Thursday, December 29, 2011

New Years sweets: fruitcake truffles and chocolate amaretto balls

chocolate truffles

New Years is a time for resolutions and goals. I'm pretty sure at age 25, I had about two goals for the next five years. The first was obviously to get my PhD done at some point in the next five years. The second was to get married at age 27 (27 was a random age I picked that seemed appropriate at the time). The PhD happened at age 28. As for my other goal, an email at age 26 with the words "I'm sorry" and "we aren't getting married" changed pretty much everything. An email can do that.

So, in my 26th year, I changed my address, all my phone numbers (cell and landline), and my hair-do (from straight hair to a wild '80s perm). I even changed friends (pretty much all of them), and I think I started to become me in the process (except for the hair). I baked like crazy (obviously), and I connected with amazing people that I will love forever and who let me figure out me.

chocolate truffles

I clearly didn't get married at 27, or at 28, or even at 29, and I guess that's okay because I continued to figure out who I am. At 28, I finished my PhD and I was a medical writer for awhile. This last year, my 29th year, I was a "funemployed" traveler, spending most of the year baking, blogging, and meeting people who love food as much as I do. There were ups and downs to the year, just like any other, but I think I finally accepted that what I want to do might not be what others think I should do.

chocolate truffles

Now that I find myself a few days away from my 30th birthday and on the eve of a new year, I made two new goals for my next 5 or so years. The first is to learn to bake, for real, courtesy of a professional diploma (after all, I am good at school, if nothing else!), and the second is to open a bakery. I want a little shop that will make me happy. A shop that will represent me. Fine, the last goal is a little nuts. It may or may not work out, and it may take longer than 5 years, but I'm going to try and see what happens.

So, an email can change everything, and it did, probably for the better. Several years later, I think I am closer to figuring out who I am and who I want to be.

chocolate truffles

On a regular day, I'd probably never make truffles or sweets like these, but since it's the holiday season, and New Years, I ended up making two kinds. Don't worry, they're really simple to make. They store well, and make great gifts!

The first batch are chocolate covered fruitcake truffles (adapted from Donna Hay magazine, issue 58). Basically, you blend left-over fruitcake (unfrosted, please!) with some spiced rum. Form the dough into truffles, dip them in melted chocolate, and dust with cocoa. They are super easy, and allow you to repurpose some of that left-over fruitcake. These truffles have a hard chocolate shell on the outside, and a moist, fruity inside with a sweet rum flavor.

The second batch are chocolate amaretto balls (recipe courtesy of a friend of the family), made of vanilla wafers, melted chocolate chips, ground nuts, and amaretto. Again, these are really easy to prepare. Just form the mixture into balls, and roll them in granulated sugar for a pretty, shimmery effect. These chocolate balls are pleasantly drier than the usual truffles, with a lovely nutty texture and the taste of amaretto.

Fruitcake truffles and chocolate amaretto balls
New Years truffles    Makes about 4 dozen fruitcake truffles and 5 dozen chocolate amaretto balls

To make the fruitcake truffles
  • 400 grams fruitcake
  • 4 tsp spiced rum
  • 200 grams 70% dark chocolate, melted
  • Cocoa powder for dusting

  1. Place the fruitcake and the rum in the bowl of a food processor and process until combined.
  2. Roll the mixture into small, bite-sized truffles (~ 1 inch).
  3. Dip the truffles in the melted chocolate, and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet to set.
  4. Dust with cocoa powder before serving.

To make the chocolate amaretto balls
  • 170 grams semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 3 tbsp corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) amaretto liqueur
  • 2 1/2 cups (300 grams) vanilla wafer crumbs
  • 1/2 cup (70 grams) powdered sugar
  • 1 cup (160 grams) chopped nuts (I used pecans)
  • Granulated sugarfor rolling

  1. Melt the chocolate chips, and then add the corn syrup and the amaretto. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the wafer crumbs, powdered sugar, and the nuts.
  3. Add the melted chocolate mixture and mix well.
  4. Let stand about 30 minutes and then form the mixture into 1-inch balls.
  5. Roll the balls in granulated sugar.
  6. Let the balls season, in a container for several days before serving.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Chocolate crackle cookies

chocolate crackle cookies

It finally snowed in Montreal, just in time for Christmas. If I had known we were going to have a white Christmas in the end, I wouldn't have fretted so much for the entire month of December.

