These cookies are also known as Mexican wedding cakes or, just pecan puffs. But whatever you call them, they're a Christmas-time favourite, and until now, I've never been a huge fan. What used to turn me off was the involuntary choking that resulted from the loose coating of confectioners sugar...of course that may be due to the way I inhale baked good during the 'it's-perfectly-permissible-to-be-bad, Holiday season'. For some reason, this particular recipe didn't induce any throat tickling, in fact, I was finally able to enjoy the cookies for what they truly are, delicate, crumbly, softy sweet confections that practically melt in your mouth before you're even finished chewing the first bite...of course this could be due to the fact that Summer is rapidly approaching (no thanks to the cold weather) and, although my jeans say otherwise, I'm no longer inhaling as many sweets.
Tuesday, March 22
It's been a while since I've made brownies. And just to clarify, they are not on my list of overly-chocolaty-things (that spot is reserved exclusively for chocolate on chocolate cake), so no worries, brownies will still make a cameo appearance here from time to time. *I wonder how many people are ready to hit me over the head with their whisks for not liking double chocolate cake?* It will all be explained when I write about my sister's birthday cake... there is a reason for the implied craziness, I do promise. :D
Friday, March 18
Along with numerous other treats, pop tarts and toaster strudels were also on my childhood list of forbidden food. Instead I made due with toast, a scrambled egg, and a mashed up banana, which was a poor substitute for the gorgeous, colourful flaky pastries that were popping out of the kid's toasters on television. They looked so happy in their anticipation of waiting for their pop tart to pop. I, on the other hand, sulked as my mom or dad whisked the runny and, what I thought was disgusting at the time, egg, until it was chunky instead of runny. Whenever I asked why I couldn't have pop tarts or any other sugary bit of heaven, I always got the same classic parental response: "You should be grateful for what you have." or, even better, "You'll thank us when you're older and your teeth aren't falling out".
Tuesday, March 15
I couldn't possibly stay away for lemons for too long. And I'm happy to say that they rebounded quite well in this recipe. These muffins match the mood that everyone seems to be in now that Spring is on the way. They're perky, hopeful, and full of promise for the coming day/season. As opposed to my usual late-winter sulky persona (this year it was almost as bad as my angsty, brooding, door-slamming preteen phase.) I'm just so happy that the long months of winter are Finally coming to an end!
Sunday, March 13
It took me a while to come to realize/admit this, but apparently I'm not a dyed in the wool chocolate lover. I prefer to enjoy my chocolate in small doses, instead of being hit in the head by an anvil-sized amount all at once. This epiphany came as I was baking a birthday cake for my sister. She requested a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. And, whereas I'd normally be busting out my Rusted Root CD and dancing up a storm at having an excuse to bake a cake, I felt kind of blasé about the whole thing. "What's wrong with me?", I wondered. Have I been in denial all these years?
Yes, yes I have. Looking back, I noticed that I rarely made a chocolate on chocolate cake. And wouldn't a true chocoholic be making chocolate cake at the drop of a hat, or the birthday of a cat? Whenever I've made cakes in the past, they have almost always had a yellow or white cake base. The whole chocolate on chocolate action is, dare I say, almost too much of a good thing. And I although I'm no longer in the official chocolate-lovers club, I tip my bakers hat to all it's members, and I promise to leave a payment of the occasional double chocolate cookie, just so I can come in through the back entrance now and then.
Why on earth am I going on about all this for? Well, to counteract the explosion of chocolate that I just created, I needed something without chocolate. Unfortunately my go-to flavour sanctuary, aka lemons, had been wiped out after last week's puckery pie. And I don't think I can look at another lemon yet without shivering and twitching. Naturally I was also out of peanut butter (the horror!). So what's third in line? Caramel!
Yay, caramel. When I first saw these bars on Beth's blog, Of Muses and Meringues, I knew I had to have them. It was one of those recipes that you just know you're going to love, even before you've read about them. Basically, the name says it all. They're caramely, and they're bars. So, yeah, they're a pretty spectacular fusion of salty-sweet-buttery deliciousness. Pssst, the 'caramel' is actually more of a dulce de leche!
