Belated Happy Easter, Part 2? Paul Hollywood’s Hot Cross Buns

I didn’t plan on making hot cross buns for Easter 2018. I had already made my pretty pastel meringue “Easter eggs” – I thought I was good to go for the Easter baking season.

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PS – The photos in this post are kind of ugly. Sorry about that.

Then, my fellow baking-obsessed friend messaged me, asking if I had a good hot cross buns recipe. I didn’t – but the seed was planted and I became obsessed with finding a good one.

We agreed to try Paul Hollywood’s iteration – you know, the fellow of Great British Bake-Off fame. If it’s good enough for Paul, surely it would be good enough for us!

But first, we had to translate the recipe. There are some slight differences between baking in the UK and baking in Canada, apparently. With the help of Google and some educated guesses, we decided on the following:

  • “strong bread flour” could be substituted with Roger’s bread flour
  • “caster sugar” is granulated sugar
  • 425 degrees Fahrenheit sounded about right
  • “hand temperature” is lukewarm (i.e., body temperature)

And, in our respective kitchens, we attempted to give the recipe a try.

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First, I boiled milk, added butter, and let the whole thing cool down a little. Meanwhile, I whisked together the dry ingredients, then dug a little hole in the centre for the milk and butter combo. As instructed, an egg was introduced into the equation.

After giving it all a good stir with a wooden spoon, I ignored my stand mixer and kneaded the whole thing by hand. I’ll admit that this is a very satisfying process. After about five minutes (you’ll feel it in your hands!), it was time to leave the whole thing to rise in a greased plastic-covered bowl.

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In hindsight, I think I should have put the bowl in my “proofing drawer” (i.e., my bathroom, with the heat turned up and the door closed). My kitchen was on the cooler side and I think my dough could have been a little springier.

After the first rising, it’s time to mix in the good stuff. The good stuff includes orange zest, raisins (i.e. sultanas), an apple (that’s new to me for hot cross buns!), cinnamon – and normally, mixed peel (a.k.a., the colourful dried fruity bits), but I am not a fan of that stuff so I left it out. Good thing, too – there were almost too many toppings to incorporate into the dough! I kneaded it all together as best as I could, but the toppings kept spilling out. I took that as a good sign – the more stuff, the better.

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Once I got the stuff really stuffed in, I left the dough to rise for a second time.

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The recipe makes 15 buns, and I dutifully weighed each and every one out so they would be uniform. I think my extra precision was rather unnecessary, because when it came time to shape, I couldn’t get my buns to be uniform! I found the dough a little tricky to work with. I left my poorly shaped buns to rise for another hour, and then they were just about ready to bake.

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There was only one step left: piping on the crosses. I came across a lot of online recipes that pipe the crosses on post-baking with icing – no! To me, that is not a true hot cross bun. Paul’s recipe calls for a ration of 5 tbsp of water to 1 tbsp of flour, but I used a few more tablespoons of water than that – and still, my consistency was iffy. I don’t think I whisked it properly, because it kept clogging in my piping bag’s nozzle.

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As a result, some of my crosses sunk nicely into the buns, while others stayed separated on top, even after baking. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it didn’t make for the prettiest buns.

Regretfully, I took a shortcut post baking: I skipped out on the strained apricot jam that Paul suggested, opting instead to brush the buns with a simple sugar syrup that I whipped up. DO NOT SKIP THE JAM! My friend did hers the proper way, and I thought the extra sweetness and flavour really took the buns to the next level. (Yes, she dropped off a couple so I could try them!) Next year… next year.

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So the buns were a little ugly – but they were tasty little morsels, and I have to admit, they made the holiday feel proper. I think I have some room for improvement with this recipe, but I’ll keep it in mind for next year.

Early Happy Easter? Dorie’s Cookies Meringue Vanilla Snowballs

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I was meeting up with some friends around Easter last year [yes, I am posting this a year late…], and I wanted to bring an Easter-esque treat that didn’t involve chocolate. Don’t get me wrong – I love chocolate more than the average person, but Easter tends to be pretty choco-ful and I wanted something a little different.

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Enter the Meringue Snowballs.

I figured if I made these “cookies” (can they really be called cookies?!) in pretty springtime pastels, they would fit with the Easter theme – and nary a cocoa bean in sight.

