Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Piped Butter Cookies (or Whipped Shortbread Cookies)

My family adores the classic piped butter cookies from European bakeries.  Sadly, our local Swiss bakery closed its doors forever on Christmas Eve and we cannot enjoy our favourite European baked goodies from there anymore. 

Making these light, crispy cookies has eluded me for YEARS.  The batter was either too stiff for my hands to pipe from a pastry bag or I would get pools of shapeless blobs.  I am recovering from carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis in my wrists, so my weak hands could not squeeze the tough cookie dough out of the pastry bag.  I stopped trying.  

The other day, I stumbled across a "Whipped Shortbread" recipe. I have not tried whipping the dough for 10 minutes before piping and it required only 3 simple ingredients:  butter, icing sugar and flour. Not the healthiest, but I really wanted to try this.   

I was not sure about whipping the cookie dough for 10 minutes with my powerful KitchenAid stand mixer.  All over the net, this recipe appeared to be a classic, so I assumed that this was written for a hand mixer.  I used my KitchenAid stand mixer and decreased the time to 5 minutes. 

I have only made this once with success and I hope the results are the same every time.  

Whipped Shortbread Cookies
makes about 40 cookies

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup icing sugar (sift before measuring)
1 cup softened butter

- optional:  pieces of glace cherries, chocolate chunks, etc.  

Preheat oven to 350F.  Sift flour and sugar together and set aside.

Beat softened butter with mixer until light and fluffy.  Add dry ingredients gradually on low speed until well mixed then beat the dough for 5-10 minutes until light and fluffy.  

Spoon dough onto cookie sheets about 2 inches apart.  If desired, pipe with a pastry bag and star tip in different shapes onto an ungreased cookie sheet.  Optional:  place a piece of cherry onto the middle of each cookie. 

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until edges are very lightly browned.  Let cookies rest on the cookie sheet for a few minutes before placing them on a rack to cool.  

- Adapted from Whipped Shortbread Cookies and Allrecipes.com: Whipped Shortbread Cookies

My personal notes with the KitchenAid stand mixer: 
  • I didn't use softened butter (too impatient), I diced up the cold butter into small pieces and beat it with the paddle attachment for 5 minutes.   
  • After adding the flour/sugar mixture, mix for 2 minutes on low/medium to make dough.  Change to the wire whisk attachment and whip the dough for 5 minutes, instead of 10.  The dough will have a soft, fluffy, aerated texture that makes piping a breeze.  
  • I piped about 1 1/2" sized cookies with the Wilton 1M tip 
  • Decorated with glace cherry pieces and baked for 11-13 minutes until edges were lightly browned.  
  • I always check the cookies about 5 minutes before the recipe says it is done.  Every oven is different.  
  • I was able to make about 60- 1 1/2" sized cookies from this batch.  

Success!  The whipped dough was effortless to pipe for my weak hands.  I placed the dough in a disposable plastic piping bag with a Wilton 1M star tip.  Again, I didn't get a chance to try them as I'm still gluten and dairy-free.  Hubby and the kids told me that they were better than our local Swiss bakery's!  What a way to make mommy's heart sing!


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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Blueberry Crumb Bars

I was digging around the freezer and found some frozen blueberries.   Lately, I have been trying some new gluten-free, egg-free and dairy-free recipes, but I wanted to make something easy, tried and true... and also DELICIOUS!  This is another classic recipe I should write down for the kiddies.  I have been making these squares for over 5 years!

Blueberry crumb bars came to mind.  I wasn't in the mood to make yummy blueberry muffins.  

I must thank Allrecipes.com for the wonderful selection of recipes.  What makes this website invaluable is the number of ratings and reviews for each recipe.  Reading the reviews from people who have made this recipe makes a world of difference for those who wonder if the recipe is good.  Looking at my binder full of printed recipes, I saw that it has been a while since I made Blueberry Crumb Bars.   I have brought these to potlucks and social gatherings with requests for this recipe.  

This recipe is very easy to put together.  I decreased the sugar and used butter instead of shortening.  The butter makes them smell scrumptious while baking!

Make the dough with a pastry blender and pat half of the crumbly flour mixture into a 9x13 greased pan.  Lightly pat the crust and smooth it evenly with the back of a tablespoon.

Next, spread the blueberry/sugar/cornstarch mixture evenly on top of the dough.  

Spoon the remaining dough evenly over the berry layer and pop in preheated oven. 

Bake in 375F oven for about 45 minutes or until top is slightly browned.  

The combination of butter, juicy blueberries and crunchy crust makes this an addictive square.  They may not look fancy but after one bite, you will want to reach for another one!

Blueberry Crumb Bars

1 cup white sugar (I used 2/3 cup)
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup shortening (I used butter)
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
1 pinch ground cinnamon (optional)
4 cups fresh blueberries
1/2 cup white sugar (I used 1/3 cup)
3 teaspoons cornstarch 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease a 9x13 inch pan.

