Sugar Cookies

Making sugar cookies

 

Sugar cookies are my favorite thing to bake because they are so versatile. They can be decorated to suit any theme or holiday. When I was a little girl I used to love watching and helping my Auntie make her christmas sugar cookies. They are still my favorite. For Easter I decided to make robin egg sugar cookies. Here is how I made them.

 

You will need:

 

Brown sugar          ¼ cup

Granulated sugar   ¾ cup

Margarine (room temp)            ¾ cup

Flour       2 cups

Salt                         ¼ tsp

Baking soda           ½ tsp

Egg (room temp)                    2

Vanilla                    1 tsp

Royal icing

Black or Brown food dye

 

The first step is to cream your sugars with the margarine using a paddle attachment. It is important to cream the sugars and margarine well to incorporate air into the dough,tenderizing it. Margarine is an ideal fat to use for cutout cookies due to its wide plastic range or its ability to stretch, keeping the dough soft and workable even after chilling.

Next you will add your vanilla and eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl with a spatula after each addition. Now sift or whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda before adding to the mixer. Mix just until a dough is formed. Flatten into a disc, wrap in plastic, and chill the dough for at least two hours before moving on to the next step.

 

Knead the dough a few times just to soften it and then lightly flour the countertop and top of your dough before rolling. Roll the dough evenly to about half a centimeter thick. When cutting, it is important to remember that different size and thickness of the cookies will affect the required bake time. Cookies of multiple sizes should not be baked on the same tray. To do so would lead to some being over or underbaked. Possibly both in the same batch. Cut out your desired shapes as close together as possible and re roll the remaining dough until it is all used up.

dough111112The cookies should be baked at about 350 degrees fahrenheit until they are just starting to brown around the edges. You can also test doneness by touching the top of the cookie to see if it is starting to set or if it is still too soft. Allow them to set for 3-5 minutes on the bake sheets before removing to a cooling rack to cool completely

 

The next step is to trace the outside of the cookie with piping consistency icing. The way I check the consistency is by sticking a spatula into the icing. If it can stand up straight on its own then it is stiff enough for piping. You can find more information about that here if you are unsure. Use a piping bag with a small round tip. Hold it just high enough for the icing to fall into place as you go rather than trying to draw with it. This will result in smoother, straighter lines.

It will need to dry completely before flooding so make sure to keep your piping bags and icing bowls covered with clean wet cloths to prevent them from drying out.

Once the outlines are completely dry, thin down your icing to flood consistency. It should be thin enough to flow on its own to fill in the outline. Allow to dry completely.

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Arrange the cookies close together on top of parchment paper. Dip a new paintbrush or toothbrush into black or brown food dye and run your finger across it to flick the dye onto the cookies for a speckled look.  

These are so cute yet so easy to make. I hope you will give them a try.

Alfajores

 

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Alfajores are simply a Dulce de leche sandwich cookie that is one of the national desserts of Chile especially on September 18th which is when we celebrate our independence.

Dulce de leche is a staple in all of Chile’s national desserts but alfajores has got to be the best, I mean who wouldn’t love a shortbread like cookie filled with the caramelized goodness that Dulce de leche is.

Some of the other treats Dulce de leche is used for in Chile is Torta de mil Hojas (thousand layer cake) which is essentially thin wafer sheets layered with nothing other than Dulce da leche topped off with shredded coconut and crushed walnuts, and last but not least you have to have Brazo de Raina (queens arm), picture a jelly roll but instead of jelly it is filled of course with Dulce de leche and rolled in shredded coconut, surprise!

Safe to say Dulce de leche is a staple in every Chileans daily diet, and any dessert you can picture I’m sure Chileans have jammed Dulce de leche into it and rolled it in coconut, I mean why wouldn’t we it’s a combination made in heaven!

Give this classic alfajores recipe a try, they are so soft they’ll melt in your mouth!