I have made meringue a few times before, and Dorie’s version is decidedly unfussy. It’s relatively quick, easy, and foolproof – at the expense of perfection. My meringues cracked a little and yours might too, but they still looked good and – most importantly – tasted like the perfect little sugar clouds that they are.

The ingredient list for meringues is short and sweet (hey… kind of like the final product!): granulated sugar, icing sugar, egg whites, cream of tartar, and a wee bit of sea salt. The Dorie’s Cookies cookbook offers some flavourful variations – mint chocolate chip! rose! green tea and pistachio! Wanting to add a little something – but not wanting to make a trip to the grocery store – I opted to make the Vanilla Snowball iteration (just add vanilla… easy as that).

Although the recipe is easy, you do have to be a little careful in the preparation. For one, the sugars must be sifted. Second, all of your baking gear must be perfectly clean – fat is the murderer of meringues, so be ultra careful when separating your whites from your yolks. I always break each egg individually before putting them in a communal bowl – that way, if you mess one up and break the yolk, you won’t contaminate all the other whites.

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The whites, cream of tartar, and salt get sent to the stand mixer, where they whisk away until they start forming soft peaks. At this point, all but one tablespoon of the sugar is slowly added until the mixture is stiff and perfectly shiny. (This is where I added the vanilla, too.)

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I always mix a little longer than I think I’ll need to – otherwise, I tend to end up with a mixture that is slightly too runny. I think I nailed it on this go. Once the mix is looking good, you gently – gently – fold in the last bit of sugar.

At this point, I divided the glossy goop into a few different bowls and played around with some of the colours. The book suggests spooning the meringue out onto your silicone mat-covered baking sheet, but I knew they were look prettier if I took a little extra time to pipe them. I didn’t bother washing out the bags between colours because I figured a little marble/tie dye effect would look kind of cool and very dip-dyed Easter eggy.

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Don’t these look like these dot candies from your childhood?

I couldn’t decide whether the tame the little cowlicks or to leave them as is. I tried patting a few down (I do this by wetting my finger and tapping the tops), but ultimately I decided to leave most of them up. I kind of like the look.

Slow and steady is the name of the meringue game: these puppies baked at 250 degrees for 75 minutes, then I propped open the oven door and left them in there overnight.

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They kept their colour nicely and didn’t brown at all.

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What do you think? I think they’re a cute – if not quite traditional – Easter option. Bookmark this one for next year, perhaps?

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Chef Michael Smith’s Triple Chocolate Brownies: The Second Best Brownies Ever

Let’s get one thing out of the way: the best brownies ever are the Outrageous Brownies from Purebread (which started in Whistler but now has a few Vancouver locations, too). It doesn’t matter if you get the banana ones or the raspberry ones or the regular ones, they’re the best – plain and simple.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the recipe for them. However, I do have the recipe for the second best brownies: Michael Smith’s Triple Chocolate Brownies.

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I first tasted these brownies as at book club meeting back in the late winter or early spring. There is another member of my book club who is very passionate about baking – in addition to talking book plots and characters, we like to swap recipes and drool-worthy baking photos and tips. She brought these triple chocolate brownies and they were amazing. She said the Michael Smith recipe was her go-to, so I decided to look them up and give them a go myself.

They were just as good when I made them, so I dubbed them my favourite recipe, too. (Until I can get a hold of the Purebread recipe…)

As the name suggests, this recipe uses three different sources of chocolate: regular chocolate (like a bar), cocoa powder, and chocolate chips. The result: a tasty triple threat that is moist, fudgey, and overall fantastic.

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First, the chocolate. I discovered they sell Callebaut chocolate in blocks at Save on Foods in Squamish – hallelujah! Although Nesters has the best fancy baking stuff, Save on Foods has a better assortment (and a bulk section to die for) – they will be my new go to for baking goods. The recipe calls for 8 ounces of chocolate, which gets melted along with a cup of butter over a double boiler. Once everything is melted and mixed, the recipe says to whisk the whole thing to make it extra smooth. I’m not sure if this is really necessary, but better safe than sorry, right?

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Next up: the cocoa powder. The cocoa powder gets mixed with some flour, baking powder, and a pinch of salt. Simple, right? Those are your dry ingredients.

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The chocolate chips come a little later – first, you have to mix 4 eggs with some brown sugar and a whopping tablespoon of vanilla. These wet ingredients then get combined with the melted butter/chocolate combo, which has had a chance to cool down. Then, the dry ingredients get incorporated, along with the chocolate chips (at last!)