If you have not been on Beth's blog yet, you're missing out on some fabulous recipes and travel adventures. Beth is an amazing writer, and I think you'll find that once you read her musings, you'll be as hooked as I am!
Caramel Crumb Bars
(adapted from Of Muses and Meringues)
16 Tbsp ( that's 2 sticks) of unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
2-1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
4 Tablespoons (that's half a stick) of unsalted butter, cut into about 4 pieces
1 Tablespoon of light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/4 cup of tightly packed, dark brown sugar
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened, condensed milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Move oven rack to the bottom third of the oven. Line a 9 x 13-inch pan with foil (leaving an overhand for easy removal.) Spray the foil with cooking spray. Set the pan aside.
Prepare the crust: In an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter with the sugar and salt until soft and light, about 2 minutes. Add the vanilla.
With the mixer on low, add 2 1/4 cups of the flour, beating just until the dough is smooth and the flour has been absorbed, and stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl and the paddle as necessary.
Place 3/4 of the dough into the prepared pan, using the palm of your hand to press it down evenly. Refrigerate as you do the next step.
Using your fingertips, work the remaining 1/4 cup flour into the remaining dough to form loose crumbs. Set aside at room temperature.
Prepare the filling: In a medium saucepan, bring the butter, corn syrup, salt, brown sugar and condensed milk to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Allow the mixture to boil gently, stirring often, until it starts to thicken and darken slightly, about 8 – 10 minutes. Pour into a stainless steel bowl to cool for five minutes
Remove the dough-lined pan from the fridge and scrape the cooled filling onto the dough, spreading evenly. Scatter the crumb mixture on top.
Bake until the filling is bubbling gently and the dough is baked through, about 20-25minutes.
Cool in the pan until lukewarm. Using the foil overhand, carefully lift the dough out of the pan and onto a cutting board before it has cooled completely. Cut into 2-inch squares.
Wednesday, March 9
This was such a flop, that I wasn't even sure if it was worth sharing. But since I'm trying to break from the belief that everything I do has to be perfect, I'm looking at this as a form of therapy. The pie was a disaster. And I went into it with such high expectations. What's not to like about whole lemon slices stuffed inside a pâte brisée (all butter) crust? But honestly, it was a huge failure. The flavour was so bitter, it almost made me wonder why I love lemons so much. As a lemon head, that's very hard for me to say, it's like telling a close-friend that the dress they're wearing is too tight (something I'd chicken out in saying at the last minute anyway.)
Sunday, March 6
Happy early Mardi Gras everyone! My blog wanted to join in on the festivities and prove that she can party with the best of them. And...drum roll...finally...after 2 years...the URL will match the title!! Exciting, yes? no? It was for me. When I started blogging, I didn't know what a url meant so I just used the first thing that came to mind and ended up naming mine after a haircut. Needless to say, I've learned a lot these past 2 years! So don't be alarmed if you can't find pixiebaker, she's all grown up now. Please update your feeds manually, or give it about 48 hours to play catch up. And a huge thank you to Lauren, from Designer Blogs, for all her help and patience! I really couldn't have done any of this without her. :)
Wednesday, March 2
Better late than never...The February 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe, and Nestle Florentine Cookies. You can download the complete printable .pdf of the challenge here!
Tuesday, March 1
Because I know my mom occasionally reads this blog, as well as some of her friends, I try to be careful about what I write, and not reveal too much. When I let it be known that I wanted to cook on a crab boat, there must have been what can only be metaphorically described as a series of falling domino's in the form of a spastic chain of phone calls. Before I was able to straighten anything out, my mother was convinced that I was going to be working as a greenhorn on the deck of a boat in the middle of the Bering Sea, which to her translated as me falling off the deck of a boat in the middle of the Bering Sea. When I
explained tried to explain to her that because I was a girl, they would never hire me to work the rail, I was reminded of how easily I could pass as a boy if needed...something I never get tired of hearing. I relied on logic as a means of calming things down. No one would hire a 5 foot 2, girly-looking 'boy'. Once I scaled things down to me being locked inside a kitchen with a harness and wearing a life jacket 24/7, she felt better. But I learned my lesson about what not to write on here and what details should be left out. So to put mildly, these pots de crème were nothing short of sensuous. I could go on, but let's just leave it at that, shall we.?