Saturday, December 22, 2012

Chocolate Truffles

A quick post tonight as I still have a million and one things to get done.  But I wanted to share this recipe while there is still time (as if!) to make these.  Trust me - they're worth finding the time to make.  Though I didn't find the time to make any myself this year.  This is another post that I never actually posted last year ;)

Back in my old life when I actually had some time, we used to make these for friends and family over the holidays every year.  And I have had many, many friends request a batch of these well in advance.  That's how good they are.  And they're amazingly simple to make. 

The most important thing to have excellent results is to use quality chocolate.  We always use dark, dark chocolate (probably at least 70%).  We typically use chocolate that we bring home from France, so I can't share a specific brand with you.  But we have, on occasion, bought some of the dark chocolate bars at Costco and had good results with that.

Believe it or not, these are actually freezer-friendly.  I wouldn't necessarily freeze them before giving them out as gifts, but we have often frozen post-Christmas left-overs and eaten them over the following months (in other words, a frozen one every time I opened the freezer!). 

The recipe below is for plain ol' chocolate truffles.  We have, however, been known to spike them with some Baileys or Amarula from time to time ;) 

1 C 35% cream
8 oz. (approximately 240g) chopped dark chocolate
1/3 C butter at room temperature
cocoa powder

1.  In a saucepan, gently heat the cream (without bringing it to a boil) and incorporate the chopped chocolate.  Stir until melted, taking care to not let the chocolate burn.

2.  Add the butter and mix well until the butter is melted.

3Cover and refrigerate for approximately 4 hours or until the consistency of the mixture is firm enough to be able to form truffles - if not, just eat it directly out of the saucepan with a spoon ;).  

4.  Dust your hands with cocoa powder and scoop a teaspoon sized amount of the mixture into your hands.  Roll until you have formed a ball.  Continue to do same until you have used all of the chocolate mixture.  Keep coating your hands with cocoa, as needed, along the way.  

5.  Roll the truffles in cocoa until fully coated.

6.  Eat.  Stop eating before you get sick.

Options for garnish:
  • grilled coconut flakes with five spice powder
  • cocoa and five spice powder
  • cocoa and ground cardamom
  • chopped pistachios
  • ground hazelnuts 
  • etc, etc, etc...  

Variation:  For mint chocolate truffles, add 1/2 C of chopped fresh mint to the cream.  Bring to a boil and let infuse for approximately one hour at room temperature.  Bring to a boil again and pass through a strainer to remove the mint.  Wait until the cream has cooled somewhat and continue with the rest of the recipe.

Difficulty level: easy to moderate

For a soy and/or nut-free version, just be sure to read the label on your chocolate (use a brand such as Enjoy Life).

Monday, December 17, 2012

Favourite Christmas Treats

Since I can't make most of my Christmas holiday goodies this year, I thought I would write a post compiling all of my favourites so that everyone else can make them insteadEnjoy :)


1.  Ginger cookies

2.  Thumbprint cookie drops

3.  Best ever sugar cookies

4.  Brown butter babies

A relatively new discovery, but I loved these.

5.  Melting moments  

My family's absolute favourite.

Shortbread cookies

I feel that shortbread cookies deserved a category all of their own.  In fact, my goal last Christmas was to make a huge selection of different new shortbread recipes - including some green tea shortbread that I never got around to makingIn fact, I think I ended up having time to try one new one kind.  Ah well... next time I can eat gluten and dairy...
1.  Mom's shortbread cookies

One of the absolute best shortbread cookie I have ever tasted.  But I might be biased ;)

2.  Chocolate chocolate shortbread 

Also delish.

3.  Shortbread jam bars

These rival even my mom's shortbread cookies.  And they're even quicker to make (though the recipes also makes a lot fewer).

1.  Chocolate toffee bars 

2.  Buttertart pan squares

3.  Skor squares

4.  Mars bars squares

My grandmother used to always have these for us kids.