It snowed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The snow was fluffy and light. By mid-January, I will have had enough of it, but for this week, I can't get enough of the snow.

chocolate crackle cookies

These snowy white crackle cookies are perfect for celebrating the white season. They are like fudgy brownie bites on the inside, and powdery white on the outside. With every bite, a little of the powdery sugar falls, just like the snow.

chocolate crackle cookies

These cookies are easy to make, and I actually made the dough a few days ahead of time before rolling and baking them. I think that helps develop the flavor and the texture. These crackle cookies are super chocolaty and not too sweet, even with all that powdered sugar. The texture is amazing, fudgy but light, and the chopped walnuts add a little bit of a soft crunch to them (just like for brownies).

chocolate crackle cookies

As you've probably noticed, I've been quite smitten with many of the cookbooks that Canadian writers have put together this year. This recipe is yet another example of why, and it comes from à la di Stasio 3, the third book of cookbook author Josée di Stasio of Quebec. It's the best crackle cookie recipe I've tried thus far, and I think it will become a staple on our ever-growing list of Christmas-baking.

Chocolate crackle cookies

chocolate cookies    Makes about 5 dozen cookies

  • 225 grams (8 oz) semi-sweet chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup (80 mL) milk, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup (or more) powdered sugar

  1. Melt the chocolate in a small bowl over a double-boiler. Set aside to cool slightly.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Set aside for later.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and the brown sugar until the mixture has lightened slightly.
  4. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating between each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed. Add the vanilla, and beat the mixture again. Now add the melted chocolate, mixing well.
  5. With the mixer on low, add the flour, alternating with the milk. When all the ingredients are well blended, add the walnuts.
  6. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the cookie dough for a couple hours, if not overnight.
  7. Form the dough into 1 inch balls, and refrigerate the dough again so that it is nice and firm.
  8. When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350°F. Cover your baking sheets with parchment or a Silpat Liner.
  9. Roll the balls of cookie dough in powdered sugar to generously coat them. Place them on a baking sheet, about 2 inches apart.
  10. Bake the cookies for 11–13 minutes, or until the cookies have crackled on top (and not just on the sides).
  11. Let cool a couple of minutes on the baking sheet before transferring the cookies to a rack.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Stewie's ginger cookies from Trish Magwood's new book

ginger cookies

I'm not sure how I manage to do this every year, but I put together an amazing insane list of holiday baking that I try to get through. I guess my eyes are bigger than my stomach, or maybe my pen can put to paper such an awesome list of holiday treats that my oven and mixer have no hope of keeping up! At this point, my habit of putting together a mile-long holiday baking list that I slowly shrink down to a handful of recipes is now a family tradition. Would it still be Christmas without the hustle and bustle of crazy amounts of baking?

ginger cookies

My baking list every year includes a gingerbread house and, of course, gingerbread men. I think the best part of both of those is the aroma of the molasses and spices as they bake. Plus, I happen to have a soft spot for gingerbread cookie dough. It just tastes so good baked and unbaked.

Sadly, with a busy schedule, there isn't always time for preparing, chilling, rolling, and cutting out gingerbread. This ginger cookie recipe is a tasty and satisfying substitute to the time-consuming cut-outs. That's why I love this recipe.

crystallized ginger

These cookies are simple-made-fancy with add-ins of chopped crystallized ginger and chunks of white chocolate, and the recipe comes from Trish Magwood's latest book entitled "In My Mother's Kitchen" (published by Harper Collins Canada). The book is a collection of Trish Magwood's recipes (gathered from family and friends), and many of them are probably familiar to most Canadians.

