A visit to our local patisserie is the closest I’m going to come to a visit to Paris for quite some time I’m afraid. Although, I think I gain weight just looking at the rows and rows of sugary, buttery masterpieces.
As luck would have it, we have to pass by the patisserie every weekend after my daughter’s Saturday morning ballet class on our way to swimming. Of course the only way to make it through our hectic schedule is to pick up a snack somewhere convenient . . .
There’s always a long line up at the patisserie and by the time we get to the counter they’ve usually sold out of our favourite snack: mini madeleines. (In case you are not familiar with them, madeleines are small sponge cake-type cookies distinguished by the shell pattern that comes from using a special pan.) My daughter just LOVES them and so I spend the next hour convincing her that the goldfish crackers I’ve packed in my purse are even better than madeleines.
To avoid the constant disappointment and the $7 for a small bag, I finally decided that I needed to try my hand at making them myself. All I can say is that they’re going to miss us at the patisserie. I think that mini madeleines may become my new signature cookie. The $9 for the special madeleine pan was definitely money well spent — and it is a lot cheaper than a trip to Paris.
Mini Lemon Madeleines
Makes about 80 cookies.
Recipe ever so slightly adapted from David Lebovitz
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup (130g) granulated sugar
pinch of salt
1 1/4 cup (175g) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder (optional) (I added this)
zest of one small lemon
9 tablespoons (120g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature, plus additional melted butter for preparing the molds
1/4 cup of icing sugar (for dusting)
1. Brush the indentations of a mini madeleine mold with melted butter. Dust with flour, tap off any excess, and place in the fridge or freezer.
2. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, whip the eggs, granulated sugar, and salt for 5 minutes until frothy and thickened.
3. Spoon the flour and baking powder, if using, into a sifter or mesh strainer and use a spatula to fold in the flour as you sift it over the batter. (Rest the bowl on a damp towel to help steady it for you.)
4. Add the lemon zest to the cooled butter, then dribble the butter into the batter, a few spoonfuls at a time, while simultaneously folding to incorporate the butter. Fold just until all the butter is incorporated.
5. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. (Batter can be chilled for up to 12 hours.)
6. To bake the madeleines, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
8. Plop enough batter in the center of each indentation with enough batter which you think will fill it by 3/4′s Do not spread it.
10. Bake for 5-6 minutes or until the cakes just feel set.
11. Remove from the oven and tilt the madeleines out onto a cooling rack.
12. Sift icing sugar over madeleines (shell side up).
Storage: Madeleines are best eaten the day they’re made. They can be kept in a container for up to three days after baking, if necessary.
- I didn’t put the madeleine pan in the fridge before baking, but I did refrigerate the batter for an hour or so before baking.
- I adjusted the baking time in David’s original from 8 or 9 minutes to 5 or 6 minutes for the madeleines. All of my cookies cooked in 5 minutes.
- I did not use the lemon glaze on any of my cookies. I wanted the delicate and buttery flavour of the cookies to stand on its own.
- I recently bought my mini madeleine pan at Tap Phong in Chinatown. It makes 20 cookies per batch.(Remember the shopping excersion I was supposed to go on with Eva? Hopefully we can reschedule now that she’s managed to shake her cold.)
It didn’t take long for me to figure out that the ponytails were fired up about Chinese New Year. My oldest daughter was working on writing a short play about it and was talking non-stop about how great it was to be a rooster (her Chinese zodiac animal). Meanwhile my youngest daughter was counting down the days until the Chinese New Year parade at school.
Don’t you love the way children find such joy in learning new things?
We really want to encourage and embrace this interest the girls have in different cultures and traditions. So, I bought them each a children’s book about Chinese New Year on my way home from a business trip and decided that we would celebrate it too.
Soon after that I asked my colleague Amanda if she could recommend a few authentic Chinese dishes. But she didn’t just provide me with some ideas—she surprized me with a very large carrying case full of all the essentials for a Chinese New Year celebration: decorations, candies, sauces and noodles. I was blown away by her generosity!
However, we did encounter a set-back. At the last minute, my husband was asked to go to an important work event on Feb. 1oth. But after Amanda’s kind gesture, there was no turning back. Close friends Carolyn and Glen agreed to join the girls and I for our celebration. With two young daughters the same age as the ponytails, it would mean an evening with two little rats and two roosters (according to their Chinese zodiac animals of course)!