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Hot tip: the Squamish Save on Foods also offers a few different types of chocolate chips in the bulk section, so you don’t have to buy a whole bag when you only need a cup, as is the case in this recipe.

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You’re supposed to bake the brownies in a 9 x 13 pan, but I opted to do two 8 x 8 pans instead. The directions say to oil the pans and dust them with flour, but I once learned a hot tip that involves using cocoa powder instead of flour for dusting pans used for brownies, chocolate cakes, and other chocolatey things, so that’s what I did.

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Though the recipe calls for 25 minutes or so in the oven, mine were for about 32 until I thought they looked sufficiently cooked through (without getting dried out – it’s a fine line).

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Here’s what I like about this recipe:

  • The ingredients are simple. Yes, it calls for 3 types of chocolate, but the rest of the ingredients are  things you probably already have in your kitchen.
  • You don’t need an electric mixer (yup, mine is still busted).
  • It’s a pretty straightforward recipe – then again, most brownie recipes are.
  • The brownies taste exquisite – I have to say, these brownies surpass the ones I’ve made from my Dorie’s Cookies cookbook and from the Bobbette & Belle cookbook.
  • Chef Michael Smith – I mean, how CAN’T you love the soft-spoken east coaster?!?!

Coming Out of Hiding – Cap Crusher 12k 2019 Race Recap

It’s a live blog post!

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I am reviving my blog because I love reading other race recaps when I’m preparing for a race, and I couldn’t find many recent posts for the Coast Mountain Trail Series’ Cap Crusher. I think they used to have an 8k course and there are a few blog posts about that, but there’s virtually nothing on the 12k course that I ran this year (2019). There is also a 24k course, which is the 12k distance doubled (you run it one direction the first time out, then in reverse the second time). Hopefully, this post will help people running the course in 2020 and beyond.

This was a triumphant race for me no matter what, because it was my first race post-partum. I ran 5 races while pregnant, but I hadn’t run a race NOT pregnant since November 2017, so it’s been awhile. Here’s the Cole’s notes of my post-pregnancy running routine:

  • I had a c-section so things were slow moving for the first little while. My first run was about 2k at Week 7 or 8 post-partum – I can’t even remember exactly when it was – and it was HARD.
  • There are a lot of physical changes that happens during pregnancy and when you have a baby. I am lucky because I seem to have skipped pelvic floor issues (which can make running tricky, to say the least), but it did feel like my core was a bowl of Jell-o for awhile.
  • I followed the same training plan that I did when I ran last year’s Loop the Lake 21k, but only out to the ~13k week. I started training around the end of January.
  • Training was NOT EASY. The reality is that it is just hard to get out right now. I have to work around Cedric’s work, my work, and the baby’s napping and feeding. Running in the trails takes a long time, so I could only run on trails once or twice a week (I always ran my longest run of the week on the trails), then I would do mostly roads with a few dreadful treadmill runs when the only time I could squeeze a run in was at 9PM. (Note to self: treadmill run after lasagna dinner is a bad idea). I tried to incorporate hills on the road runs whenever possible.
  • In addition to running, I have been doing baby + mom fitness classes once a week at Storm Fitness here in Squamish, taught by Carrie from Pinnacle Fitness. I’ve been doing this since my baby was about 12 weeks, and I cannot say enough good things about the classes. They focus a lot on building a strong core and it is nice to meet like-minded women in an environment where I don’t have to worry if my baby gets fussy, needs to eat, etc.

Okay, now on to the race itself.

I have volunteered at quite a few Coast Mountain Trail Series races, but I have never actually run in one! From my experience volunteering, I know that they are extremely well-managed and that courses are well-marked. The Cap Crusher was no exception. The website is pro and a glance at the course map told me everything I need to know: the course is loopy, the end is hilly, and there are plenty of ups and downs throughout the course.

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I am extremely unfamiliar with running the North Shore trails. I ran a trail race called “My First Trail Race” in the Lower Seymour area in 2010 (I had to go back in my emails to see where this race was/when it was – it wasn’t just my first trail race, but my first trail run altogether), and then I ran the MEC Trail Series in West Van a couple of years ago. That’s it for North Shore trails for me. I’d never set foot in the Capilano Canyon/Cleveland Dam trails until today.

