Thursday, October 21, 2010

Apple Blackberry Crisp with Almonds

Life at the Baker's house has been busy lately, but I did use up my Spartan apples on Sunday to make Apple Blackberry crisp with almonds.  The last time I made crisp my friend Laurie said that I didn't post my recipe, so here it is.  It was adapted from one in "The Family Circle Cookbook - New Tastes for New Times", which you can see behind the messy plate of crisp and French Vanilla ice cream.  The apples were dyed a lovely dark red by the blackberries. :)

Crisp Topping:
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup oats (not quick cooking type)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 stick softened unsalted butter, with one tbsp reserved for filling
2/3 cup sliced almonds

Crisp Filling:
5-6 medium Spartan (approx. 1.5 lbs.)
1/2 pint (small pkg.) blackberries
1/3 brown sugar
1 tbsp unsalted butter (see above)
1 tsp grated lemon rind
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Coat a pie dish or rectanglar dish with non-stick spray or use butter if you prefer.  Blend crisp filling together with a pastry blender and add almonds once it has been thoroughly mixed.  After peeling and slicing apples, mix with lemon rind and juice.  Toss filling with flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and layer apples with washed blackberries in the baking dish.  Distribute pieces of the reserved butter over the fruit filling.  Cover evenly with the crisp topping.  At this point, the crisp can be stored in the refrigerator to bake later, or go straight into the oven.  Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, watching closely after 30 minutes so that the nuts don't brown too much.

Serve warm with French Vanilla ice cream and enjoy!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Thanksgiving means apple pie!

Since I don't like pumpkin pies, or pumpkin desserts, Thanksgiving at my house is when I make apple pie.  The apples are just gorgeous right now and I found the most perfect Spartans last week for this yummy treat.

With all my baking adventures, I still haven't mastered making pie dough and my buddy Darleen and I still haven't had the lesson she promised me on how to make that "perfect dough."  Last year I discovered a wonderful invention - Pillsbury Pie Dough!  Not pie shells, but two rounds of dough, rolled into two sleeves and neatly packed in one box, ready to use.  I was so happy to find Pillsbury's product and it did not disappoint - the room temperature dough was easy to use and it was lovely and flaky after baking.

I wanted a good filling recipe and turned to my usual go-to - Ina!  I modified the recipe (when don't I?) to use Spartan apples instead of Granny Smiths.  I learned by trial and error years ago that you should *never* bake with Macintoshs unless you want an applesauce filling.  They have far too much juice to bake well in a pie or a crisp.  I also only had oranges at home so I used them instead of the lemon-orange zest and the same juice combination.  Since I find nutmeg and allspice quite heavy I skipped them and increased the cinnamon to a full teaspoon.  My other addition, which Anna Olsen suggests with her pie recipes, is one tablespoon of cold butter dotted across the apple filling, before you add the top pie layer.  The butter helps the juice turn into more of a sauce, rather than having a runny mess when you cut into the pie.

Ina's Deep Dish Apple Pie

My pie isn't absolutely perfect, but it tasted wonderful - there's only one slice left today!

My lovely mother, The Baker, also brought some from-scratch goodies - palmiers (already gone!) and her world famous Lemon Squares, which aren't exactly square. :)

I know I still have enough Spartan apples left to make some more crisp next weekend...

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Chocolate Crunch Cookies

I feel like I need to get back into practice baking cookies after a long summer off, since I have my United Way Hallowe'en bake sale coming up on October 29th.  I haven't made this recipe in a while, but it always turns out well now, after I made some tweaks to the recipe.  Notice a recurring theme in the recipes here? ;)

In Ontario, the Liquour Control Board of Ontario - or the good old LCBO - produces an absolutely beautiful magazine called "Food and Wine" and they also feature recipes without booze in them.  This one was included in a story called "Cafe Culture", but I don't remember the name of the cafe in Ottawa where it originated.  The recipe uses a lot of butter and, as I discovered the first time I made them, they spread like crazy in the oven.  Since the instructions called for a 3 tbsp. scoop of dough - that's the size of a metal ice cream scoop - they all ran together and browned too much.  When I tried to lift them off the cookie sheet, they were so delicate that I ended up with cookie "granola".  My version of the recipes uses less sugar, with no difference in taste, and they're much smaller cookies.  They're also easier to handle when cooling and you get twice as many from the batch!  The "crunch" comes from the Rice Krispies, the oats and the nuts.

Chocolate Crunch Cookies

1-1/2 cups/3 sticks butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 cups oats (regular, not quick cooking)
2 cups Rice Krispies cereal
1-1/2 cups chocolate chips
1/ cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare baking sheets with no-stick spray or parchment paper, which is my preference.  Normally I would use my stand mixer to blend this recipe, but there's so much batter I use the largest mixing bowl I own and a hand mixer.  In bowl, blend butter and sugars until fully incorporated.  Blend in eggs and vanilla, set aside.  In separate bowl, sift or whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Add dry mixture to wet slowly with mixer.  Next, blend in oats, Rice Krispies, chocolate chips and nuts with a spatula, until well mixed.  Make sure you mix right to the bottom of the bowl, to ensure all the flour mixture is blended in fully.

This is a very "wet" batter, so fill a glass or cup with hot water to dip your scoop or spoon into for each cookie.  I use a 1 tbsp sized ice cream scoop, which looks like the size of a melon baller.  At this size, 8 cookies per sheet bake very well, without spreading into each other.  After scooping out cookies, flatten lightly with a moistened fork.  Bake for 3-1/2 minutes, remove and reverse pans and bake for an additional 3-1/2 minutes.  These times are based on my oven settings.

The cookies will appear underdone when removing from the oven, but that's how they should look.  Let cookies cool for a mininum of two minutes, or they will crumble when lifting them out.  When using this size of scoop, the yield will be 5 dozen or 60 cookies!

I was told last night not to expect them to last for the office gang...

Friday, October 1, 2010

Cranberry Walnut Banana Bread

I make a lot of banana bread because we never seem to get tired of it, but decided to to "turn up the volume" (tm The Barefoot Contessa) by adding cranberries to this recipe.  I found the recipe as a tear-out card in a copy of Everyday Food magazine a few years ago courtesy of Glad Wrap of all things.

This fall, even though the recipe doesn't contain pumpkin, I had to use this adorable loaf pan that was a great find last winter at Williams-Sonoma.  The pumpkins filling the little fence are just adorable.  I was in the store in early December and noticed that the pan, which I coveted in the fall but wouldn't pay $40 for was reduced to $10, an absolutely fantastic price for Nordic Ware.  They make the best decorative cake pans - they're heavy, so the heat is consistent throughout and the detail is amazing.  I think it's pretty cute!

Cranberry Walnut Banana Bread

2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
4 medium/3 large sized ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 tbsp. milk
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with rack set in the middle of the oven.  Spray loaf pan with non-stick spray.  Sift or whisk together flour, baking  soda, baking powder and salt and set aside.  Combine oil and sugar in large mixing bowl.  Either a hand or stand mixer can be used.  Blend to combine.  Add eggs, bananas, vanilla and milk and continue to mix.  Add flour mixture and blend until just combined.  Stir in nuts and cranberries.  Pour into pan, smooth top with spatula and transfer to oven.  Bake until a toothpick inserted comes out dry, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Times will vary depending on oven heat.  You may also want to cover the loaf with foil after 45 minutes to prevent overbrowning of top.  Yields approx. 14 3/4-inch sized slices.  We eat it without anything on top but it's great with some butter too. At my house the coffee is mandatory!