Tag Archives: recipe

Tutorial: Vanilla Extract and Sugar

28 Jun

It’s flaming hot and humid here but my mind is already thinking of snow banks and holiday gifts.

Which really turns out to be pretty handy, because making vanilla extract takes some time. Not much effort, but lots of time.

Vanilla extract is a great gift to give to anyone on your holiday list who excels or even dabbles in baking. The flavor is much nicer than store bought extract (which often has water or additives). And the best part is you can get two gifts for the price of one. Once you are done using the beans in the extract you can use them to make some vanilla sugar.

You can use any alcohol you want to make vanilla extract. As long as it is at least 40% proof. The most used alcohol is Vodka, because it has no flavor of its own.

I like to use Rum. It brings its own flavor to the mix, which adds another level of complexity to the extract. Plus the sugar from the molasses helps to speed up the extraction process.

A good ratio of beans to alcohol for single fold vanilla is 3/4 pound of beans to 1 gallon of alcohol. You can of course make your extract stronger. Double fold (which is used by bakers) is twice that (duh). I usually make mine somewhere in the middle.

Split each vanilla bean down the middle.

Open up the bean and scrape out the seeds.

You want to sterilize the jars you will be using by putting them in a large pot filled with water and bringing it to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes and you are good to go. I find large  Mason jars work perfectly.

Place the beans and seeds in the jar. Top up with the alcohol of your choice (a shot or two for you is always good too).

Shake the jars really well and then place in a cool dark spot. Take them out each day or so and give them a good shake. After around a month you can switch to only shaking them around once a week.

After a while you will start to see the colour deepen. Take off the lid and smell the developing vanilla flavor. How awesome is it that you are the one responsible for this process? And how much better is it that all it took was 5 minutes of work on your part!

After three months the extract will be full of flavor and ready to go. You can always leave the beans in and keep topping up with alcohol and new beans. This is great to keep for yourself, it’s a never ending supply of vanilla extract.

If you are making them up as gifts bottle them up into cute little individual bottles. Mine are from the dollar store.

Don’t throw away the beans, they have got plenty of flavor left in them. Dry them off and grab some sugar and another Mason jar.

Toss the beans and sugar in the jar, give it a shake. After a month you will have another gift to pass along to the bakers on your list. But make sure you keep some for yourself.

Vanilla sugar is a popular ingredient in some old European recipes. I have a great Apple Cake recipe that I picked up from a co-worker’s Oma that just isn’t the same without it.

But really you can use it in any number of ways. Sprinkled over fresh berries, in whipped cream, any where you want that delicate vanilla flavor to add a little something special.

Take a few minutes now and come December you’ll be thrilled to have these great gifts to give out. All you have to do is have some fun decorating them for the season and watching the smiles bloom on your loved one’s faces.

Trust me, everyone loves hand made gifts. And hand made gifts you can bake with are just that much better.


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Show & Tell: Muffins Are Cute Too

27 Jun

I was recently on a hunt on google for something to do with muffins. I can’t remember exactly what I was searching for, but that’s not important. What I did find was that if you type ‘muffins are’ into google it auto populates with the expression ‘muffins are just ugly cupcakes’!

I just couldn’t let that slide. As a baker, I believe all baked goods deserve equal oppertunities. I know that cup cakes have been all in vogue for the last little while. In fact that craze is still going strong up here in Canada (we are a little behind). And I think it’s only fair that we give muffins their own fair shake at inducing little moments filled to the brim with cuteness.

All it takes is a little creativity on our part. That and a pop-over pan and some fondant.

There is my favorite recipe for Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins. This is from a book I’ve been carting around with me since I was a kid. This recipe is one of Luke’s more frequent requests. Of course I’ve tweaked the recipe here and there over the years.

Fill up the pop-over pans to the top. About 1/2 a cup.

Bake them off and they turn out the perfect shape to add cute little fondant accents to.

I dare anyone who sees these to ever say that muffins are just ugly cupcakes.


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Show & Tell: Strawberry Shortcake Cookie Cups

21 Jun

After I picked and pureed the strawberries from my local pick-your-own berry farm I was dying to enjoy the flavor of summer. Luke and I had already gorged on our fill of fresh berries and I decided to get my bake on.

I followed the same steps to make the shortbread cookie cups as I did for the chocolate chip cookie cups but using my shortbread recipe.

The cookie cups have been my most popular post, and I thought I’d share a trick I use to get them looking their best.

The cookies tend to brown quicker on the very top and they are never perfectly flat. So I use my microplane grater to gently sand them down.

I also give the bottom a light sanding to ensure that the cup will sit flat and steady on the plate.

I used a strawberry mouse to fill the shortbread cookie cups. With the puree we made in the FYI: Strawberry Freezing, Pureeing and Jamming it’s simple and quick.