Armed with a great dumpling recipe from Amanda, I set out to research some other ideas for our feast. Two bloggers came to mind immediately: Norma from Garden to Wok and Sissi from With a Glass. Norma teaches cooking classes and has written two cookbooks: My Students’ Favorite Chinese Recipes and Wokking Your Way to Lowfat Cooking. An avid gardener, she also keeps her loyal readers up-to-date on the adventures in her garden with regular Harvest Monday posts. Based in Switzerland, Sissi has a flair for creating innovative recipes that are inspired by her love of a diverse range of cuisines, particularly Asian and Hungarian cuisines. I met Sissi in the early days of blogging and I’ve been a fan of her site ever since.
When I saw Sissi’s Chinese Spare Ribs Braised in Soy Sauce I knew that I had to make them. They looked sticky and fall-off-the-bone good. Well, I can tell you that they didn’t disappoint. Best. Ribs. Ever. OMG, you must make these ribs. The flavour combination of the dark soy sauce, star anise and cinnamon is really incredible. However, you MUST use the dark soy sauce (which I had never used before) because the regular soy sauce simply will not achieve the same result. The dark soy sauce is thicker and more intense in flavour than regular soy sauce.
I also returned to Norma’s Shrimp Stir-fry recipe that I’ve made a number of times with great success, but I used snow peas in place of the asparagus this time. This dish went really well with the Chinese noodles that Amanda gave us. Best of all, it’s a low-fat recipe!
I also found inspiration from the online version of one of my favourite magazines, House & Home. The lemon sauce for this chicken is nothing like the version that you get at a restaurant or with your favourite take-out. You’ve got to try this Lemon Chicken recipe—the flavour is just amazing.
Almond cookies are a traditional way to end a Chinese New Year celebration and kids love them. The texture of these cookies was spot on with what I’ve had in restaurants—they had a bit of a crunch but still melted in your mouth. Next time I make them I’m going to play around with the recipe, as I prefer not to use shortening in my baking.
And what celebration would be complete without a live performance? Our two adorable roosters and rats entertained us with original songs such as: We Are the Roosters; Sweet Love and a rap song entitled Hurricane.
It was a night of great food, with great friends. In fact, we had so much fun that I think this just might become an annual celebration for us. Now I just need to find a way to repay Amanda’s generosity. Any suggestions?
Recipes from Our Chinese New Year Celebration
Norma’s Shrimp With Snow Peas Stir-Fry
Lemon Chicken from House & Home Magazine
Almond Cookies from Canadian Living
Adapted from Amanda’s recipe
- 1 lb ground pork
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp white wine
- 2 tbsp chopped chives
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 package of dumpling wrappers
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1 tsp sesame oil
Mix all ingredients (except dumpling wrappers) well in a large bowl.
Place a level tablespoon of filling in the centre of each dumpling wrapper. Moisten edges with water. Fold in half and pinch together to create a pouch that seals in the mixture. Alternatively, you could use a dumpling or ravioli maker as I did that automatically seals each dumpling. I did need to double check each dumpling and pinch any spots where it wasn’t completely sealed by the ravioli maker. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling.
Steam the dumplings for 10 to 12 minutes. (Use a pan/wok of boiling water and bamboo baskets for steaming.) Alternatively you can boil them in water for 5 to 6 minutes. They can also be fried afterwards (but I didn’t do this).
For the dipping sauce, mix the soy sauce and sesame oil in a small bowl. Serve with the dumplings.
- I followed a tip from Sissi and used a ravioli maker to make the dumplings. It worked really well. You could also use a dumpling sealer, but I didn’t have one.
- I used 2 kg of pork ribs, so I tripled Sissi’s recipe for Chinese Spare Ribs Braised in Soy Sauce. Be sure to cut the ribs into individual portions as this is key to the success of the recipe. However, I didn’t cut the ribs in half vertically as Sissi did and I was still happy with the results.
There’s nothing like . . . the soft glow of lights on the tree that illuminate a treasured collection of decorations . . . the excited giggles of delight that fill the air while snuggling with two sweet little ponytails to watch a holiday movie . . . the way that with each sip of wine, the tensions of the past year melt away . . .
It truly is a magical time.
Now that I’ve hung up my baking mitts for another year, it’s time to relax and enjoy my favourite holiday activities. I hope that you are able to do the same.
But I didn’t do it all alone this year. The ponytails were a BIG help during cookie baking season. So, for this last post before Christmas I thought I’d share a few of the sweet treats that the girls and I made together.
First up–Reindeer Cupcakes. My oldest daughter decided that we were going to bake Reindeer Cupcakes for the school potluck–and she sketched out how she wanted them to look. A couple of the materials were going to be a bit tricky to work with, so we negotiated between her ideas and one that I spotted on a Facebook foodie group that I belong to. Thanks to Sue H. for positng a link to With Spinkles on Top’s version of these Reindeer Cupcakes!
