Monthly Archives: April 2012

{moira’s brownies}

when it comes to baking, i’m suspicious of the ornate.  i’ve always been compelled by apparently simple treats that lure you in with taste over presentation.  thus, my adoration of the old-school brownie.

i’ve been fickle with brownie recipes over the years, moving from moosewood to ina to nigella, temporarily satisfying my quest for brownie perfection.  since i found moira’s brownies, however, i’ve never strayed.  loyalty is easy when you find a recipe this good.

i first tasted moira’s brownies at a holiday fete several years ago, where they were served for dessert, still warm from the oven.  until then, i had been of the icing-free brownie camp, but had to admit that the smooth, dark icing on those brownies made them look terribly enticing.  and the taste?  it was love at first bite.  the top of the brownies was ever so slightly crisp beneath the cocoay icing and the brownie beneath was delectably fudgey and satisfying without being overly sweet.  per.  fec.  tion.  it turned out those beauties had been baked by the hosts’ daughter, moira, who was 9 or 10 at the time.  a negotiation for the recipe soon began.

moira is a clever girl and wise beyond her years.  she has the discerning palate of a well-traveled, open-minded…tween…and knows a good thing when she tastes it.  she had sought out this recipe from friends of theirs and made her first batch when she was just 8.  since she loves to bake, she suggested that her prized brownie recipe could be traded for an equally desirable recipe of mine.  i had brought some holiday baking along, so i suggested she might consider my humble scottish shortbread worthy of the transaction.  she agreed, selected a square and began her assessment.  thankfully, after a well acted dramatic savouring, she smiled and nodded and the deal was done.  phew.

i have since shared moira’s brownies, and her recipe, far and wide.  i’m always careful to explain where the recipe originated, as i think it’s part of the charm of these brownies.  after i tell the story, i also mention that the key to the come-hitherness of these brownies is to ice them while they’re hot.  i know, i know, icing hot brownies flies in the face of collective baking wisdom, but in this case, it’s an exception worth making.  trust me – i know my brownies.

•  •  •

moira’s brownies (though it traveled through many hands before it got to mine, this recipe is said to have originated in the calgary herald, circa the late 1900’s)

1 1/2 cups brown sugar (dark brown is preferable)
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter
2 eggs
1/4 cup cocoa (best quality)
1/2 tsp vanilla (real, of course)
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup chopped toasted nuts (optional – i still haven’t joined the nuts-in-brownies camp)

•preheat oven to 325°f and grease and line an 8″ or 9″ pan with parchment (i use an 8″ pan).
•mix the brown sugar and melted butter. stir in the eggs one at a time and mix well, then add the vanilla. sift the cocoa in to the mixture, followed by the flour and stir until combined. stir in the nuts, if using.
•spread in prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes. prepare the icing as you ice these when they come out of the oven.

1/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup cocoa
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp milk, more or less

•mix butter and cocoa until you have a smooth paste. stir in the icing sugar and vanilla, beating in the milk a little at a time until you have a nice consistency (remember, this will melt into the brownies, so thick is ok).
•gently spread icing atop the brownies when you take them out of the oven. leave to cool on a rack and try to wait until the icing is set before serving (but they’re quite delicious, if not as clean-cut looking, with molten icing running down the sides…)

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Filed under baking

off the hook {tango shawl}

i’m learning that shawls are a labour of love (emphasis on the labour).

i was stoked to start this pattern – another beautiful and unique design (called cassandra) by lilygo.  i joined my first ever CAL (crochet along) on ravelry and worked away, pleased with my progress and buoyed by others’ success until i approached the dreaded row 38, where i foolishly thought i was ‘just about done’…oh how naive was i.  it took forever.  and ever.  and it ate so much yarn.  people, it was a serious struggle – i’m still a little traumatized by all of those chains.  and the result of those countless hours and hours and hours of work?  a beautiful shawl that i just don’t like.  shriek.

i knew from the start that this shawl was a bit on the frilly side for me.  despite my better judgement, cassandra lured me in with its circular shape and its fluid feel.  having learned the lesson (with my last shawl) that solid colours reveal a crocheted design so much better than variegated colours do, and hoping that it would counteract the frilly nature of this pattern, i went with basic black malabrigo sock (side note: malabrigo is definitely on my list of desert island yarns).  i think it does work well here, letting the details of the pattern take the spotlight, as they should.  and the details, well they were lovely and easily worked, except for that nasty row 38, which was not so much complicated as it was painstakingly slow (i really can’t emphasize that enough).