Ingredients

  • 1½ cups (200g/7 oz.) all-purpose flour
  • 2⅛ cups (300g/10.5 oz.) cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 and ¾ sticks (200g/7 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup (150g/5.3 oz.) granulated sugar*
  • 1-2 teaspoons grated lemon zest, optional
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 350g (12 oz.) Dulce de leche, for filling
  • ½ cup unsweetened shredded or desiccated coconut, for rolling

Instructions

  1. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside.
  2. In a mixer bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter, sugar, and lemon zest on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla extract just until combined. Reduce speed to low. Add the flour mixture and beat just until combined. Do not over mix or the cookies will turn out tough.
  3. Form the dough into a ball, then flatten slightly to form a disc. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours, until firm enough to roll.
  4. If you don’t want to use the dough right away, you can refrigerate it for up to 3 days or freeze it for up to a month, then thaw it overnight in the fridge.
  5. Take the dough out of the fridge and let it sit on the counter for a few minutes to soften slightly for easy rolling. On a lightly floured surface (or between 2 pieces of parchment paper), roll the dough to a ⅛ or ¼-inch (3-5mm) thickness. Cut out into rounds using a 2-inch (5cm) fluted or round cookie cutter, and place the cookies on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
  6. If at any point the dough becomes too warm, place it back into the fridge for a few minutes. Re-roll the remaining scraps and repeat. Place sheets with cookies in the freezer or fridge for at least 15 minutes, until firm, so that they will be less prone to spreading.
  7. Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Bake for 7-10 minutes, or until cookies appear golden brown at the edges. Allow cookies to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then gently transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  8. Spread the bottom half of the cookies with Dulce de leche (about a teaspoon). Sandwich together with remaining cookies, pressing slightly so that the caramel oozes out the sides. Roll the sides in shredded coconut.
  9. Store cookies at room temperature in an airtight container for up to a week or freeze for up to 2 months. To thaw, leave on the counter, still covered, or overnight in the fridge.

 

if you are not a coconut person dusting these cookies with icing sugar is also a great treat or if you’re feeling extra fancy cover them in chocolate!

Dulce de leche is something you can find in any supermarket in Chile but is much more of a rare treat in our stores in Canada so if you are having trouble finding some, here an easy way to make your own at home!

Get some cans of sweeten condensed milk, peel the labels and place in a pot with about an inch or two of water and bring to a boil once boiling bring heat to low and simmer, make sure to keep an eye on water levels and keep topping it off as the water evaporates to keep it at a steady 1-2 inches at all times.

Simmer for 1 hour then using tongs flip cans upside down and simmer for 1 hour or 2 depending on how rich you want the caramel colour and flavour to be and if you have more time boil for 3 hours and you’ll get a rich thick filling which would be more of the traditional filling for the alfajores!

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Here’s the difference between the two! The left simmered for probably 2:45 before it was all said and done; the right simmered for 2 hours.

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Here’s a can that was simmered for an overall of 3 hour! this would be the ideal for alfajores and all Chilean desserts.

Hope you get a chance to try out one of my childhood favourite treats, enjoy!

 

 

Mennonite Delights: Schmondt Kuchen

Schmondt Kuchen. Said Sh-moe-nt Q-ken.
So many consonants in a row, I know.

The English translation for this dessert is cream cookie. It’s a classic Mennonite cookie with a smooth white icing, possibly topped with coconut or sprinkles (just like butterhorns).

The name is spoken in Plautdietsch, or more commonly known as Low German. This language is primarily spoken by Mennonites and has German, Dutch and Russian influences. Interesting facts about Plautdietsch include that it is only a spoken language, not written, and is an important factor in preserving the culture and bringing people together. If you’re looking to learn more about Plautdietsch, you can visit:

http://www.plautdietsch.ca/
http://www.mennolink.org/doc/lg/

Another big factor in preserving the culture is the food! Lets face it, Mennonites love to eat. Where two or three are gathered, there food will be also. Especially delicious treats such as Schmondt Kuchen.