Earlier in the year when I saw the beautiful ma’amouls that Fati at Fati’s Recipes and Betsy at Bits and Breadcrumbs had made, I knew that I had to try them . . . but I decided to wait until Christmas. The girls were quick to get into the action with these cookies and they got the knack of whacking the molds very quickly!
The end result was well worth the effort. Look how beautifully they turned out:
Our entire family fell in love with the Glaciers and Bear Paws from The Fudgery in Banff, Alberta this summer. So, we tried our hand at recreating them . . . it was as easy as making a small circle with five cashews and squishing a caramel on top. Mom (me) popped them in a 325 degree oven for 6 minutes. Then the girls drizzled with melted semi-sweet chocolate (for the Bear Paws) and melted white chocolate (for the Glaciers).
Gingerbread and Sugar Cookies make the cookie list every year. My youngest daughter really enjoyed the rolling and cutting process of making both these cookies. Here she is in action with the Gingerbreads.
And here’s the final product of the Snowflake and Tree-shaped Sugar Cookies . . .
Who knew that little hands could be such a big help in the kitchen? Now I certainly do and I imagine that these little hands will only be more helpful with each passing year. Baking for three weeks solid is always a lot of work, but memories like these make it all worthwhile . . . and so does a peek into one of the cookie boxes . . .
Reindeer Cupcakes — Use your favourite cupcake and chocolate icing recipe. For decorations: mini marshmellows cut in half (eyes), chocolate chips (eyes), pretzels (antler), Nilla biscuits and Swedish Berries (nose). We used white icing to “glue” the ingredients to the cupcake and it worked well.
Ma’amouls — I followed Betsy’s Recipe since I had bought the farina flour at a local specialty shop.
Bear Paws & Glaciers — Make a small circle with five cashews and squish a caramel on top. Pop them in a 325 degree oven for 6 minutes. Then drizzle with melted semi-sweet chocolate (for the Bear Paws) and white chocolate (for the Glaciers).
Sugar Cookies (used for Snowflake and Trees) — Martha Stewart Cutout Cookie Dough
Gingerbread Cookies — From Martha Stewart; I double this recipe.
I wish you all a very happy holidays. I hope that they are filled with all the things that you love, like the soft glow of Christmas tree lights and treasured ornaments . . .
And sweet things, both big and small . . .
It was on sale. So I bought lots. Well, seven pounds to be precise.
Was it enough to make this?
No, definitely not enough to make a butter carving of Toronto’s controversial Mayor, Rob Ford, (who BTW may soon be outsted from his position over a conflict of interest, not for reading while driving or slinging mud at our literary legend Margaret Atwood).
But it was enough butter to make some of these:
I took a couple of days off work so that I could get a good start at my holiday baking this weekend, so some of the seven pounds of butter that I bought on sale has been put to good use. Every year, I bake 10 to 15 different batches of cookies and then I give most of them away to friends, family and work colleagues. It is firmly entrenched Christmas tradition, as I’ve been doing this for 11 years now.
However, not everyone likes this tradition. My youngest ponytail burst into tears when she realized that most of her favourite Chocolate-Dipped Butterscotch Logs were headed to the freezer to make their way into these cookie boxes. “But they’re my favourite cookies.” (Be sure to say this with a very loud crying voice, and you are close to reinacting the dramatic scene that unfolded in my kitchen on Sunday.)
The art of distraction is a parent’s best friend and I’ve managed to distract my daughter with store-bought candy cane ice cream–even if only temporarily.
I love the fact that everyone has a different favourite cookie. Rhonda requests the Rolo Cookie every year. A big fan of coconut, Maria hides the Coconut Pyramids from her partner. Harry will only eat my Checkerboard Cookies, which always stir a debate on how the checkerboard pattern is really created. Mercedes likes to ask for extra Salted Toffee-Chocolate Squares. My Double-Chocolate Chunk Cookies have universal appeal. And, Glen is easy to please–he’ll take any and all cookies that I’m willing to part with.
This year I’ve added two new cookies to the mix thanks to a couple of my blogging buddies.
Nell’s Sugar Cookies (the pretty cookies with the cherry in the middle) are thanks to Barb over at Just a Smidgen (one of my favourite bloggers who, by the way, has received two 2012 Canadian Blog Awards. Way to go Barb!) I knew that I had to make these cookies when Barb posted them a few months back. Simple, with a comforting old fashioned appeal, one bite of these cookies takes me back to my own grandmother’s kitchen. They are sure to be a new favourite this year.
