I’m baaaaaack!

Yes, I’m back…..I didn’t quit, I wasn’t MIA, I didn’t throw my laptop out the window and I most certainly did not lose my passion for following in Oma’s footsteps to bake my way into everyone’s hearts……I simply took a little break from sharing all the deliciousness with the world (well, at least with social media!).  I was still busy baking away, sharing the goodies with friends and family and definitely enjoying EVERY SINGLE MINUTE of it!  Summers are busy for most people, vacations, kidlets out of school, barbecues, picnics, beaches….the list goes on.  I did partake in most of these, however, I’m a bit of a sports nut, especially in the summer when I can A) be outside doing as much as I can that is sports related or physically active and B) dust off my cleats and glove and get back on the diamond!  So that was basically what took up most of my free time over the past several months, hence the hiatus from blogging!

ballOk, sooooo I thought I’d come back with one of the most popular and tastiest cookies I’ve ever made (aside from my mom’s recipe, which came from my Oma).  They are not only incredibly simple, but they are gluten free and healthy – yes, healthy (unless you eat the entire batch in one sitting!)  The amazing chef responsible for this recipe is Vanille Verte’s Nathalie.  I’ve made many recipes from her site and every single one has been outstanding.  But these……these literally make your taste buds dance on your tongue!   Salted Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies.  Go ahead, say it out loud “Salted Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies”  Just saying it makes your mouth water and now you want to try one, don’t you?

                             salted-pb-choc-chip-cookies-013     salted-pb-choc-chip-cookies-014

Well there are only 6 ingredients in these and they literally take 20 minutes to make, so get to it.  One egg, peanut butter, coconut palm sugar, vanilla, chocolate chips and sea salt.  Seriously, that’s it!  Easy Peasy and did I mention Gluten Free??  The only tricky part (and it’s not even really all that hard) is that you cannot overcook these otherwise they will be really dry!

salted-pb-choc-chip-cookies-020Because these do not have any flour in them, the bottoms may burn a bit if they’re directly on the baking sheet, so be sure to line your baking sheet with parchment paper.  They don’t spread out too much, and when you scoop them out, they should be kept round-ish, so they will bake evenly AND that also makes it way easier just to pop them in your mouth in one bite   You will not be disappointed with these chunks of heaven.

salted-pb-choc-chip-cookies-024

 

Banananaaaaas

I love using bananas when I’m baking, mostly because they are good for you and when you mush them up, they make such a great substitution for other not-so-healthy ingredients (like oils, butter, shortening or even eggs if you are wanting a vegan recipe).  The riper the banana, the sweeter the taste too, so with simple cookies where you only have a few ingredients (like this one), a riper banana will boost the taste a little. Don’t forget – cookies can be both delicious and healthy……you just need to use the right ingredients and ones that are whole and not processed.  These tasty little morsels are just that – with a base of bananas and oats, add in a bit of cinnamon and chocolate chips and voila, you have a cookie that will settle that craving and they take less than a hour to make!  I found this really easy recipe on simple-veganista.com.  So, yes, not only are they easy & deee-lish, but they are also gluten free and vegan!

  • 2 mashed bananas
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • a handful of chocolate chips (about 1/2 cup)

Bake in the oven at 350 for about 15-20 minutes.

ready to bakeIf you wanted to change them up a bit, you can always add in things like a splash of vanilla, dried fruit, a couple spoonfuls of nut butter, nuts or even a bit of coconut.  Anything that you might be craving that day!  This time, I decided to change my chocolate chips for butterscotch chips and they were a big hit!

Gluten Free Banana Oat Bites

Mushy Smooshy Heart Day

Yes, I’m talking about St. Valentine’s Day.  Some people look forward to this “holiday” as soon as New Year’s is over, some people loathe this day (for varying reasons) and some people (like me) are completely indifferent on the day.  It really has no bearing on the way, (or more specifically when), I show my love for those that are close to me.  The only impact it does have on me is that it’s an excuse to make some treats – not that I really need an excuse!  This year, I made something new and a bit different than just my regular lovey-dovey heart shaped shortbreads, something that is sort of trending lately – Cake Pops.  They were both fun to make and a big hit!  The nice thing about the cake pop maker I bought is that it came with a pretty good recipe book, with simple recipes from scratch.  To use the maker itself, is as easy as pie, as simple as ABC, like taking candy from a kid……well, you get the idea!  It’s like a waffle maker – you can only mess it up if you put too much batter in each of the divots, which if you follow the directions of 1 tbsp of batter, you’re good to go!