There are two varieties: cut out and scooped. Now, I have made the cut out variety before, so I thought I would give the scooped type a whirl, partly because there is less waste and they are much simpler. But mostly because Mennonites have a strange habit of including ‘flour until good’ in the recipe. Not a fan. (see also Mennonite Delights: Butterhorns)

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Above is the recipe, pretty simple and straight forward. I used a small cookie scoop and baked them for 8 minutes, any longer and they burn.

Looking back, I should have spaced the cookies further apart. Being my first go at it, I hadn’t expected them to flow nearly as much.

In my experience, I did find some differences between the two varieties. For example, the scooped ones are more cake like and spongy, where as the cut out are denser but still soft. The taste was relatively the same with the rich, creamy flavor; hence the name. Although, I do prefer the texture of the cut outs, and they are the more traditional of the two.

Schmondt Kuchen may not be nearly as beautiful as other cookies, but let me tell you, they are delightful!

Below I have included some links with more information and recipes for Schmondt Kuchen. Enjoy!

https://grandmasoldwoodenrecipebox.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/very-nice-cake-drops/
http://www.food.com/recipe/mennonite-soft-white-cookies-411399
http://www.kehler.ca/schmaunt-kuchen/#more-2311

Macarons

Macarons are a delicate, commonly known treat to everyone around the world—a meringue that is filled with unique flavors. They are mainly made up of ground almonds, sugar and egg whites. The macaron was first born in Italy in the 1500’s, the word macaron comes from the Italian word macaroni meaning a fine dough. There are two types of macaron cookies. The first is the coconut macaron, which is made up of dried coconut, egg whites, and sugar, the second is the classic macaron of which there are three types:

  • French
  • Italian
  • Swiss

Here are some methods for choosing the one that best suits you.

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French

A French meringue is the most commonly used as it is the easiest way to achieve the right texture and taste. To create meringue:

  1. Room temperature egg whites must be whipped to a foamy stage (cream of tar-tar can be added as an acid base to help stabilize the egg whites).
  2. Next, slowly add in sugar (do not add it in all at once, you want to add in gradually for even distribution).
  3. When all of the sugar added, the whites should be at a stiff, shiny peak.
  4. Once you have achieved this, fold in the sifted ground almonds and sugar, being careful not to over or under mix (you are looking for a smooth batter).
  5. Now, put your batter into a piping bag and pipe out on to a baking sheet with parchment paper so your product doesn’t stick.

You can pipe your macarons in any shape you desire (the most common shape is the circle). When piping, make sure you have an even amount for the top and bottom cookies.

  1. When the pan is full, tap the baking sheet to let out any air bubbles.
  2. Once you are done piping, you want to let the macarons rest before putting them into an oven, this allows them to hold their shape.
  3. During the resting process, the macaron will form a shell, which will hold in place while baking and help retain moisture.
  4. Once the macarons have rested, dry them out for about one-half hour to one hour before baking (test to see if they are done by touching the top of the macaron, or watching for the shell to form on the top).
  5. Once rested, pop the macarons into the oven set somewhere between 300° F (150° C) or 325° F (160° C).

Everyone’s ovens are a little different so it can be hard to judge what your oven temperature should be. However, somewhere within this range of temperatures should work. The cooking temperature and length of baking time also depend on the size of your macaron.

  1. Bake for about 10-14 minutes—make sure to check at 10 minutes and then every minute after that, as your oven may be better than others.
  2. If the macaron is properly baked, you will notice a foot along the base of the cookie. Lift them off the parchment slightly to see if they stick. If not, they are ready to come out.
  3. Once the macarons are cooled, you can fill them with any filling you choose. Some of the most common fillings are buttercream, ganache, caramel, and jam

Enjoy creating your own different and fun flavors! Here’s a link to show you step-by-step how to make the French meringue.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdeGVLXYkCU

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Italian

The Italian method for making macarons is slightly more complicated than the French, as it consists of boiling sugar and streaming it in to the egg whites as you whip them up. To avoid juggling too many tasks at once, have all your ingredients weighed out before you start to make your macarons. Double scale the egg whites and sugar as they are added in at different times of the macaron process.