I’ve been wanting to make Chocolate Crinkle Kisses (the adorable crinkle cookies with the Candy Cane Kiss in the middle) for ages now. These cookies make an annual appearance in the wonderful box of cookies that Eva (of Kitchen Inspirations) always brings us on Christmas Eve and I’m never fast enough at hiding them from the rest of the family! As you can see, both of these cookies bring some festive colour to the cookie selection.
So now the question remains, will the seven pounds be enough? Not nearly, if my ponytails get their way!
PS — Given that well over three quarters of my cookies go to treasured daycare staff and work colleagues as a way to say thanks, I’m not able to give cookies to as many of our friends and family as I would like. However, I always keep a supply on hand to put out for company so feel free to drop by for a visit–just be sure to call first!
Cookie Recipes (from Photos)
Salted Toffee-Chocolate Squares (Martha Stewart)
Nell’s Sugar Cookies (Just a Smidgen)
Chocolate Crinkle Kisses (Kitchen Inspirations)
Coconut Pyramids (Originally from Martha Stewart; posted on P&P December 2011)
Chocolate-Dipped Butterscotch Logs
Slightly adapted from Better Homes and Gardens, 2004 Special Christmas Cookie Edition
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup butter scotch baking pieces, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup finely chopped almonds
- 1 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocloate pieces
- 1-1/2 tbsp shortening
In a large bowl, beat butter on medium high speed for 30 seconds. Add brown sugar, baking powder and salt. Beat until combined, scraping side of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour and the butterscotch pieces.
Divide dough in half. Shape each half into a 9-inch long log; flatten so logs are about 2-1/2-inches wide. Wrap logs in plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours until firm.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a sharp knife, cut logs crosswise into 1/4-inch slices. Place slices 1 inch apart on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Transfer to wire rack; cool.
Meanwhile, spread almonds in a single layer in a shallow baking pan. Toast in the 350 degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes or until light golden brown, stirring ocassionally. Remove from oven; cool.
Combine chocolate pieces and shortening in metal bowl. Place over simmering pot of water until melted. Dip ends of cookies into the melted chocolate. Place cookies on wire rack. Sprinkle almonds on chocolate. Let stand for 30 minutes or until chocolate is set. Makes about 54.
Bad or good; ugly or beautiful; sweet or salty—conventional wisdom has taught us that if one of these qualities holds true, then the opposite is automatically untrue. And then along came Thai cuisine into the mainstream a number of years ago, to teach us that sweet and salty can co-exist in mouth-wateringly delicious ways. Now it seems that we think nothing of adding salt to our caramels and other sweet confections.
This cookie bar recipe will show you that not only can sweet and salty get along well—they can in fact be BFFs. They get along so well that they are dangerous. Yes, these cookie bars are that good. It is dangerous for me to be alone with them, as they are dangerously good. Just ask the colleague who had one at our company pot luck last week. She chased me as I was picking up my Tupperware container, so that she could have the leftover crumbs. Yes, they are dangerous.
The credit for this recipe goes to Maria from Two Peas and Their Pod. (Her photos of these cookie bars are way better than my pic!) I didn’t change a thing because the recipe was perfect as is. I highly recommend this recipe, as these bars are super easy to make and a sure-fire hit for any pot-luck lunch or night home alone.
Chocolate Chip Salted Caramel Cookie Bars
- 2 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 12 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 large egg yolk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 cups chocolate chips
- 10 ounces caramel candy squares, unwrapped (about 35 caramels by my calculations)
- 3 tablespoons heavy cream
- Sea salt, for sprinkling over caramel and bars
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 2-quart baking pan (11 x 8 glass Pyrex dish).
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the melted butter and sugars together until combined. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla extract and mix until smooth. Slowly add the dry ingredients and mix on low, just until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.
4. In a large microwave safe bowl, combine the caramels and heavy cream. Microwave caramels on High until caramels are melted, stirring every 20 to 25 seconds. This will take about 2 minutes, depending on your microwave.
5. Divide the cookie dough in half. Press half of the cookie dough into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with the spatula. Pour hot caramel over the cookie dough. Sprinkle caramel with sea salt. Drop spoonfuls of cookie dough over the caramel and spread dough with a spatula until the caramel is covered. Sprinkle the bars with additional sea salt.
6.Bake cookie bars for 30 minutes or until the top of the bars are light golden brown and the edges start to pull away from the pan. Cool bars on a wire rack to room temperature. Cut bars into squares and serve.
The mixer is back in the cupboard. The baking sheets are taking a rest. I’m ready for a martini—but it’s only 7 am. Okay so maybe some baileys in my coffee since I’m a lightweight.
The final count for the Cookie Challenge came in at 889 cookies, with 13 different batches. The lowest cookie yield was the Coconut Pyramids (27) and the highest was the Gingerbread Cookies (118).