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Seeing as Valentine’s Day typically goes for reds, pinks, hearts, x’s & o’s, smoochy lips and chocolate, I thought it best to stick with tradition.  We don’t have a microwave (and honestly, I don’t even miss it!), so melting the chocolate in the oven is the best option for me – plus, I find melting chocolate slow in the oven just works better.  Dipping the cake pops into the chocolate does require a bit of patience, as you have to wait until the excess chocolate has dripped off so you don’t waste any or get it all over the place.  The secret to getting the stick to stay in the cake ball is to dip the end of the stick into the chocolate first, then jab it in (gently of course).

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If you plan on using sprinkles or small candies to decorate, keep in mind to roll the cake pop in the decorative whatever-you’re-using once the chocolate or glaze stops dripping and they are tacky, or you’ll get ‘bald spots’ on them!  And if you are drizzling chocolate on them, make sure the chocolate or glaze is dry, otherwise the drizzle just slides right off! Just remember that however you choose to decorate them, they will be amazing because it’s YOUR creativity that’s making them!

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Now of course, I had to make shortbread, but I wanted to do something really cool with them.  Something I hadn’t tried before, something that tested my “skills”.  So, these happened!  My simple shortbread cookies became pretty!  Ha

February 2016 054Although these took a little bit of time to create, it was relatively simple “artwork”.  It just took some diligence and a steady hand.  The trick to blending the icing without it running is to use flood consistency Royal Icing, which you can find on various different websites!  You will need a #1 icing tip to create the designs, as well as a scribe tool.  I wouldn’t try using a toothpick instead of the scribe tool, as the wood will soak in the icing and it will run, which won’t work too well for your little hearts.

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It’s also important to remember to let your charming little indulgences set overnight so they don’t stick together when you package them up for a beautiful little gift d’amour!

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Both cake pops and yummy shortbread cookies are great for all occasions – parties, luncheons, birthdays, family get togethers, even business meetings!  Contact me to place your custom order!

 

 

 

 

Christmas in……..January??

So, if you remember my blog post back in November on our family Thanksgiving, I mentioned that our holiday get togethers aren’t exactly always celebrated on time!  So, in keeping with our Levear tradition, this year’s Christmas was no different.  I know that when there are extended families involved with holiday gatherings, they don’t always happen on the exact date, however, we really pushed the envelope on this one and had our Christmas dinner on January 31st.  Yes, 37 days after the actual day!  But seriously……does it really matter that much when we have it?  As long as it’s still technically in the winter, right?  I probably shouldn’t mention then, that the weekend of January 31st was also the weekend that our temperatures were a record high of 17!  LOL.  Oh well, we still had a great dinner, as always!  We all piled into my brother’s dining room and once again filled it with copious amounts of laughter, loud conversation, a hodgepodge of beverages and crazy delish food!  We had a big, fat turkey with all the traditional fixings, including my sister-in-law, Angela’s, heavenly cranberry sauce, stuffing, taters, salads and veggies!  And in following Dutch tradition, my amazing mom got us all our Chocoladeletter.

Chocolate letterSince my brother was hosting all of us, I gave him the option of which dessert he wanted me to bring – my Oma’s apple pie or a cheesecake of some sort, which completely threw him for a loop.  He actually had to take a night to decide…….all I got the next day was a text with the word “cheesecake”.  I’m not the biggest fan of a simple (and in my mind, boring) cherry cheesecake, so I elected to go with a dark and white chocolate cheesecake.   And just to be sure I scored extra brownie points, I made sure to use Lindt chocolate too!

cheesecake 004Chocolate crust, with a rich concoction of cream cheese, eggs, vanilla and the melted white chocolate.

                             cheesecake 001   cheesecake 006
Dollups of the dark chocolate blended with a bit of the cream cheese mixture, swirled in through the cake just enough to create a kaleidoscopic design and keep the contrast of colours visible, then into the oven she goes for the hour.

                            cheesecake 007   cheesecake 008

One of the first times I baked a cheesecake, I made the mistake of opening the oven door a few times to see how the cake was coming along – BIG MISTAKE.  By the time it was done, there were so many cracks across the top, it looked like remnants of an earthquake!  Needless to say, that cheesecake was topped with lots and lots of whipped cream!  Luckily, I’ve made enough cheesecakes since then to almost perfect them!  I’d say this one is pretty close and appears that it was quite popular too!

