Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Only Oats #CreativeCookieExchange

Only oats go into the "flour" of these chewy cookies adapted from Alton Brown. Perfectly sweet and buttery, they're a great after school or lunchbox treat!

Only Oats

Being a private school kid since age 3, I was fortunate enough as a kid to have my grandparents watch me before and after school for years instead of being stuck in daycare or with a babysitter. My grandfather, who drove right up until he passed away, would pull the "after school" chauffeur shift for my friends (their next-door neighbours) and I, while their mom (who was a school administrator) took us in each morning. It was a pretty good deal, if I do say so myself, especially since every so often Grandpa would take a wide detour and we'd wind up at the Dad's Cookie outlet and bakery.  Dad's was not a brand of cookie found on store shelves everywhere - the Christie-owned name is a completely different animal - and any cookies I can buy today don't hold a candle to those fresh-baked ones of my youth. We always had a choice of chocolate chip or oatmeal when we pulled up to that non-descript warehouse, but Grandpa and I never had to think about it - the soft, chewy oatmeal cookies were winners time and time again.

When I switched schools in grade 3 and my grandparents moved to east of the GTA, our cookie runs stopped. I tried a couple "storebought" brands of oatmeal cookies to get my fix, and even helped my mom make a batch or two, but I was always disappointed. The cookies were hard, too flat or too cakey, tasting of sugar rather than oats, and the grains themselves were often sharp, jagged health hazards waiting to happen. For a while, I tried finding my ideal oatmeal cookie recipe on my own (documented way back on this blog) but again, I couldn't clinch it.

Enter Alton Brown.

I am unabashedly a huge fan of Brown's shows and recipes. I chalk this up to being a closet major science geek (and the daughter / sister of less closeted science geeks), because I love understanding what the purposes of each ingredient in a recipe are and how to maximize their potential. In the case of these cookies, AB went all the way to ensure the oat flavour was dominant: he used only oats as the grain. No wheat, rye, spelt, barley, rice or other grains contaminate the pure goodness of the oats here! In addition, the large-flake oats are toasted, bringing out a lovely nuttiness. A butter and brown sugar mixture adds a lovely caramel note and chewy texture to the cookies without smacking you over the head with tooth-aching saccharine flavour, and only the merest hint of cinnamon and nutmeg are there to accent the entire works.

Only Oats

Sharp eyes will notice a few variations between my recipe and AB's. First, I had some home-ground oat flour sitting in my freezer, so instead of toasting a whole batch of oats and grinding half, as in the original, I substituted the weight ground for the oat flour. Second, I used salted butter - it's what we always have in stock at home and what I'm used to working with (although I recently made some luxurious buttercream frosting with high-butterfat unsalted butter and am dying to try shortbreads with it). Last, and I believe most crucial to my success, I chilled my dough overnight. This allowed the oats to hydrate, eliminating the glass-shard phenomena, and also helped "glue" the cookies together so they didn't spread all over the parchment. Since these cookies are gluten free in essence (I use certified GF oats), and don't use a gum to bind, any chance to let the pentosans work is welcome. On that note, parchment (I swear by PaperChef) or SilPat is an absolute must with these guys - a greased cookie sheet equals tortilla-flat cookies that burn, while not greasing results in cookies burned onto the sheet in places and overly gooey in others. Take my advice: parchment saves so much frustration.

The resulting cookies checked all the boxes for me: chewy, just enough softness, sweet without cloying and above all, oaty. The only thing missing was the Beach Boys playing in my grandpa's minivan, and of course the man himself next to me munching away like the kid inside all of us. I write about my grandpa a lot on here, but he and I shared a lot of time, music and food together, and recipes like these keep those ties close.

Do you ever cook things that remind you of childhood? What's your favourite childhood food story?

The #CreativeCookieExchange is baking with WHOLE GRAINS in April and we’d love for you to join us! The possibilities begin with whole wheat and oats, but maybe you’ll find a new grain to bake with in your kitchen such as quinoa, amaranth, or buckwheat!

You can also use us as a great resource for cookie recipes. Be sure to check out our Pinterest Board and our monthly posts (you can find all of them here at The Spiced Life). You will be able to find them the first Tuesday after the 15th of each month! If you are a blogger and want to join in the fun, contact Laura at thespicedlife AT gmail DOT com and she will get you added to our Facebook group, where we discuss our cookies and share links.

If you are looking for inspiration to get in the kitchen and start baking, check out what all of the hosting bloggers have made:
Amaranth Lemon Cookies from A Shaggy Dough Story
Buckwheat Toffee Cookies from Food Lust People Love
Loaded Homemade Aussie Bites from A Baker's House
Only Oats Cookies from What Smells So Good?
Rye Chocolate Chip Cookies from Karen's Kitchen Stories

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Chocolate Scotch Eggs

These Scotch eggs are gluten free, nut free and super chocolatey! Who says Easter is over? No Creme Eggs? The brownies are divine on their own!