So, the “best guess” cookies go to Mercedes, whose “final answer” was 864. Her next challenge will be to eat all the cookies before she heads off to New Jersey and Puerto Rico. Thanks to all who submitted a guestimate.
I’m wrapping up the cookie recipes with Checkerboards. There’s always a bit of curiosity about how they’re made. I’ve always claimed that I piece each one together by hand . . . now you’ll know the truth.
- 4 oz unsweetened chocolate , chopped
- 1 cup softened butter
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 3 eggs
- 2 tbsp vanilla
- 4 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
Line 2 rimless baking sheets with parchment paper or grease; set aside.
In bowl over saucepan of hot (not boiling) water, melt chocolate, stirring often. Let cool to room temperature.
In large bowl, beat butter with sugar until fluffy; beat in 2 of the eggs, 1 at a time. Beat in vanilla. In separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt; stir one-third at a time into butter mixture, using hands if too stiff to stir.
Remove half of the dough for vanilla dough. Stir chocolate into remaining dough, using hands to blend thoroughly.
Divide vanilla dough in half; flatten each half into square. Place dough, 1 square at a time, between waxed paper; roll out to 7-inch (18 cm) square. Straighten edges with ruler. Repeat with chocolate dough. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes. Using ruler and sharp knife, cut each square into nine 3/4-inch (2 cm) wide strips.
Place 12-inch (30 cm) long piece of plastic wrap on work surface. Alternating vanilla and chocolate strips, place 3 strips of dough side by side (close but not touching) on plastic wrap. Whisk remaining egg; brush over sides and tops of strips. Gently press long edges of strips together to adhere. Repeat, forming second and third layers and alternating flavours of strips, to create checkerboard effect. Repeat to make 3 more logs, reversing colour pattern. Fold plastic wrap up to enclose logs; refrigerate for 30 minutes. (Make-ahead: Refrigerate for up to 4 days. Or overwrap in heavy-duty foil and freeze for up to 1 month.)
Using serrated knife, trim ends of each log; cut into 1/4-inch (5 mm) thick slices. Arrange, about 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart, on prepared pans. Bake, 1 sheet at a time, in centre of 350°F (180°C) oven until firm to the touch, about 12 minutes. Let cool on pan on rack for 3 minutes. Transfer to racks and let cool completely. (Make-ahead: Layer between waxed paper in airtight container and store at room temperature for up to 2 weeks or freeze for up to 1 month.)
Source : Canadian Living Magazine: December 2003
- I find it hard to get the height of the chocolate and vanilla dough the exact same height because the chocolate is a different consistency. If my checkerboard is slightly uneven after being sliced, I just cut off the uneven bits.
When I think about my brief trip to New Zealand 14 years ago, there’s one thing that always comes to mind. If you’re guessing that it’s the beautiful countryside, the lovely beaches or the warm and outgoing people – you’d be wrong. When I dream about New Zealand, I dream about the rolo bar.
If you’ve never heard of it—you’re not alone. Few of us here in Canada have tried one. But if you had, you’d be right there with me. Forever yearning for the rolo bar.
Picture an oversized chocolate bar, in a similar format to a Caramilk, but made with rolos that are joined together on the flat-bottomed side. You’ll have to trust me on this one—the rolo bar is quite spectacular.
So, when my friend Jayne and I found this Rolo Cookie recipe online nine years ago, I didn’t have to think twice before giving it a try. It is a close as you can come to the rolo bar. And, my friends and family who don’t know what they are missing seem to love them. I must admit, they are pretty darn good.
As you’ll see from the pictures below, it is a good recipe for little helpers in the kitchen.
- 2 ¼ cup flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 2 eggs
- about 7 packages of rolos
- Granulated sugar for top or mixture of 1 cup chopped nuts with 1 tbsp sugar
Beat sugars and butter until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and eggs. Beat well. Add flour and baking soda. Blend well. Chill dough in refrigerator for at least 3 hours. Roll 1 heaping tsp of dough in palm of hand to form a ball. Press Rolo into ball covering it completely. Press top of ball into saucer of sugar (or nut and sugar mixture). Place cookies, sugar side up, on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350° for 9-10 minutes.
- Make sure the rolo is completely covered by dough, otherwise the chocolate and caramel will leak out onto the pan. It’s not the end of the world, but they the cookies look nice when you can’t see the rolo that is hiding inside.
- Plan to make these cookies first if you are making other cookies, so that you can refrigerate the dough while you move onto another cookie. We’ve made the mistake of making these at the end of a day of baking, and then had bake them another day because we forgot about the 3 hours to chill the dough!