From the typical bake-sale Nanaimo bars to roast beef and yorkshire pudding, this book is full of recipes that most of us Canadians cook and bake on a weekly (if not daily) basis. I was even pleasantly surprised to find the oddly named "Jamaican Shediac Cape Curry" chicken recipe, which tastes remarkably like my mom's curry sauce (my mom uses Campbell's cream of mushroom soup instead of the coconut milk).

ginger cookies

As with most Canadian cookbooks (like Rocco's), my issue is how the measurements for solids (like flour and sugar) are given in cups and mililiters. I would love to see grams or ounces included instead of the volume. Maybe if I mention this enough, somebody important will read it, and get the message! I was even surprised that the Jamaican Shediac Cape Curry ingredients included "2 cups (500 mL) of chicken" and "1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped sweet potato" At the grocery store, chicken packages and sweet potatoes don't come in cup-amounts, so I found it a little hard to shop for that recipe. Grams and/or ounces make everything easier!

Nit-picking aside, I love this book because it's a collection of everyday and special occasion family recipes, most of which my mom makes a variation of, so I think it's a great book to refer back to when trying to cook those recipes we Canadians grew up eating.

This recipe yields crispy edged, chewy-centered ginger cookies that will definitely satisfy the gingerbread-obsessed who are tight on time. The addition of crystallized ginger adds a punch of flavor to the cookies, and the white chocolate (or milk chocolate as suggested by Trish Magwood) makes them a little decadent.

Stewie's ginger cookies

ginger cookies    Makes about 3 dozen cookies
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for rolling
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup chopped crystallized ginger
  • A couple squares of white chocolate, chopped

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Prepare a couple baking sheets by lining them with parchment or a silicone liner.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, ground ginger, cinnamon, and salt. Set them aside for later.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and the sugar.
  4. Add the egg, and then the molasses, being sure to scrape down the bowl as needed and mixing well between each addition.
  5. With the mixer on low, slowly add the whisked dry ingredients, then the chopped crystallized ginger.
  6. Form the dough into 1 inch balls, and roll each in the extra granulated sugar.
  7. Place them on the prepared baking sheets and lightly press a piece of white chocolate into each ball (don't squish too much!).
  8. Bake the cookies for about 8 minutes or until they just start to crack. Let them cool for a couple minutes before transferring them to a wire rack.

Please note that I was happy to receive this book from Harper Collins publishing and Trish Magwood, but my opinion is still my own.

Monday, December 12, 2011

White fruitcake with brandy frosting and marzipan

Christmas cake

Growing up, my mom would make fruitcake from my grandmother's recipe every Christmas season. I think most years, we all pretty much rejected the fruitcake in favor of chocolate treats and shortbread cookies. Regardless, my mom kept up the tradition of baking her mom's fruitcake every Christmas, along with plum pudding served on Christmas day.


As a teen, I eventually warmed up to fruitcake and plum pudding, and now I look forward to these every winter season. When mid-November hits, I consistently ask my mom if she's made the plum pudding yet, not that she ever needs a reminder.


Fruitcake gets made in December in our house, and it's nothing like those heavy, dense bricks of fruitcake sold in grocery stores and on-line. Commercial fruitcake is unappetizing. They are hardly even cake because they are so full of fruit, and not just any fruit, very sweet candied fruit.


My grandmother insisted on baking "cake with a little fruit" when she baked fruitcake, and not "fruits with a little cake". Her recipe is not weighed down with cloyingly sweet candied fruits. Instead, hers is a lovely white cake, flavored with almond extract and with a few colorful candied fruits that poke through the cake in some spots.

This fruitcake recipe features mainly raisins (we like to use golden raisins, but my grandmother's recipe actually calls for sultanas), plumped with boiling water and patted dry. Of course, a little of the usual citron, diced candied pineapple, and colorful green and red cherries are added (this is Christmas fruitcake after all!), but in just the right amount.