Chocolate Scotch Eggs

Ever since one of my co-workers made "real" Scotch eggs for a lesson on the layers of the earth (practical geology!), I've been fascinated with the sweet version. The combination of Creme Eggs and brownies has always been more palatable to me than the traditional deep fried hard boiled egg / sausage concoction - I am not a fan of eggs in general, and hard boiled eggs and I have never gotten along well. Creme Eggs, though, were my kryptonite every Easter as a kid - I would find exactly 3 "regular size" eggs hidden amongst all the other "standard" milk chocolate eggs and knew I had to make them last. This was an issue because back then, Creme Eggs really were only around until Easter, when they disappeared for another 11 months. It was definitely a bittersweet experience, especially since Easter usually coincided with either my sister's, my dad's or my birthday, meaning that we got less candy from the Easter bunny because "he knew we'd get lots of chocolate from home".

Eventually, not only was the Creme Egg "season" extended beyond a month, but Cadbury started coming out with miniature versions of their super-sweet classic. The great thing with the mini eggs was that you didn't get a massive sugar rush after having one or two, but they still killed that craving. Even better was their texture when frozen - the fondant melted slowly and completely rather than getting caught in the back of your throat, and it took longer to eat them so they lasted longer. When I found a bag of the British version (sorry, they're better) in with the "last chance before Easter" bin at the store, I snapped them up with the sole purpose of turning them into Scotch eggs. 

Some of the recipes I had found online called for full-size Creme Eggs to be covered in the brownie "cake pop" dough, but that just seemed extremely excessive - I, a bona-fide Creme Egg (and brownie) lover, would never be able to finish one, so I was not about to expect others to! The mini eggs, once covered in the brownies and graham crumbs, fit perfectly in an egg carton and were a perfect dessert size. As I was making them for a gluten free friend of mine, I was thrilled to find that the UK Mini Creme Eggs are GF (sorry, domestic CE, you need to step up your game). I whipped up a batch of basic, cocoa-based GF brownies and got to work. They looked fairly close to "real" Scotch eggs (smelled a lot better though) and the brownies that didn't become coating were enjoyed by two of my other pals. Even though Easter was over, and it was my birthday party, I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate!

Do you bake or cook for others on your birthday?

Friday, April 6, 2018

Crazy Cakes

Vanilla and chocolate wacky cakes are super simple, delicious and completely vegan, perfect for birthdays!


Full disclosure – I had intended to write and post this recipe earlier this week – as in, on my birthday (Wednesday) – but by the time I got around to looking at my computer and editing photos and whatnot, it was about 11PM and I couldn’t think of a single word. Luckily, the cakes were much easier to make – and since I did wait I was even able to take some photos of the decorated pieces. Every year for my birthday, my Home Ec classes get to decorate cake as a little fun activity. Home Ec isn’t exactly a hard class, but there is generally more work involved than maneuvering a piping bag – and as an added bonus the kids get a hit of sugar in the middle of the afternoon when they’re dragging (and I get to send them home right after – sorry Mom and Dad!).

This year, though, instead of me making the cakes for every class, I had my grade 7 and 8 groups make their own cake to decorate. In my classroom, we have very little in the way of electric appliances (case in point, I have to bake everything at home). Cakes, therefore, have to be simple and minimal effort – one bowl, a few measuring cups and a whisk or spatula is ideal. Since this group is relatively good in the kitchen, following recipes and even cleaning up after themselves, I gave them the option of making chocolate or vanilla wacky cake. They chose one of each, which worked for me!

One of the things I love about wacky cake is that it’s really easy to make them allergy-friendly. We have a few vegetarians, one vegan and a few dairy and egg allergies to cater for in that class, so with the recipe already being egg-free it only took a swap for the milk for everyone to enjoy. I chose a type of non-dairy milk that I’ve never used before – pea milk – which has a rich flavour and milk-like texture with no “beaniness”, even when unsweetened and unflavoured. The kids gave me a bit of a side-eye when I opened the bottle, but the resulting cake was met with nothing but praise.

The only downside of a cake this easy is that it’s far too simple to make a lot of them! While the kids were excited about being able to decorate big pieces of cake, the decorating icing turned the multipurpose room into a veritable Jackson Pollock painting. Luckily food dye washes out – eventually!

Wacky Cakes

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Irish Chocolate Fudge

This creamy fudge is kissed with Irish cream flavoured creamer for an alcohol free treat that is SO easy to make!

Irish Chocolate Fudge

As a redhead, a lot of people assume that I'm of mainly Irish stock. True, I love me some Celtic music (especially from home-grown Irish Canadian groups), potatoes, cabbage, Bailey's and Guinness, but based on what we can find out about my ethnic background, there may be a speck or two of Irish blood in my past but not much more. Granted, my entire maternal grandmother's past is a mystery (she was adopted as an infant) and she does have the impish charm and humour of a leprechaun (to say nothing of her height), so there might be something there. My cousin (same side) and I are the only two gingers in the family as well, so maybe we're the Irish luck shining through.