The trails reminded me a lot of the ones I ran in the MEC trail race. I did not find it terribly technical, at least compared to a lot of the trails in the Squamish area. There were a few finicky areas that required careful footwork (especially as the legs started to tire), but overall they weren’t too bad. I would compare it to maybe Jack’s Trail or Debeck’s Trail here in Squamish (both of which I ran a lot while training for this race, which was helpful).

However, non-technical doesn’t necessarily mean easy!

Let me rewind to the race day details. The trails in Squamish and the North Shore have been super icy and nasty due to the atypical long winter we’ve had out here. When I checked the race weather a week or so out, it looked like it was going to be wet and rainy. An early week pre-race email suggested bringing spikes. Yikes.

However, as the old saying goes, March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. The few days before the race were nice and warm, and the trails ended up being in GREAT shape on race day. A day-before-the-race email let us know we wouldn’t need our spikes after all, and aside from a couple of steps in slightly mucky bits, the trails were awesome. As a bonus, the weather was beautiful too – around 5 degrees at the start and a gorgeous, sunny day.

I did something I almost never do: I left my hydration vest behind. Since I didn’t need to carry spikes and I didn’t need tons of water as it wasn’t a hot day, I figured I could get away with a t-shirt and a light jacket and use the jacket for things like my phone (just in case), an energy ball for fuel, and my collapsible water bottle. There is an aid station at 7.5km, but all CMTS races are cup-free so you have to bring your own drinking vessel.

I was a little on the warm side, but overall I am pleased with my race day getup. I wish I had green running clothes, because a lot of people were gussied up for St. Patrick’s Day!

We got a parking spot right by the start, which was EXCELLENT because I didn’t want to have to walk too far with baby. I picked up my bib, listened to the pre-race talk, and we were off at 8:30 AM on the nose. The first part of the run is on a logging road and slopes downhill. I had seeded myself towards the middle-back of the pack, but I let my legs fly a little on this initial downhill. I know you are supposed to hold back a bit at the start, but I actually find I use less energy letting my legs windmill on non-technical downs then I do if I try to step carefully. So off I went.

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The first part of the race is great; there are lots of wonderful downhills and the ups are runnable. There are a few sections with stairs and with a couple of exceptions, I ran just about the whole thing. About halfway through the race, there is a long, straight non-technical trail that takes you all the way to the aid station at 7.5 KM. In the course map above, this is the part that requires the inset to see in its entirety. The run out is on a slight downhill, but it was hard to enjoy – because the faster 12k runners were already on their way back and so I knew I’d have to run it uphill very shortly!

I usually never stop at aid stations, but I filled up my bottle about halfway here, which only took a couple of seconds. I ate my energy ball as I started the slow and steady slog back up the long, straight trail. It felt a lot more “uphill” on the way back than it had felt “downhill” on the way down – doesn’t it always feel like that!

At this point, it started to feel like I was running the entire course in reverse – though of course, I know this isn’t the case based on the map above. I think the reason it felt like that was because the 24k runners were now on the course, so there were often people running in the opposite direction of me. This actually wasn’t as confusing as it might sound and it was virtually never an issue for passing or anything, since the trails are decently wide. The course was well-marked and there were marshals everywhere, so getting lost was not a problem.

After the post-fuel station slog, the bulk of the remainder of the course was uphill. I mostly power-hiked the ups and ran the flats (and the precious downhill sections – there were still a few of those!). Another girl let me know when we were at the 10k mark – this was a long (non-technical) hill up, and then there was a flat bit followed by lots of stairs going up. There aren’t many (any?) stairs on the Squamish trails since most of them are bike trails, so this was a little new to me. It felt Grouse Grind-y for a little bit there, or like the start of the Chief.

After the stairs, we had a nice downhill section before the last little climb to the finish. You could literally see the finish line, so the motivation to give it one last little push was there. I crossed the finish line in 1:28:05 and felt a little barf-y, but after I walked it off for a bit, I felt fine.

(I used to puke at finish lines ALL THE TIME, which is so so gross. I haven’t had this happen in like 6 years, though).

In the end, I finished 92/162, 42/91 for all the women in the race and 25/39 for women 30-39. I can’t WAIT to be in the 70+ division – hopefully I will always finish in the top 3! All in all, I am very happy with that result. The distance was just right – it felt do-able but still like a challenge. I pushed myself to the barf-feeling zone without barfing – THAT is my racing sweet spot!