i know i’ve done quite a lot of whinging already, but i must add that this item was a real bother to block, given its shape.  now that i look at the photos, i can see that a few hundred more pins and even more attention to setting the details perfectly would have made the more intricate sections a little more noticeable (and really, what is the point of labouring over work like row 38 if you don’t showcase it properly?  silly me).  one bright note, however, is that the pain of blocking was partially alleviated by the glorious scent left by the flora soak i used when bathing my pre-blocked tango.  flora soak is a product so deliciously soft and floral that i’m seriously considering using it in the shower.

cassandra has received quit a bit of gushing over on ravelry and i’ve seen some brilliant finished projects in the CAL.  everyone is delighted, quite rightly, with their cassandras, which is marvy, but me, i’m just not feeling the love for this shawl.  it is beautiful and flowy and unique and classic, but shucks, i just don’t see myself ever wearing it.  i’ll have to  chalk my tango shawl up to a good crocheting experience (and maybe a needed reminder that my inner voice is never wrong).  i hope that tango finds a good home where it will be loved and appreciated and oft-worn, which is the very least every good (and toilsome) shawl deserves.

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Filed under crocheting

cow pie {chocolate chip cookies}

when i first started baking (decades ago.  decades.  ouch.), i couldn’t make a chocolate chip cookie that didn’t resemble a cow pie.  the cow pie isn’t a very appealing image, i know, but it very aptly described their appearance – wide, flat and bumpy.  looking back, i’m sure this propensity to spread had more to do with my technique than it did with the recipe.  too soft butter (i probably used margarine in those early days – shudder.), too hot an oven,  over beating the dough, using super-dark cookie sheets…all my own missteps.  i had always viewed my cow pie cookies as inferiors to their puffy, golden, cakey cousins, and have been disappointed with just about every single batch i’ve ever made, until last night.

TDHH knows all he has to do is utter the words “i wish we could have some cookies/cake/brownies tonight” and i’ll have my apron tied and ingredients out before he actually finishes his sentence.  i love baking that much.

so last night he requested chocolate chip cookies.   i had already started mentally perusing my recipes, wondering which would yield the least cowpieish cookies, when he clarified that he was hoping for thin, buttery chocolate chip cookies.  a sincere request for cow pies?  really?

i recalled a recipe which met this very description and used fridge-cold butter*, a specification which makes these ideal for a spontaneous treat.  i had scrawled it into my recipe book years ago, and if i recall correctly, it belongs to david lebovitz.  now, i don’t know if his recipe was meant to produce  cow pies, but it does for me, reliably, and i had always considered this a drawback until i came to my cookie senses last night.

these cookies are very thin and golden and studded with dark chocolate chips.  they are buttery and sugary and vanilla-y.  they are at once crispy and chewy.  what in the world is inferior about that?  these cookies are, in a word, sublime – sublime enough to have made me appreciate every bit of their cowpieness and to have been deemed worthy of a spot near the top of my imaginary cookie recipe podium.

*don’t be bothered by this.  it works.  really.

•  •  •

david lebovitz’s (cow pie) {chocolate chip cookies}  (i probably don’t need to restate this, but they’re from david lebovitz)
makes about 2 dozen

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
8 tbsp (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 large egg
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking soda
1  1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1  1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (i used a combination of bittersweet chips, fudge chips and semi-sweet chips)
1 cup walnuts or pecans, toasted and chopped (we weren’t in the mood for nuts)

•preheat oven to 300°f.  beat the sugars and cold butter until smooth (i used my stand mixer – this is one you couldn’t do by hand).  mix in egg and vanilla and baking soda (adding the baking soda like this seemed weird to me).
•stir flour and salt together, then stir into the butter mixture.  stir in the chocolate chips (and nuts, if using).
•scoop batter into 2 tbsp balls and place 4″ apart on cookie sheet (i wonder if they would have spread less if i didn’t use parchment?).  bake for 18 minutes (mine were done in 15).  cool somewhat before handling as they’re fragile when hot.  enjoy!