5.  Peanut butter squares (also with a nut-free version)

6.  Crumb-top choco-peanut butter bars 

Candy and Fudge

These are all great to make for little gift boxes for everyone on your holiday list.

1.  Sucre à la crème

A Quebec tradition, this recipe is to die for.  I make this one every single year.  And only at Christmas.  Because otherwise, I would never stop eating it.

 2.  Salted chocolate-covered caramels

 3.  Cookies 'n cream fudge

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Best Ever Christmas Sugar Cookies

Christmas has caught me a bit off guard this year.  I'm usually well into the house decorating and cooking baking by early December.  But somehow, it is already mid-December and I have yet to do a single holiday-related task. That is, if you don't count hanging our Christmas wreath on the front door.  I had to at least pretend to the world outside that I'd made some effort to make things special for Christmas this year.

This couldn't possibly be any further from the truth. 

Things have been more than a bit nutty in our household lately.  This isn't the first time I've mentioned this. Juggling a million and one weekly appointments for my kids, constantly preparing foods for our relatively new "intolerance diet" and my fairly recent return to work have left me feeling drained on more days than I would like to admit.  Add to this that the kids keep getting sick, which then gets me sick... and you get one very messy household and one pretty tired momma.

The idea of having to set up a tree, drag out decorations and having to test run gluten-, soy- and dairy-free cookies seemed more like a chore to me this year than the fun it usually is.  And with the propsect that said tree might remain in my living room until June 2013, I decided to go where no woman has gone before.

I decided to not take out anything for Christmas this year.


Does that make me the Grinch?


Well, I'm just as happy about Christmas this year as I am any other year... decorations or no decorations.

I wish I had the time and energy to get things all done up the way I would most years.  But there will be many more years of that to come, when my kids will actually be old enough to appreciate all of the whoop-dee-da.  I've decided that, at this point in my life, they would probably prefer a rested, sane mommy to a burnt out mommy who yells at them non-stop to stop touching the decorations on the tree because she's so fried she can barely remember her own name

This year, I chose self-preservation over making a big deal just to say that you made a big deal.  


Besides, we're spending Christmas at my parents' place, so the kids can get all the joy of the Christmas season over there.  (And pull all the decorations off of my mom's tree!)

So, staying with the theme of my "no Christmas Christmas", I am posting some cookies that I made last year (how's that for cheating???).  I made these last Christmas, but didn't actually get around to posting them before Christmas was over.  So they shifted indefinitely into my ever growing "to post" file, never to be looked at again until today.  

Now, because these are from last Christmas, they are neither gluten, soy, nor dairy-free.  And hence, likely much more delicious than if they were something I had made this year.  

See... aren't y'all benefiting from my procrastination right now??

These sugar cookies are fantastic.  I am typically not a huge fan of sugar cookies, as I don't have the patience to cut them all out and all that jazz.  But these are well worth the effort.  If you are pressed for time - and let's face it, who isn't pressed for time in December?? - you can make these in advance and freeze them and then decorate them before serving (leaving time for the icing to harden).

This recipe was recommended to me by my best friend Heidi, and comes from theKitchn.  The best part about it is that the large batch will make about a bizillion cookies, so you will never run out, no matter how many guests you have knocking on your door over the holidays. 

Small Batch (about 3 dozen cookies, depending on size)

1 C unsalted butter, softened at room temperature for an hour
1 C granulated sugar
1 egg
2 oz. cream cheese (1/4 of a standard cream cheese package)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract 
1 tsp. lemon zest
3 C flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

1.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and add the sugar.  Cream until light and fluffy.  Add the egg, and beat until golden.  Add the cream cheese and again beat until well incorporated.  Add the flavourings and lemon zest.

2.  Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl then add, bit by bit, to the butter/sugar mixture until fully incorporated.

3.  Refrigerate the dough for at least one hour.

4.  Heat the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit.  Divide the dough into smaller balls and roll out 1/4 to 1/8 inch thickness.  Cut out cookies.