  1. To create the Italian meringue, bring you sugar and water to a boil at soft ball stage, which is around 233° F (112° C) to 240° F (116° C).
  2. Next, add the egg whites to the mixer and start to whip until they reach a soft peak.
  3. Once you’re at a soft peak with your whites, turn the mixer down and slowly stream in the boiling sugar.
  4. Now that the boiling sugar is added, turn up the mixer until the whites reach a stiff peak.

 In a separate bowl, sift ground almonds with icing sugar and add in the second addition of egg whites.

  1. Mix together until forming a paste.
  2. Once the paste forms add in your meringue and gently fold in together until it is all incorporated and smooth.
  3. Now, put the batter into a piping bag and pipe out on to a baking sheet with parchment paper (if you have silicone mats those will work too).
  4. When the pan is full, tap the baking sheet to let out any air bubbles.

All macarons need to be rested before baking to achieve the proper texture. See the French Meringue method above (steps 7-13) for the resting, baking, and filling processes.

The link below demonstrates the steps in making an Italian meringue.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJpGE_PpGqw 

 

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Swiss

Last is the Swiss method. This it is not commonly used but is another way to go about making a macaron. Again, ensure that all of your ingredients are measured out before you start.

  1. Begin with having egg whites and sugar whisked together and on a double boiler.
  2. Continue to whisk until it reaches 122° F (50° C)—you do not want your mixture to be grainy, it should be smooth.
  3. Once it has reached temperature, add the egg and sugar to the mixer with a whisk attachment.

Don’t forget to mix on low speed at first so you don’t end up wearing your mixture!

  1. As your mixture thickens, slowly start to turn your mixer up to its highest speed and mix until fully cooled—you cannot work with the mixture if it is too hot.
  2. Now, whisk the meringue until it forms a stiff peak.
  3. Next, fold in your sifted ground almonds and sugar.
  4. Lastly, put the batter into a piping bag and pan out onto a baking sheet with parchment (silicone mats are okay too!)
  5. Tap the baking sheet to let out any air bubbles.

See the French Meringue method and repeat steps 7-13 for resting, baking, and filling.

Making macarons is a tricky process but once you practice them enough you will become a master! They are a fun treat for everyone to enjoy and you can create many different flavors and varieties to suit any occasion.

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Justine Kshyk

 

Cowboy Cookies

Back in 2011 I spent time travelling in New Zealand. It was an amazing year of exploring the countryside, and meeting some fantastic people. While there I worked as a waitress at the Lochmara Lodge for roughly 6 months during the summer. Lochmara is a eco lodge, wildlife recovery and arts centre nestled within the Marlbough Sounds.  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAhttp://www.lochmara.co.nz/

Every morning, I would open the restaurant with our fantastic breakfast chef and baker, Mary. Her cakes, cookies, and pastries added to Lochmara fame in the Sounds. People would boat in for the afternoon just to have a slice of her infamous Chocolate Cake! She was always busy in the kitchen, whether at the restaurant or just down the path in her home.

I spent a great deal of time learning different recipes and techniques from Mary. she has definitely inspired me throughout my baking journey! Mary graciously gave me some of her recipes to take  to Canada. I came back with recipes for donuts, cakes, and my most favorite cookie recipe: the Cowboy Cookie.

The Cowboy Cookie is not a delicate, small cookie. It is a hardy cookie, packed with lots of goodness. When I make them, I load them up with chocolate chips, dried blueberries, coconut, oats, and walnuts. The beauty of the Cowboy Cookie is you can add any extra ingredient you may have, such as raisins, almonds, and  dried fruit. The choices are endless! To make these cookies all you need is a big bowl and a strong arm. They are a hardy cookie, one or two cookies max and you will be full!

Now, I am sure after my year abroad my family and friends were happy to have me back home, but they were a thousand times happier after having their first bite of the Cowboy Cookie.

These cookies are major hit with my family and friends. Even my best friend’s Grandma asks for them!

Even though I will never be able to fully share my adventures in New Zealand with family and friends, it’s so wonderful that I can bring them back a taste of New Zealand.

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