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Filed under baking

off the hook {the tobermory hat}

i made a wee hat for an adorable new baby in the fall.  the mother of said adorable baby liked the hat so much that she requested an adult-sized version of it for herself.  i said “yes, of course” (in reality, i think what i said was more along the lines of  “are you sure?  you really like it?  um, ok, thanks!”), and then i started to panic.  the pattern i had used was baby-sized, and i’m not so good at ‘growing’ a pattern as needed, particularly when it comes to hats.  there is a science to hat making that i just don’t quite get.

i began searching for a pattern but couldn’t find anything that was just right, so i decided to wing it by combining elements of a couple of patterns i liked along with a little imagination.  i used a basic adult beanie pattern with some front-posts and a fetching FLO sc section at the bottom, and finished it off with a tidy shaped brim, a simple band and some rustic wooden buttons – a reasonable facsimile of the adorable-babe’s hat (and a good lesson in sorting out the frustrating science of properly fitting hats).

i’m lousy at taking compliments and even worse at promoting myself, so when adorable-babe’s mom wore this hat to girls’ night last month, i felt ever so happy that she liked it enough to wear it in public but i was completely unnerved by the attention it received.  my discomfort was somewhat alleviated when two other gals requested i make each of them the same hat.  orders!  sales!  acceptance!  it’s seriously small-time, i know, but it was just the kind of reassurance i needed to help gear me up for the upcoming studio tour this summer (more on that in a future post).

thus, the {tobermory hat} was established, so named for the community in which you may see three hip ladies wearing the same hat at the same time.  and, now that i have the hats off my hook, i am turning my attention to a brilliant tangerine coloured scarf, an order for a pair of stash baskets and the umpteen other projects that are forming a rather lengthy list of crafts-to-be.  joy!

ps – i do plan on writing up the pattern for the hat in case any of you are interested in making one yourself.

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Filed under crocheting, sewing

baking for breakfast {whole wheat waffles}

my breakfast is predictable: toast, peanut butter, tea.  specifically, whole grain toast, natural peanut butter and a cup of yorkshire gold with milk and a touch of agave syrup.  i like this toast and tea ritual very much, but every now and then i need a change.  cue breakfast baking.

the toast alternatives (waffles, pancakes and french toast) are lovely indeed – carby, doughy goodness anointed with sweet maple syrup.  the trouble is that such a meal always leaves me feeling as if i’ve had dessert for breakfast.  the less indulgent baked breakfast solution is to throw whole wheat flour at the situation.  the rub is that whole wheat baking typically tastes of, well, whole wheat and little else.  not terribly alluring.  cue mark bittman.

i’ve been a fan of bittman for many years.  my copy of ‘how to cook everything’ is literally falling apart due to overuse.  one of his more recent books, ‘the food matters cookbook’, is full of body (and planet) friendlier recipes that don’t sacrifice flavour in the name of health.  his ‘anadama waffles’ sounded perfect – made with whole wheat flour and cornmeal, sweetened with applesauce and lightly flavoured with molasses, while incorporating beaten egg whites for some airiness and requisite crispiness.  the result, i’d say, was just right.

these waffles are, as described by bittman, substantial but fluffy.  they have a subtle sweetness from the applesauce, and the molasses flavour provides just enough tang to counter the toothsome (and typically bland) whole wheat base.  they are simple and lovely with butter and pure maple syrup, and, if any of you are like me and just can’t do breakfast without peanut butter, they stand up nicely to a spoonful of creamy peanutty goodness.  i know – adding pb really makes these virtually identical to my everyday toast repast, but they’re just different enough to make me feel pleased with my effort to climb out of the predictable toast-rut for a day or two (and they give me an excuse to bake first thing in the morning).  cue hearty, satisfying, non-toast breakfast!

•  •  •

whole wheat waffles (from mark bittman, the food matters cookbook)

3 tbsp  vegetable oil
1 1/3 cups whole wheat flour
1/3 cup cornmeal (fine or medium grind – i used fine)
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup applesause (i used sweetened because that’s what i had on hand)
2 tbsp molasses (i’d cut this back a bit next time)

•prepare your waffle iron and heat the oven to 200°f if you’ll be holding the waffles.
•beat the egg whites just until stiff peaks form. in a separate bowl, beat the yolks, milk, applesauce, molasses and 3 tbsp of vegetable oil until foamy, about 2 minutes. in another bowl, mix the dry ingredients together, then stir them into the applesauce mixture until just combined. fold in the egg whites until the batter is evenly coloured and relatively smooth.
•spread batter thinly in waffle iron and bake until done. serve immediately or keep warm in the pre-heated oven. serves 4-6.

in case you didn’t know, waffles freeze really well and are mighty tasty if reheated carefully in the toaster.  mmm.

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Filed under baking