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Merry (very belated) Christmas everyone?? 

 

What’s Up Doc?

Carrot cake – you either like it or you don’t.  There’s not really an in between, there’s no “Well, I’ll have a piece if there’s nothing else for dessert” or “Meh, it’ll do”.  However, those who do love their carrot cake can very persnickety about it and really, why shouldn’t they be?  If you’re going to take joy in indulging in something, you may as well have it made the way you like it!  Some love it with raisins, some with nuts (and can also be particular about what kind of nut!), some with lots of cinnamon and nutmeg, some without any spices, some like the carrots shredded, while others enjoy the cake with chunks of carrot…….and don’t even get me started on the icing preferences!  There are so many different ways that people enjoy their carrot cake, so when you make one, it’s always a good idea to find out if they do want any “funky stuff” in the cake (ie nuts or raisins) or if they are ok with the traditional cream cheese icing.

When I launched my blog back in October, I ran a contest for my wonderful followers and the winner received a dessert of their choice – whatever they fancied!  Patti Bulleyment was the lucky winner and since her daughter loves carrot cake, that was what I was going to make for them!   There are so many different variations for this simple recipe, but I decided to keep it simple, with no funky stuff added!  Plus, there was a special request to NOT use a cream cheese icing, so I traded it up for a basic whipped vanilla cream topping (which I think was way tastier anyway!)   My secret ingredient though, was adding 1/2 cup of applesauce, which added a bit of sweetness and also kept it moist.

ShreddingMix ready to goPouring the batter

 

 

 

 

I found this recipe on foodnetwork.com and although it wasn’t easy to find a basic recipe, it was worth the search!  I also got some other juicy ideas for more yummy baked goodness on the website!   I packaged up Patti’s tasty cake and voila!  Dessert Dutchess strikes again

                           baked cake     Boxed and ready to go

Kid Approved

With all the baking I do, most of the recipes are full on desserts, meaning they’re made with things like flour, butter, eggs, milk, a lot of the traditional ingredients you’d use when you think of desserts.  So when my beautiful and dear friend, Victoria, asked me if I could write a blog with some gluten free and vegan recipes, I happily went through my recipe books in search of a few good ones.

So, yes, most kids love ooey, gooey, sugary cookies and cupcakes, but in all honesty, how many do you know that would actually eat not just a ‘protein energy ball’, but a gluten free and healthy one?  HA!  Well, I found a crazy delicious recipe on thewhoot.com that is all of the above AND it’s kid approved!  These cutie patooties are Ryland and Jaks, 2 of the 4 sweet little munchkins that I have the pleasure of spending my days with and they are, without a doubt, typical kids that love their cookies!  So, I was very happy when they both devoured a couple of these little morsels!

                                  Ryland approved    Jaks approved

These seriously take about 5 minutes to toss these 8 simple, healthy ingredients together in a bowl – 1 cup oats, 2/3 cup coconut, 1 tbsp chia seeds, 1/2 cup ground flaxseed, 1/3 cup honey (or maple syrup), 1/2 cup cacao nibs, 1/2 cup peanut butter and 1 tsp vanilla. Chill in the fridge for about a 1/2 hour, roll into balls and voila…..you have a tasty treat!  Just keep in mind – with the flaxseed and chia seeds in them, if you eat more than a few of them in one day, they will certainly give your digestion a big boost!!

                                  Ingredients Mixed    Protein Balls

As I’ve done a 30 day healthy detox program with my USANA business a few times, there are a lot of gluten free and vegan recipes, but most are meals, not desserts.  However, one of the desserts in the program, which is both gluten free and vegan, is so delicious, that the pan of them literally does not last more than a couple days any time I’ve made them.  The No Bake Protein Bars recipe was created by Gorete Almeida, who is one of the brilliant nutritionists that helped create the program and some of the recipes.

                                   Ready for the freezer   Plated

Typically, dessert recipes that are gluten free and/or vegan have ingredients that some people really don’t care for too much (like tofu) or that you may need to do a little hunting around for, such as amaranth, buckwheat or coconut flour or even flaxseed meal.  Luckily, these sensational squares are made with simple ingredients and most are probably in your pantry or cupboards right now!  Coconut, oats, cinnamon, vanilla, maple syrup, natural peanut butter……and they’re all healthy too!  And on a side note – these are out-of-this-world delish when you store them in the freezer!