My grandmother's fruitcake recipe is definitely "cake with a little fruit" and I think it could probably convert all those fruitcake-haters into fruitcake-lovers. Sure, the thin layer of marzipan and brandy frosting might help convince you that this is an amazing fruitcake recipe, but honestly, the cake is delicious, ungarnished with a cup of tea.


For this post, rather than make one giant fruitcake, I baked the recipe in individual ramekins, so I could share them with friends. I also baked them at a lower temperature (325°F instead of 350°F) for longer to make them slightly moister.

It's not Christmas without this recipe, and I really hope you'll give fruitcake one more chance!

White fruitcake with brandy frosting and marzipan

fruitcake    Makes 20 individual fruitcakes

Fruitcake ingredients
  • 1 pound (454 grams) golden or sulatana raisins, soaked in 2 cups boiling water, drained and patted dry
  • 1/4 lb (113 grams) candied citron
  • 1/2 lb (230 grams) glacéed cherries (green and red), quartered
  • 1/4 lb (113 grams) diced candied pineapple
  • 4 cups (600 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cup (345 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups (420 grams) granulated sugar
  • 4 medium eggs. room temperature
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1 cup (250 mL) milk (I used 1% fat milk)

Frosting ingredients and marzipan
  • 1/2 cup (115 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 tbsp brandy
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2–3 cups (280–420 grams) powdered sugar, plus more for rolling out the marzipan
  • 500 grams marzipan
  • ~5 glacéed cherries (red and/or green)

To make the fruitcakes
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Prepare 20 ramekins by greasing them and flouring them (or spray with baking spray that contains flour). Place them on baking sheets with 1 inch space between them and set aside for later.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together the rehydrated raisins and candied fruits. Add about 1/2 cup (or more) of the 4 cups flour and stir so that all the fruits are coated with flour.
  3. Whisk the baking powder into the rest of the flour. Set the dry ingredients aside.
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar.
  5. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing and scraping down the sides of the bowl between each addition.
  6. Add the almond extract and mix again.
  7. Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.
  8. When the flour is completely incorporated add the flour-coated fruits and mix on low til they are evenly dispersed throughout the batter.
  9. Divide the batter among the ramekins and bake them for about 50 to 55 minutes, until a cake tester poked through the center of the batter (not through the fruit) comes out clean.
  10. Let them cool completely before unmolding.

To make the frosting and marzipan
  1. Prepare the frosting by beating together the butter, brandy, vanilla and powdered sugar until it is nice and smooth. Add as much powdered sugar as needed to obtain the desired consistency.
  2. Roll out the marzipan using powdered sugar until it is 1/4 cm (~0.1 inches) thick. Cut with round cookie cutter so that just the tops of the fruitcakes are covered with a thin layer of marzipan.
  3. Top each fruitcake with a marzipan circle glued down with a small dollop of frosting.
  4. Top with a smear of frosting and garnish with a sliver of glacéed cherry.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Maple cream and white chocolate fudge

maple fudge

I'm turning 30 in less than one month! I'm trying not to dwell on this scary thought, so I'm distracting myself with Christmas baking and this maple cream fudge. Of course, I had no idea how difficult fudge-making was when I started pulling together my ingredients. I can make caramel without the slightest worry. I don't stir, and instead I just let the sugar boil until its caramel, brushing down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush. Easy. Somehow fudge was more difficult to make. I guess I just lacked practice.

maple fudge

In my first attempt at maple cream fudge, I don't think I was careful/vigilant enough with my stirring, so the fudge was overcooked on the bottom of the pan, and when I stirred it, I ended up with a moka-colored fudge, which was not what I was going for. Luckily enough, the texture was not bad (perhaps a touch drier than it should be), and the extra-caramelized flavor of the fudge was actually quite pleasant, though the flavor of the white chocolate was hidden.