5.  Bake cookies for 8 to 12 minutes, depending on thickness.  

6.  Let cool before icing or decorating, and store in a tightly covered container.

Huge Batch  (between 8 and 12 dozen cookies, depending on size)

3 C unsalted butter, softened at room temperature for an hour
3 C granulated sugar
3 eggs
6 oz. cream cheese (3/4 of a standard cream cheese package)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
2 tsp. lemon zest
9 C flour
4 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. salt

1.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and add the sugar.  Cream until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until golden.  Add the cream cheese and again beat until well incorporated.  Add the flavourings and lemon zest.

2.  Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl then add, bit by bit, to the butter/sugar mixture until fully incorporated.

3.  Refrigerate the dough for at least one hour - preferably overnight.

4.  Heat the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit.  Divide the dough into smaller balls and roll out 1/4 to 1/8 inch thickness.  Cut out cookies.

5.  Bake cookies for 8 to 12 minutes, depending on thickness.  

6.  Let cool before icing or decorating, and store in a tightly covered container.


I used a recipe for powdered sugar icing from from the Better Homes and Gardens 2011 Christmas Cookies magazine, but only made half the recipe.

In a large bowl, stir together 8 C of powdered sugar, 1/4 C milk and 2 tsp. vanilla.  Stir in additional milk, 1 tsp. at a time, to make an icing of piping consistency.


1 C red candy coating disks
1 C green candy coating disks
small decorative candies (optional)

Tip:  Candy coating disks are the little circles of coloured chocolate that can be found in the cake-decorating departments of hobby and crafts stores (I bought them at Bulk Barn).

In separate microwave-safe bowls, microwave red and green candy coating disks on 100% power (high) for 1 1/2 minutes or until disks melt, stirring every 30 seconds.  Spoon melted coating into separate heavy resealable plastic bags; snip a small hole in one corner of each bag.  Pipe plaids, zigzags, dots, or other desired designs onto cookies.  Let cookies stand at least 30 minutes for coating to set. 

If desired, add small decorative candies for accents.

Difficulty level: moderate 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Cake Pop Tiered Cake Tutorial

My goodness... it's like I almost don't even have a blog anymore.  

I'll admit that now that I am working, life has pretty much taken over.  Leaving almost no time to cook or bake anything that hasn't already been made a million times before.  And even less time to blog.  Bear with me ;)  I will most certainly get the cooking bug back again one day (maybe when the kids turn 18???).

Before it gets too outdated though, I wanted to share a cake pop tutorial with you.  Remember this post here?  My little baby's first birthday party?  This was my first stab at cake pops and I wanted to share how to make them for all of you who were inspired to one day make cake pops.

While daydreaming up ideas for my baby's first party, I conjured up a beautiful fondant decorated cake in my head that I was going to make for herSo off I went, testing gluten-free cakes, trying to find one that would be dense enough to hold fondant.  

And I failed.



And then I just gave up.  I didn't have time to keep making failed cakes.  And really, we couldn't eat them faster than they were going bad, so it all just seemed like a waste.  

The cakes tasted good, but they were just too crumbly to make anything with.  So cake pops it was.  The best thing about cake pops is that it doesn't really matter if your cake is crumbly.  They still work.  

To make yourself a batch of cake pops, you basically just need some cooked cake and icing.  Plus, some sucker sticks, such as the ones you can find at Bulk Barn.  And then whatever decorations you want, such as different sparkles, etc.

In order to save some mass time at a super busy time in my life (I'd also just started back to work!), I opted to use Better Crocker's new chocolate gluten-free cake mix, which also just happens to be dairy-free.  I can't believe I am admitting to this in writing!  But it's a true story.  I then mixed in my peanut butter frosting, substituted with sunbutter instead, for all of the allergic folk at her party.

For the vanilla ones, I used this gluten-free recipe here.  I then just made a plain old buttercream, using this recipe.  Plus, I stirred in a bit of pina colada flavouring to make them that much yummier. 

For those lucky ones out there who are not gf and don't have their own favourite cake recipes, you could use my pound cake recipe or the chocolate cake that I made for Logan's first birthday to make these.