Heavenly Treats For The Holidays

Another year has come and gone and I hope that everyone had a wonderful and relaxing Christmas and New Years.  I know, I know, the word relaxation within Christmas holidays for most people doesn’t exist and I can admit that I did my fair share of late nights and running around.  However, I can contribute most of those late nights to creating some heavenly treats as gifts to some of my friends and my family.  I threw in my ear buds with some great tunes and away I went making a floury and chocolaty mess in the kitchen.  Thankfully, I have an incredible space in the home where I live with a nice, big island and a double oven.  This definitely helps!  As I mentioned in a previously, I had a list made up a while ago of what I wanted to bake, I just had to cut in down a bit from the dozen or so that was on that list!  I finally settled on shortbread, chocolate truffles, spiced mocha fudge, peanut clusters and caramel pretzel bark, all of which, I’m proud to say got exceptional reviews

Christmas Cheer 2

Out of all these little morsels of ooey-gooey tastiness, I still, after more than 20 years, enjoy making my shortbread the most.  It’s your basic, simple ingredients – sugar, butter, egg, vanilla and flour, and when they are mixed and baked just right, the first bite is like a party in your mouth!

                           Shapes cut        Cut & baked

I had a customer that placed an order for 2 dozen French Macarons – 12 chocolate and 12 salted caramel, and I was thrilled for the opportunity to create these delectable little French almond meringue cookies once again.  Basically, these are what kept me up until the wee hours of the morning (which was entirely my own choice).   Whipping the egg whites just enough to create that slight peak, then gently folding in the cocoa without over mixing (otherwise you end up with flat and cracked Macaron shells), letting your perfectly round little discs harden just a bit at room temperature before popping them in the oven and keeping a close eye on them so they don’t overbake, which would make them hard and crunchy instead of light and chewy.  Messing up on any of these steps is what causes many bakers copious amounts of frustration and a lot of four-letter words!  I’ve had the good fortune of not having run into these issues (and hopefully won’t in the future) and having my French Macarons turn out – with a really great review from my friend that ordered them!

Egg whitesMixing Choc GanacheChocolate shells unbaked

 

 

 

 

I find that the trick to baking the meringues really well is rotating the baking sheet halfway through (I actually do this with all my cookies too).  Maybe it’s just me or maybe it really does help, but now that I’m in the habit of doing it, I have to do it all the time!  Not all Macarons are going to come out looking the same, some rise a bit more, some spread out a bit less, just remember that if they are still round-ish and not cracked, they’ll most likely have the same texture.  In fact, even when using the same recipe, they’ll likely be a tiny bit different each time you make them.

                            White shells baked        Chocolate shells baked

The filling for the Macarons is definitely the easiest part of these little 2-bite slices of heaven.  You can use either ganache, butter cream, meringue or jam, which so far, I’ve found that the ganache and butter cream pair the best.  Once you place a dollup in the centre of the cookie and gently press the top half on top of it, you have your masterpiece!

                            Salted Caramel         Chocolate French Macarons

Now that a new year is upon us, so is a new year of creations and adventures in the kitchen for me.  I am excited and happy to announce that I will be expanding my business and will now be offering Dessert Dutchess packages which will cater to weddings, private parties and corporate events.  Please contact me for more details.

I want to thank everyone for following my blog and I welcome your comments as well as suggestions for any baked goodies that you may want to learn more about – which recipe is the best, which to stay away from and why.

Easy Peasy Banana Bread

In the past 6 months, I think I’ve made this recipe at least a dozen times, I can almost make it with my eyes closed!!  This is because it’s both a delicious bread and also because of Leanne’s, Ric’s and consequently now Kya’s, Ryland’s and Jaks’ love, (I think it’s actually nearing obsession ), for banana bread.  Only difference between them with their unanimous love of banana bread is that Ric isn’t too fond of the chocolate chips in this recipe – he tolerates them, but I think he truly believes that they have no right to be in any type of banana bread!  If I remember to, sometimes I’ll add the chocolate to the batter just before I put it in the oven and only into one side of the bread.

                               Ingredients   eaten

This recipe from Allrecipes, is probably one of the simpler ones I’ve made and believe me, I’ve made copious banana breads, cakes and muffins over the years.  Mush the bananas, add some melted butter, an egg and mix that into your flour, baking powder, salt and sugar and your batter is ready.  After baking for about 45 minutes, you have a fluffy, spongy yummy cake.  It’s even better when it’s still warm from the oven – just ask Leanne and Ric!