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to stick around the finish line, as there was a hungry baby waiting for me. That means I missed out on the post-race sushi and cupcakes, but I DID get the awesome race swag: a beer and an excellent beer glass, both of which Cedric dibsed instantly.

In conclusion, I have never appreciated running – especially trail running – more than I do now that I have a baby. Time on the trail is truly precious and I really savour those moments where I get to have a little time to myself, even if the weather is gross or the trails are icy. It has been the best medicine for me – running has helped me regain my strength and fitness, feel more like my old self, and experience that sense of peace that you only get when you’re among the trees. I am really grateful that Cedric recognizes how important this is to me and does whatever he can to make sure I can get out the door whenever possible for an hour or two.

So what’s next? The Whistler Half Marathon on June 1! I have NEVER DONE THIS HALF! I have run the 10k course once and have been out of town for the run every year since. I am truly so excited – I love road half marathons because they scare me just a little bit but I know if I work hard, I can conquer the distance. Wish me luck!!!!

Bobbette & Belle’s Salted Caramel Sauce

I admit that I have a tendency to avoid recipes that involve melting sugar.

I hate dealing with candy thermometers and I struggle to find the balance between caramel perfection and a burnt mess than is impossible to remove from a saucepan.

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But I recently discovered that the salted caramel sauce in the Bobbette & Bellecookbook doesn’t require a candy thermometer at all. In fact, after baking this recipe TWICE, I can attest that it is super easy and virtually foolproof.

I made this sauce for some salted caramel cupcakes (which I promise I will post about in due course). It is also delicious drizzled over vanilla ice cream or eaten directly off a spoon. Not that I would know anything about that…

Although salted caramel feels kind of fancy, this recipe is anything but. There are three ingredients (sugar, cream, fleur de sel) and two steps. The steps are kind of long, but still – there are only two. Oh, and it only requires one dish. It says to use a medium saucepan, but after the boiled over disaster of the caramels last winter, I played it safe and used a bigger pot.

Step one: heat the sugar, half a cup by half a cup, over medium-high heat. This requires a whole lot of stirring to prevent the aforementioned caked on burnt caramel. The constant stirring makes it difficult to snap a photo unless you have a private photographer… which, as you can tell from these cell phone photos, I clearly do not. Eventually, the sugar magically transforms into a golden liquid.

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Step two: once the sugar is in a liquid state and is a “deep golden colour”, the heat is reduced and you add in the cream. The recipe warns you that this will create a scalding steam – I can attest that this is true. A little fleur de sel is added, and then you let the whole thing cook while giving it the occasional stir.

The recipe says to let the whole thing come to a boil and wait until all the hard sugar bits have dissolved before removing it from the heat. With the first batch I made, I got a little nervous – I was afraid of burning the caramel and ruining the whole thing. That batch turned out pretty good, but it was a little gritty as the sugar had not completely dissolved. I was more patient with the second batch, letting it all melt and boil a little longer. I managed to avoid burning the house down AND the sauce was much smoother. Success.

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That’s it. Easy, right? I let my caramel cool in the pot for a bit, then poured it into a glass jar. The recipe is supposed to keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks (mine has been there a week and a half and so far, so good). While I would love to make these as gifts, it doesn’t seem like they’d do as well made far in advance and stored at room temp – so I guess I’ll have to hog it all to myself.

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Dorie’s Cookies’ Peanut Butter and Fudge Brownies: Good – But Not the Best

I am sad to report that my KitchenAid stand mixer is still broken.

[Update: I am happy to report that I got a new one for Christmas 2018!!! However, I am sad to report that this post has no photos. I’m publishing it anyway.]

Depending on when I actually come around to publishing this post (which, let’s be honest, could be half a year after I write it at the pace I’m going) […yep], that means I have been several months without my trusty mixer. Considering how much I love to bake, that is a big deal.

But the good stand mixers aren’t cheap (I need the high quality ones to handle my bread baking needs!), and between general life expenses and preparing for a baby (who, weird to think, might be born by the time I post this) [… yep], a new mixer isn’t in the cards for the time being.

While that may have slowed my meringue and macaron production, it hasn’t stopped my baking altogether. I’ve just started looking for recipes that require little to no mixing – anything I can do by hand is fair game. After all, isn’t that what our grandmas did?