In a medium bowl, stir together 1 cup sugar, 3 cups flour, and baking powder. Mix in salt and cinnamon, if desired. Use a fork or pastry cutter to blend in the shortening and egg. 
Dough will be crumbly. Pat half of dough into the prepared pan.  

In another bowl, stir together the sugar and cornstarch. Gently mix in the blueberries. Sprinkle the blueberry mixture evenly over the crust. Crumble remaining dough over the berry layer.

Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until top is slightly brown. Cool completely before cutting into squares.

- Adapted from Allrecipes.com: Blueberry Crumb Bars

To make them prettier, I dusted the blueberry bars with powdered/icing/confectioners' sugar.  Nessa brought these squares to her class for Snack Day with some strawberries and carrot cake.  She told me that everyone LOVED them!

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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Vegan Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting (Wheat or Gluten-Free)

Back from Spring Break!  We were away the last two weeks of March and spent the most glorious Spring Break ever as a family of 5.  I am still trying to get back into our family routine now that we are home.  

We spent 7 days in Cancun, Mexico at the very family friendly all-inclusive resort, Crown Paradise Club Cancun.  We read some mixed reviews from Tripadvisor.ca before leaving and made the decision to have fun, no matter what.  We lowered our expectations of the resort and raised our expectations to have the best time as a family.  With this new outlook, we had an AMAZING time!

We had our belated Easter over the weekend.  For dessert, I thought it would be nice to have a Spring/Easter themed carrot cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. 

Since I am still gluten-free, dairy and egg-free, I turned to my trusty Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World cookbook.  Previously, I was able to make gluten-free vanilla cupcakes from this book as well.  

To fit our allergies and "less sweet" palate, I made a few changes:

  • Used Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free All-purpose Baking Mix + 1/4 tsp xanthan gum in place of all-purpose flour
  • Replaced and reduced the white granulated sugar with organic coconut sugar
  • Used a combination of soy milk and lemon juice (didn't have soy yogurt)
  • Reduced the liquid amounts to reflect the decrease in sugar content  
  • Reduced the confectioner's sugar in the cream cheese frosting

For the vegan "Cream Cheese" Frosting, I used Tofutti brand soy cream cheese.  I didn't like the frosting at all when freshly made.  It was way too sweet for my liking.  I gave it another chance by letting the cupcakes sit in the fridge overnight for the flavours to develop. Because I cut down the icing sugar (confectioner's sugar), the frosting was very soft.  Too soft to pipe, so I simply spooned it on each cupcake.  

This batch yielded 12 medium-sized cupcakes. 

Vegan Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting, Wheat or Gluten-Free
makes 12 medium cupcakes

2/3 cup all-purpose flour or your favourite gluten-free flour blend (I used Bob's Red Mill Gluten-free All-purpose Mix + 1/4 tsp xanthan gum)
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon 
1/4 tsp ground ginger
2/3 cup sugar (I used a heaping 1/2 cup organic coconut sugar)
1/3 cup vegetable oil (I used 1/4 cup canola oil)
1/3 cup soy yogurt (plain or vanilla) (I used 1/4 cup soy milk + 1 tsp lemon juice= "buttermilk")
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup finely grated carrots
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup raisins

Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting:
1/4 cup Earth Balance margarine, softened
1/4 cup vegan cream cheese, softened
2 cups confectioners' sugar (1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar, will further decrease to taste next time)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I used 1/8 tsp Mexican vanilla, really strong stuff)

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line muffin tin with 12 paper liners.

In a medium mixing bowl, mix together sugar, vegetable oil, yogurt and vanilla.  Sift in the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, spices) and mix until smooth.  Fold in carrots, walnuts and raisins.

Fill the liners two-thirds full.  Bake for 26-28 minutes, until a toothpick inserted through the center of one comes out clean. Note:  I usually check my baked goods about 5-10 minutes before the estimated time done, since every oven is different.  I thought mine were done around 20 minutes.  My toothpick came out clean, but I could have baked them a few minutes longer.  

While cupcakes are baking, cream together vegan margarine and cream cheese until just combined.  Add the confectioners' sugar in 1/2 cup batches and whip with a handheld or stand mixer.  Mix until smooth and creamy, then mix in vanilla extract.  Keep tightly covered and refrigerated until ready to use.  

Once fully cooled, top generously with cream cheese frosting.  

- Adapted from PopSugar: Vegan Carrot Cake Recipe

They turned out very moist, dense and soft.  When I sat down to finish this plate, I had 3 "little vultures" hovering me for every last crumb!  These are "kid-tested" and "approved"!   

Now that we are back home, my mind wanders back to Cancun periodically... Can you imagine why?  


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