Squares cut

OMG Shortbread

Who doesn’t love shortbread?  When it’s baked just the perfect amount of time so the bottom is light golden, it crumbles just a little when you break off a tiny piece and that piece melts in your mouth with a buttery smoothness……..Mmmmmm, YUM! It’s like a party in your mouth! 

As I mentioned before, I do have my own super dee-lish recipe for shortbread, but a wonderful lady, Auntie Bernie, posted this recipe on her Facebook profile, so of course I just had to try it.  Looking at the it, it seemed like a pretty straight forward shortbread recipe, just with the exception of some yummy peanut butter added to it. I threw it all in the bowl, mixed it up, rolled & wrapped it to be refrigerated and waited (this was the hard part LOL).  Once it was chilled, I cut some nice, big, fat slices, because really…..who’s craving is going to be fully satisfied by a thin, puny little piece?  It did crumble a bit when I cut them (as the recipe said it would), but it was easy to shape them back together, plus it created a bit of cookie dough chunks for me to taste test.

PB Choc Chip Shortbread mixPB Choc Chip Shortbread logPB Choc Chip Shortbread log cut 2

 

 

 

 

In to the oven they went……..tick tock, tick tock…….the 12 minute baking time seemed like an eternity!  Especially since the irresistible smell of fresh cookies was not just filling the kitchen, but drifting throughout the whole house!  Finally, they were done and when I opened the oven door, heads turned.  An even stronger yummy cookie aroma filled everyone’s noses and I was pretty sure they’d suffer through a bit of a burnt tongue just to get a bite as soon as possible!

PB Choc Chip Shortbread baked

PB Choc Chip Shortbread stacked 3Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies from The View from Great Island website – and yes “OMG” were the words that escaped from the lips of a couple people.  There was also “Are you kidding me?”, “These are ridiculous” & a muffled approval that I couldn’t fully understand because she had just sunk her teeth in to this heavenly indulgence!  Now, I’m not going to admit that these are better than mine, they’re just……a different recipe with a few different ingredients and I can guarantee that they will be made again

  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup icing sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 chocolate chips

Cream butter & peanut butter with a hand mixer, beat in vanilla.  In a separate bowl, whisk all dry ingredients together and add to the butter mixture until the dough is no longer crumbly.  Stir in the chips and turn the dough out onto a piece of wax paper. Gently form the dough into a log. Roll it up in the paper, smoothing it out as you go. Twist the ends securely and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  Take the log out, unwrap it and slice into 1/3 inch slices with a sharp knife.  If it crumbles a bit, just smooth it back together.  Bake on parchment paper for 12-14 minutes at 350F.  Let them cool on the pan for about 5 minutes before transferring to the cooling rack.  ENJOY!!

Halloween Leftovers

Halloween is now behind us and if you have kids, you’ve probably already sorted through your kidlets’ candy and maybe downsized the amount of goodies (namely chocolate bars), to save yourself a not-so-fun trip to the dentist, or for other reasons like avoiding borderline diabetic shock or possibly just to have a few for yourself!  Maybe you bought a whole big Costco size box of goodies to hand out to all those cuties that were supposed to be knocking on your door, politely chiming “Trick-or-treat” in unison, yet you had all of a dozen little costumed munchkins show up.  So what do you do with all those extra little chocolate bars?  You could eat them – “I’ll just have a couple, they’re only mini ones”, next thing you know, the whole bowl is empty and beside you is a big pile of wrappers.  Prepare for intense sugar crash!  OR there’s always the alternative – make something easy and fun out of them – Peanut Butter Cups!  I found a super simple recipe on Allrecipes and made some scrumptious little treats that got 2 thumbs up from Ric (I’m told he’s a PB cup expert!).  I simply grabbed some Hershey milk chocolate minis, some smooth peanut butter and a lined muffin tin.

PB Cups - prepMelted the chocolate, added some icing sugar to the peanut butter to make it a bit thicker, scooped a spoonful of each into the liners, then topped it off with some more melted chocolate. Let em chill in the fridge for about an hour and voila!!  Homemade Peanut Butter Cups!  And just to be sure I’m not tempted to eat the whole lot of them, I gave them to Ric so he could enjoy them! Haha.  These will make great little gifts for someone who is a bit of a chocoholic!

PB Cups - choc & pb

PB Cups 2