The Peanut Butter and Fudge Brownies recipe from my Dorie’s Cookies cookbook didn’t seem to require too much mixing, and best yet, it reminded me of another recipe that I LOVE: the No-Bake Almond Butter Cup Bars from Minimalist Baker.

I can’t remember how I found that recipe but it is definitely is not my usual way of doing things. I almost NEVER use online recipes for baking (there is too much junk out there), and this is one of those “healthier” recipes that uses crunchier ingredients (think dates and maple syrup instead of regular white sugar, and a ganache made with coconut milk and coconut oil). However, it is super easy to make (hence the no bake) and easily accommodates the gluten-free folks in my life, so I have made it quite a few times and I LOVE it. It packs SUCH a punch. (Note that I use peanut butter instead of almond butter – and I make my own).

I figured that the Dorie’s Cookies recipe would be at least as good as the Minimalist Baker one – if not better, because it uses more decadent ingredients. As it turns out – I actually didn’t like it quite as much. It seemed a little less flavourful than the Minimalist Baker one – each layer was a little more subdued. But it was still a very delicious recipe (I mean, peanut butter + chocolate = how can you go wrong), so it’s worth discussing anyways.

This recipe has three components:

  1. The brownies
  2. The peanut butter frosting
  3. The chocolate glaze

The Brownies

First up, the brownie base. It all starts with a little saucepan action, where you mix butter and melted chocolate over a low heat til it slowly becomes melty and delicious. Off the heat, you whisk in white sugar, vanilla, and salt by hand – no stand mixer needed (woohoo!).

Next, four eggs get added to the mix one at a time. Again, whisking by hand is the way to do it. This recipe advises to use cold eggs, which is noteworthy because I feel like room temperature eggs is the usual baking norm – cold is fine by me because half the time I forget to take the eggs out of the fridge anyways.

Once the eggs are mixed in, you gently fold in some flour with a spatula. You know what you can’t use to gently fold in flour? That’s right – a stand mixer! The final step – and, in my opinion, a very important one – is to fold in some chopped peanuts. I know not everyone loves nuts in their brownies, but I think the texture it adds is well worth it. Plus, the peanuts tie in nicely with the peanut butter frosting. Don’t skip this step.

So making the brownies is pretty easy and straightforward. The batter gets baked for about half an hour at 325 degrees. Don’t even think about adding the frosting before the brownies cool, or else it’ll turn into a melty, soaked up mess – delicious, surely, but not as pretty.

The Peanut Butter Frosting

The peanut butter frosting is what elevates this dessert from regular old brownies to something a little more special. Now, this section of the recipe begins with, “Working in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment” – discouraging! – BUT it then says “or in a medium bowl with a hand mixer” – better!

You know what’s even better than a hand mixer? A HAND! I used my brute strength and a mix of a whisk and a flexible spatula to “beat” a mixture of peanut butter (homemade) and room temperature butter, When it looked incorporated and smooth (probably not as pro as a stand mixer, but hey – I got a bicep workout), I mixed in icing sugar, a wee bit of sea salt, some nutmeg (which I’m not sure I would add in again – I didn’t love this flavour in the frosting), some milk, and some vanilla. Boom – icing complete.

If your brownies are fully cooled (no cheating!), it is now time to spread the peanut buttery frosting over the brownies.

I think that the frosting layer is the “weak” point of this recipe compared to the Minimalist Baker one. This layer of the MB recipe almond butter (peanut, in my case), a bit of maple syrup, and a bit of sea salt. It is ultra flavourful and nutty and delicious, whereas this frosting almost gets diluted by the icing sugar and butter.

The Chocolate Glaze

Because we can all agree that all baked goods are made better when coated in a layer of glossy chocolate, the final step to this recipe is adding a delicious layer of decadent chocolatey goodness.

The glaze is easy to prepare: butter + chocolate in a saucepan over low heat, similar to the first step in making the brownies. The whole thing gets poured and spread over the frosted brownies, then you have to let it sit in the fridge for a tantalizing hour and half before you can dig in.

The Verdict

I pretty much made these brownies for no real good reason – it wasn’t anyone’s birthday or anything, I just wanted to have something on hand for when I needed to satisfy my sweet tooth. I cut them into small squares and wrapped most of them in tin foil, then put them in a plastic bag and froze them. This made it easy to pop them into lunches or the like.