Pureblood Irish or not, I do have a taste for both Bailey's and Guinness, having discovered both at a relatively young age. As a child and teenager, Bailey's was definitely my addition of choice to lackluster hot chocolate mix or instant coffee, and I still love Irish cream flavoured brews today. The combination of the warming, creamy liqueur and chocolate was a match made in Heaven, and while I can't drink alcohol any more, I have no problems cooking it into treats with others.

Not really being "into" the whole St. Patrick's Day thing (it is kind of boring when you can't drink and want to sleep at 10PM) I put off making this fudge for the second time around until later this week. Originally, I whipped up a pan of this candy for the holidays, and it was met with such acclaim I had to make it again. Oddly enough, while there is definitely an Irish cream nuance to the bittersweet chocolate base, there's no actual alcohol in the recipe. My secret lies in Bailey’s Coffee Creamer, which tastes almost as good as it's alcoholic cousin and definitely remains more stable in baking and candy-making, since there's no volatile alcohol to burn off. The subtle sweetness and "pseudo-kick" of the creamer, along with the rich and slight tannic nature of the chocolate offset the super-sweet marshmallow base - it was the first time that I had ever worked with a melted marshmallow base for fudge, and I can say I would only do it again provided I was working with a high-cocoa chocolate - the mixture would be far too saccharine otherwise.

Since I abhor trying to fit parchment properly into a loaf pan, I relied on my tried-and-true silicone model (which I only ever use for candy making). It didn't let me down - the fudge popped out cleanly once set, and with a hot knife clean slices were easy (unlike the photos, which show my previous attempts with room-temperature blades). Wrapped in parchment, then foil, slices last a good long while in the fridge, but I can also vouch for them chopped up into small cubes and frozen for a weeknight ice cream topper.

Irish Chocolate Fudge

Did you celebrate St. Patty's Day? What did you do? 

P.S. I know my posting schedule has been a bit lackluster - to say the least. I'm sorry, schoolwork and "work work" are getting the best of me this semester! Here's to one more month left of this term!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Spicy Popcorn Crisps #Breadbakers

Ground popcorn, hot sauce and just a touch of flour make for crispy, cracker like snacks.

Spicy Popcorn Crisps

I grew up in the heyday of Kernels, where you couldn't get two steps into a mall entrance without smelling the aroma of (fake, but yummy) buttery popcorn mixed with an inexplicable sweetness. Popcorn buckets were a huge thing at birthday parties, especially school ones where popcorn became a "failsafe" option for those with nut allergies. People fought over the "good" kind, depending on their flavour preference, and you knew your friend had your back when she brought out the flavour shakers just for he two of you.

But you want to know a secret?
I hate pre-made popcorn.

Now, this is not to say I hate popcorn entirely, or even that I'm a popcorn snob. I will eat air-, stove-, campfire- and even microwave-popped popcorn without issue (well, unless there's coconut oil involved)... anything, as long as it gets to me hot. Cold popcorn is listless and chewy, definitely not what I want in a supposedly crunchy snack. It's fine for Christmas tree garlands and making crafts, I just can't be bothered eating the stuff.

However, my abhorrence for pre-fab popcorn was outweighed by my cheapness frugality recently, where a party favour containing baggies of cheese-dusted popcorn came home with me. I wasn't about to eat it, certainly, and it didn't look like anyone else in the house was going to either - we had all gone to the same party and thus had multiple portions of the stuff. I knew there had to be some flavour, and most importantly texture benefits left in the popcorn, so I started scouting around. I didn't find any savoury recipes specifically using popcorn, but I did find cornmeal-based cracker recipes and thought "well, they're both corn, and I can grind the popcorn to a meal, so why not?". I had the ingredients anyways, and the result was likely to be edible at the very least because crackers are meant to be dry!

The first round was not as much of a success as I hoped - there was too much milk and not enough flour in the dough, and the best consistency I got was a very loose batter which was nowhere near stiff enough to roll. It made a sort of crisp flatbread in the oven, spread on a baking sheet - come to think of it, I could have made a pretty good pizza on it. While it was crisp on the outside, the inside was moist and chewy - not cracker-like. So with the remaining popcorn (which I had ground in the food processor to bits) I tried again, reducing the milk and adding flour by the tablespoon, finally documenting the amount needed to create a shape-able, if moist, dough. I was able to spread the mixture on the pan with a palette knife and flatten it with a rolling pin over parchment to keep it from sticking, but cutting it right away would have been disaster. Instead I gave it the biscotti treatment - pre-baking it to firmness, slicing it, then baking again until crunchy.

This time, it worked - and how! I love spice in almost everything, and Louisiana style hot sauce is my jam, so of course it went in (and the half teaspoon in the recipe is conservative - I used more). These were the perfect snack to munch on their own, but I hear tell they make a fine base for guacamole too.

This month the #BreadBakers are making crackers, and these now fit the bill! Looking at the array going on this time around, I'd say I'd best get into the kitchen soon and give a few of these a try!

Enjoy the diversity of cracker recipes this month!


#BreadBakers is a group of bread loving bakers who get together once a month to bake bread with a common ingredient or theme. Follow our Pinterest board right here. Links are also updated each month on this home page.

We take turns hosting each month and choosing the theme/ingredient.