minutes.

Peanut Butter surprise brownies

My lovely friend Monica passed the recipe on to me a few months ago.  I can’t believe it has taken me so long to make these yummy little brownie bites.  They are so tasty and contain my favourite thing: Peanut butter!

This is the easiest recipe ever! 4 ingredients total under 20 minutes of prep and cooking time.

If for some reason you don’t have 20 minutes to make these chewy snacks but you still need to satisfy your chocolate brownie craving I wanted to provide an alternative recommendation.  Surprisingly I don’t have a favourite brownie in the Vancouver.  I decided to do a mini brownie taste yes with my work colleges.  The contenders were Bonchaz, Sciue and Creme de la Crumb.

For me the clear winner was Bonchaz. Their Brownie was creamy, gooey, and super rich with lots of fudge. My colleagues unfortunately disagreed as Bonchaz received the least votes, only 25%.

The most popular choice with 42% of the vote was Creme de la Crumb’s brownie bar.  It was soft and crumbly on the inside with crunchy crust.  I missed the chocolate soft topping that I usually expect from a brownie.  Though the ones I made didn’t have that topping either so I should not be so picky.

2nd place went to Scuie, I really enjoyed the chocolate topping on their brownie but found the brownie bar to be slightly dry. The voters seemed to really enjoy the walnuts in Scuie’s brownie, I agree they added  a nice crunch and that great walnut chocolate flavour pairing.

Now back to the homemade mini brownies:

The best part about these brownies is the peanut butter surprise in the middle.  I kept the recipe’s suggestion of mini reese’s cups but you can put in any of your favourite mini sweet treats.

The recipe:

1/2 cup Nutella

1 large egg

5 Tbsp. all-purpose flour (whole wheat pastry flour would probably work well too)

*Optional:

1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts

12 mini peanut butter cups

or any other mini yummy thing for the middles

Heat oven to 350F

Prepare a 12 cup mini muffin pan with paper or foil liners or spray with baking spray (pam, etc. will make the edges a little crispy and creates a nice contrast to the gooey middle)

Whisk Nutella and egg til very smooth.

Add flour and mix well with fork.

Spoon batter in muffin cups by teaspoonful, approx. 3/4 full.

*If using chopped nuts sprinkle on top.

*If putting a yummy in the middle then fill each muffin cup with approx. 1/2 tsp. of batter then press yummy in centre of batter.  Place remaining 1/2 tsp. of batter over top of the yummy bit.

Bake until toothpick inserted comes out with wet gooey crumbs, approx. 10 mins.

Remove from pan and allow to cool on rack.

Mini Peanut Butter Cheesecakes

Last week my fabulous friend Delia posted a link with a recipe for mini peanut butter cheesecakes! Chocolate, peanut butter, and cheesecake combined!  I had to try out this dish.  The recipe is fairly simple and I had no problems with execution (other then being covered in chocolate almost up to my elbows at one point, but I didn’t mind.) however my mini cheesecakes looked nothing like the pretty pictures on the recipe.  The taste on the other hand was just what I wanted: a bit of crunch from the gram crust, creamy peanut butter cheese cake and a sweet creamy chocolate top!

If you are not in a baking mood but are looking for a similar peanut butter and chocolate fix you have to try Giovane’s peanut butter hedgehog cake.  This cake is seriously to die for!!

For my birthday last year my 2 favourite guys surprised me with this cake and I have been completely addicted to it ever since.  The peanut butter cream filling melts in your mouth and is so perfectly paired with a thick layer of dark chocolate ganache.  Just talking about it makes me want to run over to Giovane’s right now for a slice.