Though they are a little bit time intensive, cake pops are actually much easier to make than they look.  You basically just crumble an already baked cake into a bowl and then stir in some icing to moisten it.  You want to be sure to not mix in too much icing, so start slowly.  It's also best to mix with your hands, so you can get a real feel for how moist the mixture is.  You want it to be a texture that can be easily shaped into balls without it being mushy.  

Once you've got the perfect texture, you can start shaping the cake mixture into little balls.  I'd recommend not making them too big for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, because the bigger they are, the heavier they will be.  Hence, the higher the chances that they'll end up falling off of their sticks.  Secondly, and much more importantly, the smaller you make them, the more of them you will be able to eat before you start to feel sick ;)  Plus, the higher the chocolate to cake ratio, which is clearly also important.

When all of your balls are rolled, you can start melting your chocolate.  I used Enjoy Life's dairy-free chocolate chips, but any good tasting chocolate will do.  My original goal was to make a white chocolate (dyed pink) variety.  But I ended up scorching both batches, by heating it too quickly.  So I just gave up and stuck with regular chocolate.  You can melt your chocolate in the microwave or using a double boiler.  I always scorch chocolate in the microwave, so for me, the double boiler is best.  Unlike myself, be sure to not heat the water too hot or you will still end up with burnt chocolate...

Once the chocolate is melted, dip one end of the sucker stick into the chocolate and then put it into your cake pop.  Your cake pops will look best if you can avoid pushing the stick all the way through to the other side - at the same time, be sure to put it in far enough that you won't lose your cake pop.

When all sticks have been placed, you can put your cake pops into the freezer to harden.  This will make dipping them in chocolate much easier and will make the chocolate harden more quicklyYou can prepare your cake pops up until this step in advance.  I did mine about a week or so in advance and then left them in the freezer like this until the day before our party.  Just be sure you don't eat them all before you need them ;)

When you are ready to decorate your cake pops, prepare your decorations prior to coating your cake pops in chocolate.  Again, melt your chocolate using a double boilerTake the cake pops immediately from the freezer and dip into the melted chocolate.  Shake off excess chocolate by gently tapping the sucker stick on the edge of the pot.  If using sprinkles, you can dip the cake pop into the sprinkles immediately, or shake sprinkles over top.  

Then place upright into a small hole in a box to dry.  I used mostly diaper boxes, which I had pre-cut little holes into with a sharp knife.  This makes it much easier to slide the sucker sticks into the hole without ruining your beautiful cake pop.  Be sure to leave enough room between cake pops so that they don't end up touching.  Let the cake pops sit in a cool space (I used my unheated office) for several hours to set.  

My house became completely scattered with diaper boxes ladened with decorated cake pops:

If you're having any problems with your cake pops, you can check out this post here, which walks you through solutions to some of the most common cake pop issues.

Next comes the tricky part... assembling the cake.  This was much more difficult than I had thought.  I bought two cake dummies from Bulk Barn and assembled them using some royal icing, so that they wouldn't slip all over the place.  Once that had dried, I got to work trying to insert the cake pops into the styrofoam dummies.  Not so easy.  

I used an empty sucker stick to poke holes in the styrofoam in advance, but still kept cracking cake pop after cake pop.  And man, oh man, my hands were getting sore!!  I should have worn a thimble.  At one point, I got fed up and we even got out the drill to try to drill holes into the sides of the cake dummy.  But we sadly did not have the right sized bit.  So off I went, one by one, jamming those darned sucker sticks into an unrelenting styrofoam dummy.  I was still at it when my parents showed up at 11pm!!!   But I lived to tell and I was pretty impressed at how the cake looked in the end. 

Next time 'round, I'll be sure to have a proper sized drill bit and pre-drill all of the holes.  That should make it a cinch to put one of these together next time for all to enjoy.

So there you have it, folks.  Though this takes a bit of time to make and assemble, it's a relatively easy way to make a fairly impressive looking cake.

Difficulty level: moderate, but time consuming