I actually enjoyed them more out of the freezer (and thawed) than fresh out of the oven – I think it gave the flavours a chance to settle in more or something.

I have to admit that I was a little disappointed overall at these brownies because I couldn’t help but compare them to my beloved Minimalist Baker recipe. However, those who tried them who HADN’T had the MB recipe seemed to really enjoy them. They certainly weren’t a bust or anything, I just don’t know that I will be quick to make them again.

Bobbette & Belle’s Decorative Sugar Cookies: Valentine’s Cookies from the Heart (puns!!!)

I know everyone thinks that their mom is great, but mine really is.

For example, she made my lunch for school every day until the day I graduated Grade 12. From time to time, she would surprise me with a decorated cookie in my lunch box (store bought – my mom is an exquisite cook, but a reluctant baker).

After high school, I moved across the country – and for special occasions, my mom would ship me holiday-themed decorated sugar cookies in the mail. She’d often include one for whatever roommate I had at the time, too. And sometimes, I even managed to save the extra one for the roommate and not eat it myself!

A few weeks before Valentine’s Day, I received a parcel in the mail with a couple of these beauties:

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Frankly, it made my day – and it inspired me to try my hand at baking my own special cookies for a few of my beloved Galetines.

I have long admired people who pipe and flood beautiful cookies, but I have never really given it a try myself. One of my goals for 2018 (besides measuring my ingredients by weight, not by volume) is to work at making my baking more “pretty”. [Note – yes, I wrote this blog post LAST YEAR for Valentine’s Day…] My baked goods usually taste wonderful (which is the top priority, I would argue), but they are sometimes lackluster from an aesthetic point of view. Prettily piped cookies seemed them to be a good exercise for flexing my beautiful baking muscles.

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I was surprised to find that my Dorie’s Cookies cookbook – a book devoted entirely to cookies – didn’t have a simple sugar cookie recipe. Too simple for Dorie, maybe. Luckily, my Bobbette & Belle cookbook has a recipe for Decorative Sugar Cookies. Theirs includes piped flowers, those little silver balls, and some edible gold paint. Mine would be simpler, but still pretty (I hoped).

All too often, sugar cookies are more about the decorations than the taste, but this is actually a wonderful, flavourful recipe. And it’s easy to whip together, too.

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First, you cream butter and sugar together until it is nice and fluffy. You add an egg and some vanilla, then mix in some flour/baking powder/salt.

That’s it! Those are all the ingredients! Easy peasy.

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The dough looks really crumbly, but if you pour it out onto some plastic wrap and smush it together, it comes together just fine.

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It has to chill in the fridge (literally and figuratively) for at least an hour before you can play with it, but one it has had a chance to rest, it is pretty easy to work with.

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I kept my shapes simple: two sizes of cookie cutter hearts.

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The cookies were baked until just barely golden (well… some of them were more golden than others), and while they cooled, I started working on the icing.

Making the icing was easy. Getting it to the right flooding consistency was HARD!

I kept it relatively simple by sticking to just two colours: white and pink. I filled a piping bag with each, only to discover that it was way too thick for proper flooding.

No problem – it’s easier to thin out icing than it is to thicken it, so I just squeezed out the bags and added some water. That should do it…

Not. The icing was still too thick to achieve the flood consistency. Impatience prevailed (the probable cause of my inability to make pretty baked things), and I started piping anyways. I decided to go for a minimalist approach and just outline the cookies. They looked nice, but plain.

I had heaps of leftover icing, so I started playing around with a few, and guess what? They kind of flooded! Only because I’d already outlined all of them (and the outlines were setting), it was impossible to achieve the perfect flood.

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Don’t mind old bite marks in the top right…

So I decided to just have fun with it – after all, that’s how you learn, right? I doodled on my cookies for at least an hour, then realized that my day was wasting away rather quickly and I still had a large to do list to accomplish. I ended up tossing quite a bit of icing, which was disappointing and wasteful.

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Next time, I’ll devote more time to piping. I haven’t given up hope and the cookies are so simple to make that I’m sure I’ll get the chance to give it another go soon.

Luckily, my Valentines aren’t too critical – they loved the cookies, so all’s well ends well.

Thanks for the inspiration, Mom!