maple fudge

My second attempt yielded a much creamier, more maple-y fudge. I stirred it carefully, focusing on the saucepan and never once leaving it to do something else. The texture was lovely, worth the non-stop stirring. And even though I had some trouble with my candy thermometer which was water-logged inside its glass case, I'm happy to say, I finally achieved fudge-success.

maple fudge

Here are some tips on how to successfully make fudge (though, even a mild screw-up ends up pretty tasty too, so don't worry!):
  • Get yourself a proper candy thermometer! I have one like this, but I think I need to upgrade since mine is now waterlogged. Many bloggers and bakers recommend this one.
  • There are two important temperatures to fudge-making: 115°C (240°F), the temperature you heat the fudge to, and 43°C (110°F), the temperature you cool the fudge to before beating it. They are essential to perfect fudge. 
  • Beat it, but only when the fudge has reached 43°C, and, if you're using an electric beater (or a stand mixer), beat just until the fudge mixture has thickened and lost some of its luster. This takes only a couple minutes.
  • Don't just buy a candy thermometer and toss it in a drawer, untouched, use it.
  • The saucepan I used was a 3-quart (2.8L) stainless steel pot with a diameter of about 18 cm and a height of about 12 cm. This is just right for this fudge recipe, any smaller and it would've erupted out of the pot and been a disaster. So, choose your saucepan wisely, please! 
  • And....
    "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again."

maple fudge

To make this fudge, I followed some of the tips from Ricardo magazine and I adapted the recipe from Olive magazine. This fudge combines the flavor of white chocolate with Coureur des Bois maple cream liqueur. The smooth, creamy texture and sweet, maple-y flavor of this fudge are fantastic. If you can't get Coureur des Bois maple cream liqueur in your area, try Baileys irish cream liqueur. It won't be maple-y, but it will be delicious.

Fudge-making is not easy, but neither is turning 30. At least I can practice making fudge to distract me as I count down the days to the big 3-0.

Maple cream and white chocolate fudge

maple fudge    Makes one 8x8-inch pan of fudge
  • 500 grams granulated sugar
  • 500 mL whipping cream (35% fat)
  • 150 grams white chocolate, finely chopped
  • 50 mL Coureur des Bois maple cream or Baileys irish cream

  1. Line an 8x8-inch pan with parchment paper, leaving overhangs over two sides. Grease the other two sides with a little vegetable oil or oil spray. Set aside for later.
  2. Measure out/prepare all your ingredients. Set aside.
  3. Set a large stainless steel bowl of room temperature water in your sink. This is to cool your fudge later on so the bowl needs to be big enough to hold your saucepan. 
  4. In a medium-large heavy-bottomed saucepan (3 quart or 2.8 L), on medium-low heat, stir together the granulated sugar and the cream until the sugar is completely dissolved.
  5. Raise the setting of the stove to medium when the sugar has dissolved. Clip your candy thermometer to the side of the pan and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Be sure to work your spoon into all the edges and grooves of the pan. Please don't sample the mixture at this point, you risk seriously burning your fingers and your lips in the process.
  6. Patiently stir the mixture non-stop until your candy thermometer reads 115°C (240°F). 
  7. Immediately remove the pan from the heat, add in the chopped white chocolate, continuing to stir constantly, and also add the maple liqueur (don't be alarmed if the mixture boils up a little when you add the alcohol. It's normal, just keep stirring, carefully).
  8. When the white chocolate is dissolved, place the saucepan in the large boil of tap water , and let the fudge mixture cool, untouched, until the thermometer reads 43°C (110°F).
  9. Quickly transfer the mixture to the bowl of your stand mixer equipped with the paddle attachment, and beat for about 2 minutes until the mixture is smooth, a little thickened and not as shiny.
  10. Transfer the fudge to the prepared 8x8 pan and let it set for about an hour at room temperature, then in the fridge (covered with plastic wrap) for several more hours. Cut and serve.