First make a quick Cream Chantilly:

1 cup Heavy Whipping Cream

1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract

1/4-1/3 Cup Powdered Sugar

Whip the cream, extract and sugar together to a soft peek.

Now gently fold in about 1/3 cup of cold strawberry puree. Whip again slightly until it firms up a little.

This is a ‘to taste’ thing. Add more or less sugar depending on how sweet your berries were or how sweet your palate is.

Fill your shortbread cookie cups and top with fresh strawberries.

Would you judge me if I told you that I ate this for breakfast? Strawberries are good for you right?

The end of my very first month of blogging is coming up!

Off the List is going to officially be one month old and to celebrate I’m going to be giving one lucky winner their very own mold to make these amazing cookie cups.

All you have to do is subscribe to Off the List and leave me  a comment on any post before July 1st. I’ll have a winner picked at random and in no time you could be making these great, simple desserts yourself.


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Tutorial: Puzzle Cookies for Canada Day

12 Jun

It was grey and rainy today. Not a very good day to continue working on my next garden project. So I was stuck in doors and decided it was time to execute a cookie idea I have been bouncing around for awhile.

To start with you need to make a batch of shortbread or sugar cookies.  I’m going to have to tell you a secret. When I was a kid and teenager I could not bake. Or cook actually. I was a disaster in the kitchen. I only started to really get it together in my late teens when I was determined to make cookies that would hold their shape and taste as good as they look.

To this day I swear by the recipe I pieced together from that journey to the perfect shortbread cookie. Here it is:

While the dough is chilling cut out templates for the puzzles. Here are the patterns I used to save you some time.

Lay a piece of wax paper or parchment paper down on your counter/ work surface. After your dough has finished chilling roll it out to about 1/8-1/4 inch thick, depending on how you like your cookies. Place each template on the dough and cut the shapes out carefully.

Place the cookies, on the wax paper, onto a cookie sheet and into the freezer for 5-10 minutes to chill.

Carefully peel off the excess dough around the cookies.

Take the wax paper, with the cookies, off the cookie sheet. Place a piece of parchment paper on it and flip the cookies onto the parchment paper. Make sure the side that was touching the wax paper is now the top (it will give the cookies a smoother finish).

If you feel that the cookies are soft place them in the fridge or freezer to chill. The cooler they are when you put them in the oven the more they will retain their shape. Bake according to directions.

Roll out fondant of your colour choice onto wax paper. Using the same template cut out the puzzle pieces. Flip them onto the cookies. Be sure to cut the template the same side up as you did the cookies and flip the fondant so that the side that was on the wax paper is now on the top. As long as the cookies are still warm the sugar in the fondant will melt and it will adhere itself to the cookies. If the cookies have cooled brush a bit of water onto the fondant before placing it on the cookies.

Repeat with the rest of your cookies.

How great would these be as Canada Day Party Favors? Or you could do them up for a child’s birthday.

Not a fondant fan? You can also do these in royal icing.

If you decide you like making these cookies enough you could always consider making actual cookie cutters of the puzzle shapes to save yourself time. I’ll be doing a tutorial on making your own custom cookie cutters in the future, be sure to check in often.

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Tutorial: Ice Cream Cookie Cups

5 Jun

Here’s a quick tutorial on how to transform a childhood favorite into a dinner party worthy dessert. I’m talking about Cookies and Cream for grown ups.

Start with your favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe.  Here’s my personal go-to recipe:

1. Instead of baking the cookies as normal, press the dough into a Mini Wonder Mold Pan or a ball pan. I picked mine up from Michael’s a while ago.  I was actually looking for a ball pan at the time and this was all they had. But one project’s trash is another project’s treasure. The shape is perfect for our Cookie Cups.

2. You want to get as thin a layer of cookie dough as possible. It will expand a lot when it bakes. Add a little extra dough to the bottom for reinforcement.

3. Bake them for 10 minutes at 325f. Take them out and press the dough against the sides of the pans with a spoon. Return to oven and bake 10 more minutes. The outside of the bowls should be golden brown. Turn the oven to broil, place the cups back in for a few minutes (watch closely) just until the inside of the cups start to turn golden. Remove from oven and cool.

4. Fill with ice cream and enjoy!

You can call it  a day there. Or, if you are really looking for a wow factor, you can go ahead and take it a step further.

I dipped the bottoms of mine in melted chocolate and hand painted on a couple of edible silver polka dots (I talk more about silver luster dust and other sugar tools here).  The little decorations on the top behind the berries are actually miniature chocolate chip cookies that I gave the same treatment to. It might have taken me an extra 10 minutes, but it added a whole lot to the presentation.

I can’t wait to try this with other types of dough.

Shortbread?

Filled with strawberries and whipped cream?…..

Update: Show & Tell: Strawberry Shortcake Cookie Cups includes tips to make your cookie cups look the best they can and a great (and easy) strawberry mouse recipe. Plus details on a give away for the mold to make these great desserts!

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